A Reflection On Youthful Anxiety

In the last few days there has been a lot in the news about mental health issues, especially in relation to their prevalence and the impact they may have on younger people. I was pleased that this is now getting more recognition and maybe even getting some kind of action to something that has often been overlooked.

First off, I’m going to have a little bit of rant on this specific area, but please do not think I am any way promoting this over other age groups that can have difficulties (including my own, and I mean that very personally too) or the different types of mental health issues that many people suffer. This is vast, and I just cannot cover everything in few hundred words so I’ll let other people talk about that. Or maybe I will give my thoughts some other week.

Anyway, my own epiphany in trying to understand this came from some very interesting TED talks which challenged me (there are quite a few, I particularly like this one https://www.ted.com/talks/guy_winch_the_case_for_emotional_hygiene )

The challenge partly was why society tends to treat issues with mental health in a very different way to physical health, in terms perhaps not so much as the level of effort put against it (and I say that because there are many physical conditions which are underfunded/not given the same level of support as others) but in the stigma that is often consciously or unconsciously attached to them. This is also true to the point that most people, myself included, do not know how to help manage our mental state when it is put upon by something that knocks us out of kilter, whether it be a temporary thing or something we have to live with for an extended period.

Where I live, in a nice and relatively affluent English town just outside the M25 it all looks pretty good on the surface. I would say that in many areas most of the young people growing up here are really lucky. It is certainly a very different from where I grew up in the North East of the England. There is more money, more obvious opportunities and certainly I feel very blessed now to be living here (and if we had been able to have children I would have been happy to see them grow up here). However, at the same time, there is a side to this that increasingly worries people and it latches onto one of two themes with youth I feel passionately about. One of those themes is potential, which I have touched on before. But this week what worries me is the pressure to succeed and be seen as a success, which drives a distressingly large number of young people in the area I live to suffer a range of issues up to and sadly including suicide.

It seems something quite intense to me possibly because I do not recall having the problem. As the first person in my family to get into university the only pressure I felt at school was self-imposed – my parents where incredibly supported but as they left school with no qualifications anything I achieved they rejoiced in. I wanted to do well to justify the sacrifices they had made but they, and the environment where I lived, did not place expectations on me, consciously or unconsciously.

My home town now is very different to this and manifests that atmosphere of high expectation in a way that makes people feel they must succeed and succeed all the time and that one misstep might suddenly destroy some conceptual version of their future life and career. With experience, you know that while things might get more difficult or your plans might have to change, there are always possibilities. But the ‘it’s all over if you don’t get your grades’ mentality remains. It is reinforced at every turn, by families, peers and in social media – often acting with the best of intentions. Many times everything is fine, I am blessed to know a lot of young people who have learned to cope; but when it does go wrong it can be catastrophic.

The good news; people seem to be talking about this now, which is always a good start if you want to get somewhere. I am hoping to be involved in at least one local project that will try and be a support group for local youth to try and mitigate some of that anxiety  that can be harmful – I hope it is at least able to help save some kids from suffering necessarily. That would be a success for me, or perhaps I should say a good place to start.


Contrived To Confuse

Are you confused by acronyms? I certainly am, and as an employee of a large corporate organisation this can be a bit of a problem as the cliché is that this is one of the acronym’s finest breeding grounds, and like many clichés it is unfortunately true.

What scares me about acronyms is the ease which we create them and the ease they can become so prevalent throughout an organisation. This is not necessarily a problem initially; they become a new language (or perhaps dialect) and providing everyone speaks the same dialect there is no problem understanding each other.

The issue comes when you start trying to talk your new dialect with those who have not been exposed to it before and the fun and games that result afterwards.

I feel it more acutely these days as my work means I spend a lot of time dealing with organisations other than my employer, whether that be other companies, regulatory authorities or Non-Governmental Organisations (or NGOs – exactly my point, an acronym you see quite a lot but few people outside my professional sphere understand what it means and the wide range of organisations covered by those three letters). It is terribly easy to use acronyms you use every day with your team back home in a new discussion and see the blank looks of incomprehension on the person you are talking to. Worse, perhaps, is when the person on the receiving end of your stream of gobbledygook is good at hiding the fact they have no idea what you mean and will not ask you to explain out of embarrassment. Of course if someone has not bothered to explain their terms first any lack of comprehension on the part of the audience is pretty much their fault, but it never feels like that, we all feel that we know everything.

