Peter Steward's Web Site
Philosophical Track No 1
Sometimes in life the most simplistic event can lead one to re-assess a position, a situation and an outlook on life.
At the age of 44 I find myself often frustrated by not being able to influence certain major areas of my life whilst being able to make my mark in a number of others.
My frustrations in certain areas have led to depression, anger and disillusionment.
This in turn leads to feelings of inadequacy and almost helplessness.
Then along comes the simple event to change one's attitude. I have always prided myself on my enthusiasm. This has taken me in my private life into many exciting and worthwhile areas which have given me the opportunity to serve the local community and have a particular bearing on the lives of young people as they grow up.
This contrasts starkly with the passive areas I have already mentioned where I feel my contribution is not valued.
It was in the middle of these feelings that I went to a simple quiz organised by the youth football team of which I am chairman. Apart from the fact that it was an extremely enjoyable evening, the event left me to ponder on the importance of giving everything and attacking life.
Basically the team of which I was a member was a mixture of my sons and other friends. We began the evening disastrously and after the first round - naming shipping areas on a map - were lying rock bottom of the 16 teams taking part. After the second round we had hoisted ourselves up to a non too healthy 14th place and were taking "some stick" from certain areas of the room.
We struggled on towards the interval by which time we had improved up to joint sixth place and were thinking of finishing in a respectable position after having faced what seemed definite humiliation.
Sipping at a pint at half-time we realised that our best rounds were still to come and there was no need for pessimism, not need for self doubt. Liberation came in the form of questions on sport and music and thanks to an in depth knowledge of classic comedy we began the steep climb upwards and forced our way into third and then second place. With two rounds to go we were 10 points behind the leaders but thanks to some inspired playing of our double points joker we took the lead going into the last round and held off all challengers to win by three points.
Now this may all seem pretty pointless. We were overjoyed and it had been a fun evening. But later that night it set me thinking.
We never gave up and I began to realise that by concentrating strongly and by reasoning out answers we managed to come top of the pile and silence all the critics who by the end were reduced to throwing crumpled up answer sheets at us.
We had made things happen by grasping the nettle and believing in our ability although the scoreboard told otherwise early on. We were involved in a marathon and not just a sprint.
Memories came flooding back of other organistions I had been involved in where I had struggled to make a mark, struggled to have my views listened to only to eventually climb to the top and be treated with respect.
It told me that if at first you do not succeed just keep on plugging solidly away. And it taught me that we must convey this message to our children. My sons learned that lesson that night from the quiz. The previous week I had watched my junior football team hammered 8-2 after just giving up. Maybe I will tell them the story of the quiz and maybe they will realise that life has to be viewed as a whole and not a thing of bit parts. You may not always succeed but success can be the result of many overlapping parts which blend into something out of the ordinary. It's a kind of, never mind taking two steps back if you can take three forward syndrome. It's only when you take two steps forward and three back that you have to worry!
© Peter Steward 1997
A Happy New Year - Why?
It amazes me how December 31st is always looked on as a cut off point for misery.
How many times have you heard somebody say: "I'll be glad when this year's over. I've had a really rotten year?"
The inference is of course that as soon as that clock strikes 12 all the problems of the past 12 months will be gone and everything will be happiness, sweetness and light.... WRONG.
The world will continue on the same track and January will just be an extension of December. New beginnings come from an individual doing something to alter the things that are wrong in their lives or from something they have no control of changing for the better.
I always think that people hoping to put the year behind them are
living a forlorn dream that things will improve when the reality of the
idea is so different. But then who am cynical old I to dispel these dreams
however unfounded they may be ?
During the course of the year I speak to hundreds of people and many agree that they find it impossible at times to relax.
During a working day, particularly where a stressful job is involved, many of us work on adrenaline. When that adrenaline rush goes away it leaves us feeling tired and even ill.
How many of you notice this at the weekends. You work throughout the week and use phrases such as "Boy will I be glad when the weekend comes and I can relax."
So what happens when Friday night comes. You have one of two feelings. You are either so tired and depressed that you feel unable to move out of the armchair or you feel comfortable and relaxed. Then what happens on Saturday morning. That's when the adrenaline has stopped and when the headaches and sickness start.
By Sunday late afternoon the headaches have gone and you are beginning to feel better - but what for because the adrenaline rush starts again the following morning. It's a vicious circle.
The same occurs on holiday. You finish work, look forward to relaxing and for the first four or five days feel like death warmed up. It's only in the second or third weeks that you feel like a human being again.
There is no answer to this problem - it's all part of modern day
Commercialism is ruining our modern world.
We are continually being co-erced into buying this or that brand and being offered incentives. This is all distracting from reality.
"Sir, we have a special offer only for you. Do you realise you can now have free windows from us."
How many times have you heard this from double glazing companies who ring in the middle of Sunday lunch to make these free once in a lifetime, can't be missed offers. "On Yer Bike son, there's no such thing as a free lunch," should be the answer.
How I deal with these people depends on my mood at the time. They are usually youngsters working on commission, not particularly bright and they always speak too fast as if they are trying to get all the words out before their brain shuts down or before the person at the other end hangs up.
