THE BLOG

Switch Your View, Estranged Families and What Really Matters in Life (Part Four)

11/10/2013 12:18 BST | Updated 10/12/2013 10:12 GMT

Switch your view

The idea of turning a photo on its head is not mine but I think it makes a valid point: switch your view occasionally and look at things from a different perspective.

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Photo copyright S. van Dalen

Estranged families

Philip Larkin famously said

they f... you up your mum and dad
but I would argue that we also do that to ourselves. If we would pare down our thinking right back to the very basics, we would see that the purpose of life is to love and our choosing to love and behave in a certain way is our own personal responsibility.

Love is both a noun and a verb; it implies an act of doing and a type of being. The nearest relation to deep love is divineness: a God-like act, devoid of all ambiguity yet honest and true.

In our daily lives, we compromise our existence away. We never really say what we mean for fear of offending or suffering the consequences. Many a marriage is a compromise - staying together for the sake of staying together or for a thousand and one reasons but the real reason being fear of life.

The end result of crappy marriages is unhappy children. The family unit is how human beings become socialised and civilised. It is where children learn to conform to the demands of society - to eat with a knife and fork, to be considerate, to develop social graces, to learn how to behave. A baby enters this world crying and its parents weep with joy. The child grows up and weeps at what its life has become.

When there is betrayal in families there are no victims and no winners. Betrayal is like setting fire to a house where not only does the house implode but all the occupants perish as well. Everyone loses.

We come to this world and are soon gone. But while we are here we choose how we wish to live. It is true that suffering is part of life but what distinguishes homo sapiens from plants and animals is that we knowingly hurt each other. There is no animal on earth that consciously will torment and sadistically harm its own kind.

Therapists the world over have grown rich preying on those who cannot answer for themselves the following question: why do people hurt each other? Because they can. If we take away the will to choose to hurt another we are left with an understanding that harming other people is wrong. When we decide to carry on regardless, we are essentially lost for good.

The following Latin saying sums it up: the wolf changes his coat, not his disposition. We are who we are before we are even born. Furthermore if we understand the temporary nature of life, our acts reverberate a thousand times more in every breath we take. Put it this way: by doing bad things we are reinforcing who we are but also condemning ourselves forevermore. Worst of all we will never become better versions of our flawed selves. Rather than reaching for the stars we choose to remain in the gutter.

Estranged families are similar in their unhappiness: they share disbelief, heartbreak and devastation at watching their lives disintegrate. Worse still, estranged families are stuck in a sort of living hell where they cannot progress to healing their wounds until there is a willingness to at least try to do so. Choosing to change the situation without a self-serving agenda, plus recognising the need to forgive and move on take courage. Family members who are estranged are like a needle stuck on an old vinyl LP. They could choose to change the situation as it is but cannot see the value to themselves of doing so.

When I look back at my life I see the many mistakes I have made. I also see the things that I did despite knowing they were wrong. I am aware of what I did and I regret my actions. Would I change any of it? Who knows? What I think now at the median point of my life stems from a maturity and the 'school of hard knocks'. My behaviour today is very different to the fatuity and recklessness of youth. Would I do any of that again? No. I have learned from my stupidity and have moved on.

I collect rocks, stones and pebbles. My house is full of these objects spilling out of cupboards, turning up in hidden corners and being fished out from under chairs. These ancient bits of our earth get washed up on the shore, get dug up by torrents of rainwater and get kicked around by restless feet. Rocks, stones and pebbles all share one thing in common - as hard as you might squeeze them in your hand, no blood will ever come out of them. Estranged families see the task of reconciliation as equally impossible.

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Photo copyright S. van Dalen

What really matters in Life (Part Four)

I asked National Hero, Simon Weston OBE, to share his top five. These are Simon's own words which he kindly shared with me:

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1. It maybe a simple truth but love matters to me. The love you can give out and the love you receive, there is no stronger emotion, and to be able to share that with other human beings is magical and I am very fortunate to have such a loving and supportive family.

2. It is not hard to be decent to someone. For some reason, it's human nature to fear people who are different but we are all the fundamentally the same and we should treat each other as how we want to be treated.

3. Being loyal to others through life's ups and downs is so important. Not everything goes as smoothly or as straightforward as we want it to be but being there for someone throughout is a quality I greatly admire. Where would you be in life without the loyalty of others.

4. Be honourable in everything you do. I don't pretend to be someone I am not and when I say I am going to do something I will do it.

5. Lastly and just as important is trust; the foundation of friendship is built on it and whilst it can take some time to learn to trust some people, inevitably if you do, they will trust you back.

In 1982 the Sir Galahad was destroyed in Bluff Cove on the Falkland Islands. On board was Simon Weston, Welsh Guardsman, a name and face that was going to become well known for his struggle to overcome his injuries (46% burns) and redefine his role in life as a best-selling author and motivational speaker. Simon's message is one of achievement, of triumph over adversity, of seizing the moment and succeeding.