One thing I am not entirely sure of, and which gives me a little hope, is whether things are getting better or worse. I am not talking about texting language or Twitter technique, as that to me is a different medium for communication in its very principles and therefore has its own language. I am thinking about whether when we actually talk to each other, whether or not in a business context, we have gotten worse in our unqualified use of acronyms and that consequentially we are set on a course of increased mutual bamboozlement, or whether only the acronyms themselves change. I feel that actually the latter may be the case, considering people have been pointing out the issues for some decades at least.

There are many more important things to worry about of course, and this little whimsical ramble is principally to give some respite on a busy Tuesday from having to decipher yet another impenetrable business report. But then again, anything that stops us from understanding each other these days has to be watched, so I am going to try harder to not use acronyms without reason, or at least provide a glossary.

Finally, it is only fair that I reveal my favourite acronym; there was quite a lot to choose from, especially for a geek like myself and the entire history of SF and fantasy to trawl through for those acronyms so painfully manufactured to make a cool name for an organisation or character, stand up James Bond’s nemesis SPECTRE, or in more long winded fashion the Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion. However, for me personally it is pipped at post by a character from the 1979 Disney film ‘The Black Hole’ heroic robot VINCENT, which is somehow contrived from Vital Information Necessary CENTralized, which is truly terrible. But he was voiced by the late Roddy McDowall, so that makes up for most sins in my book. I’m interested in other people’s favourites, from any sphere…

In on the Joke

We had the pleasure of attending an odd little gig recently, one of those events where you kind of hope everyone there are in on the joke, because otherwise they would be very confused indeed. I was not even sure about going in the first place, as largely all I knew about the artist was regular surreal appearances on BBC 6Music’s Radcliffe & Maconie show.

The artist in question was the redoubtable John Shuttleworth, out on his farewell tour. Basically, this titan of the music business has decided to hang up his Yamaha organ on health grounds – 2016 having shown just how dangerous it was to be a famous person had convinced him that, regretfully, it was time to step down from the limelight and the lucrative gigs at Nursing homes and keep his head down for his own survival.

John Shuttleworth, for those do not know, doesn’t really exist. He is a comic character created by a chap called Graham Fellows (who was also responsible for one hit wonder punk star Jilted John, for those who like such trivia).  Shuttleworth is stuck in the 1970s in terms of attitudes and dress, and is entirely deluded about his own level of talent. Which of course is the point and as the performance goes on the carefully scripted mistakes in playing the organ, or forgetting the words just underline the point.

John is a buffoon, albeit a likeable one – none of the comedy is cruel or rude, very much certificate U material you could take your granny to. In fact, as I said to the Lovely Wife as we were making our way home, it was a real shame that my Nana is no longer with us, because she would have found this sort of thing hilarious. This kind of stuff is antithesis of satirical comedy. Nothing is relevant to the present situation, nothing is of any importance at all. The character exists in his own micro world where the worst thing that can happen is that you wife has opened another pack of margarine so there are now two open in the fridge (I mean, which do you use? It’s a ‘nightmare scenario’), or that he has started on his pudding when there was still shepherd’s pie to eat (the classic ‘I can’t go back to savoury now’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L8eh72REd_s ). In place of weighty discussions about the state of the world and society you instead have a tirade – well, a gentle grumpiness – on why Mars removed the piece of cardboard from around a Bounty bar. After all, that fragile coconut bar needed protection and it made a good bookmark or sturdy shopping list afterwards. Sadly, his campaign to have it reinstated (‘Mutiny over the Bounty’) has yet to bear fruit.

I love this kind of comedy, because it is terribly clever while appearing to be amateurish and simple. The absolute key is that the character never slips so the illusion is never disrupted. That happily allows the audience and the performer to share the joke, and it actually gets quite weird later in the performance when he starts to play a melody of his ‘greatest hits’ and you do find yourself singing along as though it were an actual gig, which I think is the moment I realised how good Fellows actually is.

Do catch John Shuttleworth if you can, just remember to relax and let the man quite deliberately fail to meet your expectations for musicianship and professionalism hilariously.