They never seem to think that if you wanted a particular service you might consider choosing a company yourself. Have I ever bought something from one of these calls - the answer is no. I have on occasion asked their salesmen to give us an estimate in order to waste their time. I have also played dumb as in "But sir you already have cavity wall insulation." "Oh have I, sorry it must have slipped my mind."
Sometimes I politely tell these people where to go and put the phone down. I am never downright rude as I should imagine they hate doing the job as much as I hate receiving their calls. Only once have I become really angry and that's when a particular salesman started swearing and insulting me because I didn't want a fitted kitchen. It wasn't surprising really when I had one fitted a month before. He was angry because at a previous call nine months before I had showed some interest. He saw that possible sale disappearing from his grasp and he certainly wasn't going to take that lying down.
When I am in a relaxed and playful mood I will take these people on with a conversation which goes something like:
"Sir this is ___________ and we would like to inform you of a wonderful offer in your area. We are looking to give away our windows and doors to selected houses prepared to be used in a brochure advertising our products. You could have six windows and up to three doors."
"Ah and this would all be free."
"This is part of our new promotion sir."
"Oh I see and when could you come and fit these. Could you start next week."
At this point there is a pause.
"You did say this was free," I then ask.
"This is part of our new promotion sir,"
At this point the salesman is becoming impatient. On the other end of the telephone is somebody who is either having him or her on or is just thick.
"So your new promotion means that I will get free windows and doors."
"Well they won't actually be free Sir, although we are looking for show houses in your area and if you are chosen we would install free."
"Ah so you are now saying they wouldn't be free. Didn't you say when you started that they would be."
At this point the salesman starts talking about "good deals" and "money off."
Once again there's no such thing as a free lunch.
These people have such narrow remits that they cannot be shaken off their tack. I have for some time been looking for a telephone provider which will give me cheaper internet calls (if you are reading this in the USA or other parts of the world you must realise that in the UK we have to pay local telephone charges for all the time we are on-line. This means an hour on line costs about 55p at weekends and more during the week).
I have been contacted by numerous companies wanting to offer me cheaper long distance and international calls. When I ask them about cheaper local calls they don't want to know.
All salesmen have one thing in common - they make you feel as if they are doing you a favour for allowing you to buy their products. Knock them out of their sales patter and they don't want to know. I like to confuse any salesmen coming to the house. I use Socratic Irony to make them think I am stupid. It's a very enjoyable pastime.
Another trick that confuses them is having a good quality hi-fi system on show but only eight or nine CDs on a shelf - most of which are middle of the road. Keep your Des O'Connor and country and western on display for this purpose. The salesman will probably wonder why you have such a good system and so few CDs. What he won't know is that you keep your serious music in another room. He thinks you are an idiot again whilst you know that upstairs is your full collection of Mozart, Beethoven, Puccini, Mahler, Bruckner, Bob Dylan, Nirvana, Pulp, the Pixies etc etc. Serious stuff for a serious person and artists he probably has never heard of.
My favourite sales call came from a holiday company, wanting to offer me a wonderful free holiday somewhere exotic. "And sir this is nothing to do with Timeshare."
I played them along and they asked me to answer three questions.
I expected something along the lines of your average mindless television quiz questions as this seemed to be a competition. So I agreed to take part.
"Question one sir: Is your surname Steward."
"Well it was last time I looked."
"Question two sir: Is your address ____________________."
"Question Three sir: Are you married."
"Sir I'm delighted to inform you that you have answered all three questions correctly. Now to claim your holiday please contact this number ___________."
"Overcome from the warm feeling of being able to recognise my own surname, being able to confirm my own address and remembering that I am married (how could I forget?) I stupidly rang the number where the young person at the other end spoke too quickly.
"A Ha a salesman," I thought using Socratic Irony to its fullest extent. I was right. To claim the holiday we had to travel to a Country Club 40 miles away for a meeting at midday on a Tuesday. The idea was a non starter. Goodness knows what we would have been sold when we got there. I had, however, proved that I am not an idiot by answering correctly three out of three questions.
What this commercialism is doing is breeding a very discontented race of people. More and more companies are demanding more and more of workers - longer hours, more effort with less staff - you all know the syndrome. Companies are competing against each other. The consumer benefits but at a great loss of personal liberty for the workers who find themselves working longer hours for pitiful pay as profit margins are slashed.
I almost feel guilty picking up bargains and getting things cheaply because I wonder how much the workforce have been made to suffer to produce the goods at such knockdown prices.
Christmas is a fine example of this. Over the past 10 years myself and my family have travelled quite extensively over the holiday period. Ten years ago I would fill up with petrol on Christmas Eve and ensure that I had enough to last me through to the other side of Boxing Day. Now I no longer bother because petrol stations are open on Christmas Day.
Christmas Day has become almost like any other working day and I find that sad. Okay some people are happy to work on double pay but there must be others who are forced to go in by the profit margin. Families suffer.
Sundays are another example. They are no longer days of rest, but just like any other day of the week. I wasn't against shops opening on Sunday but I now have to question whether it is right. I used to enjoy going into Norwich city centre on Sundays, being able to park the car without problem and go for an enjoyable walk . That's no longer possible on many Sundays as the shops are open and you have to fight through almost as much traffic as on any other day.
It is difficult to see where all this commercialism will finish.
Perhaps it will end with families returning to the basics of life and
saying enough is enough. Competition is a good thing but it can also be