Category Archives: Blog Action Day

How We Use Words: Blog Action Day 2013


Language evolves. It’s a fact of communication; words twist, change and merge, they take on new meanings and become adopted by different groups. Gay, surf, wicked, computer, all words used by our forebears in very different ways. Heck, thirty years ago, who’d’ve thought that ‘Google’ could mean ‘search’?

How we use words is important. They often shape our actions, shape how we see others and yes, how we see their rights.

An example: go online, find a post or a video in which a woman says something even vaguely feminist, or even simply reasonable. Now look below the line and wait for the first rape threat. When the hell did such a heinous crime develop its own culture of jokes and attitudes and badly written ebooks? And what impact does that have on reporting rape, on the lives of rape survivors, on a medium where threats of violence and sexual assault are commonplace?

Maybe we should have seen this coming, at least since not being racist ended up being described as “political correctness gone mad” and the idea that employers shouldn’t accidentally kill their workforce is sneeringly described as “health and safety” (cue eye roll).

All this has an effect on human rights. Okay, maybe in the civilised west we’re not herding people into concentration camps at the moment, but the language we use eats away at the lives of those around us: female journalists and activists leaving Twitter because of no effective way to report people threatening to blow up their houses? Immigrants seeing themselves described in newspapers as a flood, a tide eroding the very foundations of the country? “That’s gay” has become a synonym for “that’s stupid”, so how does that impact the phrase “they’re gay”?

In the UK, even ‘human rights’ is subject to this. Linked by politicians and media to frivolous law suits, the government is talking about repealing the Human Rights Act. The message given is that human rights legislation protects terrorists, not, for instance, hard working families. Now don’t get me wrong, we should always be considering if human rights legislation is fit for purpose, but watch the language used. Human rights aren’t trivial. Human rights aren’t frivolous. And we should rage against language that turns rape into entertainment and individuals as somehow less human than ourselves. Because language can inspire action, and sometimes we deny the humanity of others through the very words we use.


Blog Action Day 2012: The Power of We

I want to write great, inspiring things about community. Really I do. It’s just that the last few days, my faith in this sort of thing has taken a bit of a beating.

I mean, my commute is roughly an hour each way, which is fine. However, last week the main road on which I travel was closed due to a burst water main, meaning it took me nearly four hours to get home. I could live with that – it’s not fun, but hey, sometimes water mains explode – but the complete lack of consideration displayed by other motorists was shocking, with cars pushing into the queue at the last moment and generally bumping an already nightmarish commute down a couple more levels of hell.

Okay, silly example maybe, but it shows what happens when the Power of We gets pushed out in favour of the Power of Me. It turns out that eccentric British radio and TV personality Jimmy Savile was systematically sexually abusing young girls for forty years without being caught; now it turns out that plenty of people knew or suspected it was going on but turned a blind eye. It was pragmatic. It was the culture. Community broke down.

I won’t even start on trolling.

I know this is a negative way of starting a blog that’s intended to celebrate the power and importance of community, but I think it’s important to remember that community, society, the corporate We isn’t just about projects and clubs, it’s about a way of thinking, a way of thinking that means we actually work together instead of ignoring crimes and becoming jerks the minute we sit down behind a steering wheel or a keyboard.

That way of thinking is a powerful thing. My wife and I got married in August, and our wedding is a fantastic example of the Power of We. Friends did our catering, made our cake, took photos and moved chairs and decorated and arranged flowers and… Well, it was a genuine example of a community – no, a few different communities – coming together and making our big day special. I might moan about inconsiderate commuters, but when I do, all I have to do is look at my wedding photos to get a wake-up call: sometimes community works. Heck, most of the time it works, that’s why we have a society, that’s why we have sub-cultures, that’s why, when a bunch of people rioted last year, communities in London had organised clean-up crews by the next morning. They held their brooms in the air and proclaimed that chaos wouldn’t win.

It’s that humanity, those faces, that help me to remember what’s really important. We can look at Jimmy Savile or Rupert Murdoch and see how, over the last year, media, law and politics collapsed and allowed shameful crimes to be committed. But I can look at my friends, I can look at colleagues who were in Yemen and Tunisia when the Arab Spring took hold and see that communities can work together to create something amazing, something good.

It’s easy to be cynical; it’s harder, but more more powerful, to believe that things can be different. Or, as the Smiths once sang, “It’s so easy to laugh, it’s so easy to hate; it takes strength to be gentle and kind”.

And the Power of We shall stand.

Blog Action Day 2011: #BAD11

I am proud to take part in Blog Action Day Oct 16, 2011

I wrote most of this after my church’s harvest festival in September; when I discovered that this year’s Blog Action Day is all about food, I figured I’d give it a repost rather than reinvent the wheel…

Harvest is one of those services that feels more rooted in a particular social context than something like Christmas or Easter – it feels like something that comes from our rural history, the days in which everyone in the community was acutely aware of whether or not the harvest had failed. We’ve become divorced from that – refrigeration, air travel and supermarket mega-chains have conspired to hide the reality of where our food comes from (strawberries are available all year round, and how many rice paddies are there in the UK?), and so in that context, harvest festivals take on a new edge. Because the hidden aspects of our food often impact some of the most vulnerable people and environments on the planet.


For instance, the need for space to grow this food also has knock-on effects – according to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, agriculture is the primary cause of deforestation, with the attendant ecological and cultural losses that come from the extinction of species and the threat to tribal cultures. Our commercial choices have ramifications for people a couple of continents away.

(It’s worth noting that one of the chief causes of the 1930s American ‘Dust Bowl’ was over-farming.)

That why organisations such as the Fairtrade Foundation are so important. In a world where people exist on a couple of pence a day, it’s a moral imperative to ensure they receive a decent income. A worker deserves a wage, not exploitation.

It’s not just about exploitation though, it’s about what happens when the harvest fails. We’ve all seen news pictures from the Horn of Africa, so I’m just going to point you to the Disasters Emergency Committee website.

And yeah, I can be cheesy – you can’t spell ‘harvest’ without ‘share’.

There’s a more specifically 20110918-184537.jpgreligious slant to all this as well – if God is creator (via whatever mechanism) of all there is, then respect for that creation and acknowledgement of God’s role in sustaining it should become part of worship. This is something that various branches of religious thought have lost sight of – certainly there seems to be a view among sections of American Christianity that the environment is there for the taking with no regard to the consequences – plunder not stewardship. Maybe that’s tied up with the USA’s roots in apocalyptic millenarianism, but as we’ve seen above, that sort of thinking has terrible ramifications. Churches need to adopt a view of the environment that’s rooted in love and compassion, not greed.

So like many other traditional services, there was wisdom behind the development of harvest festivals. In a world where most of us don’t a connection to the soil, it’s good that there are community events that seek to remind us that there’s more to life than concrete and shppping malls – and I’m speaking as a man who doesn’t walk through nearly enough green spaces. We need to take a moment to stop, look at all that we have, and be thankful, mindful that we’re part of a wider, greener world.

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