Tolerance begins at home

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Flickr // Glasgow Amateur

Flickr // Glasgow Amateur

It is easy to be angry and to blame it on racism. It is easy to say that you don’t understand and be shocked by the result. It is easy to remove those people who don’t agree with you from your feeds. However, this is exactly what the supporters of the winning campaign chose. They chose to be divisive, to split you by fear and to stop you from talking to each other. Don’t let them have the power.

I have been saddened by the amount of hatred and bile that has been spouted as the UK chose to leave the European Union. The irony that many of those have spoken about inclusion and tolerance when asking people to vote, now choose to use the most vicious language for those that went out and voted last night. They have an opinion. We lost. But there is something to build from.

Our social feeds serve as an echo chamber for our own views and opinions. If everyone on your feed is filled with #Remain, then of course you are going to be shocked when it goes the other way. We actively choose to block out, ridicule, ignore and chastise those that don’t agree with us. It doesn’t make sense. As much as it is difficult and frustrating, we should be choosing to listen to what this small majority think about the country that they are living in.

Many of us have been lucky enough to enjoy the benefits of the Union. Multicultural universities, the ability to move freely and the opportunity to associate with many people of different cultures. However, there are many that have been let down. I can understand the individuals that are jealous or bitter about the state of affairs – that are struggling to make ends meet and cannot understand why we enjoy the prosperity that they don’t. I am not saying that it is right or just, but it exists and this is a trident call that we need to listen.

The “us” and “them” culture has been created by us and not Boris Johnson or Nigel Farage. They have fed off our own laziness to interact with each other. It is easy to galvanise a people that don’t feel listened to. That feel abandoned. We may have welcomed many and advocated tolerance through our borders, but this result clearly shows that we have not learned this lesson in our own streets. We have forgotten to educate, to listen, to empathise and to work with ourselves.

Immigration is a fantastic thing, but there are millions that have slipped through the net of our system that we have failed to notice. Investment and financial stability are paramount to success, but we need to empower other industries and break down the glass ceilings that exist in the cities. Prosperity and multiculturalism are powerful tonics that we have been lucky enough to consume, but we must remember that there are many who have never been given the opportunity.

This is a wake-up call. It is a not a beacon of hatred or intolerance. It is the biggest internal conflict that we have faced in a generation. If we truly wanted to remain, then we must be the ones to make an effort to listen to those that didn’t. If we promote inclusion and tolerance, then this is our opportunity to shape the outcome to reflect this. Isolation and divisiveness may have permeated the campaign, it may have helped to win votes, but it does not have to be a part of the conclusion. If we open our arms as a country to those that feel isolated, that needed to be selfish yesterday, that felt lost and wanted to protect themselves, then that is the only way that we can make use of our votes.

Making a stand isn’t about putting a cross in a box. It isn’t about making a Facebook status. The vote in itself is symbolic – now the only thing we can control is the depth of our actions. Nothing will change immediately, but the tide is slowly turning towards a potentially sinister path. Let’s see it as a challenge to bring a country divided back together.

Tolerance starts at home. And God knows, don’t we all need a bit of love right now?

Why I Am Saying No to Mainstream Journalism

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Startup Stock Photos

A lot of people have asked me if I am going to go into journalism when I finish university. It seems like a natural progression, considering I have been involved heavily in student media over the past three years. However, the answer is no. I am choosing to step away from the mainstream titles that tend to attract some of the best student journalists in the country.

The reason is encapsulated in a tweet written by James Bloodworth, a well-known journalist for a number of publications including the New Statesman. The explosion of the digital journalism space and the expansion of titles such as the Independent, Guardian and Huffington Post online has created a culture where content is effectively free. Akin to unpaid internships, online journalism and especially student content has been made almost a requirement to get into the industry. However, unlike other content, it is very rarely compensated. Put bluntly, a lot of young journalists are getting mugged off.

It is no secret that you need a portfolio to get a job these days. You need to show you can write (at a minimum!) as well as effectively sell yourself as a competent reporter. Fortunately, there are many outlets at many universities that provide you with the experience to hone your skills. Again, these are often unpaid, but considering student media is not-for-profit, any revenue is reinvested back into the vision and opportunities of other students. It is a self-fulfilling cycle. However, national titles have now started to dabble in “Student Brand Ambassadors” and student contributors who run student sections of their websites. It provides a very exclusive club for recruiters to cherry-pick some of the best talent. And most of them are either unpaid, or paid an absolute pittance.

There is an argument to suggest that the importance of using the title’s exposure to push through a story, or the potential of a job, far outweighs any sort of pay-per-article system. It sounds logical, but they are making money. Every piece you write generates more social traction through you inevitably sharing it, with more people at your institution engaging as a result and an expansion of their brand. The multiplier effects are countless; and taking a note from the banks, if brands manage to nab students early then you can often keep them for life. However, the originators and curators very rarely get anything at all.

That is why the paywall with The Times and The Sun has inevitably failed to entice young people. We have effectively been priced out of a market we are not even a part of yet, endorsed to produce free content in order to get a “leg up” into the industry. It actually makes me feel sick, because it undermines the fantastic work that student media and journalists do. We should not sacrifice our principles, or the value of our work for titles that will inevitably die if we stop buying into them. We are worth more than that and we can stand up to it.

I will not perpetuate a culture that continues to take advantage of the very people we cherish as part of our student newspaper. It is often difficult to get students to care about anything and it isn’t fair to take advantage of those that are often only trying to make the world a better place in their own way. Journalists (the good ones anyway) often take risks, put their necks on the line, face criticism and stand up to be counted in their writing. The reason I love student journalism is that there is no compulsive agenda, no fat cat boss to pay dividends to and no loss of integrity or quality. But more and more, I have watched friends and peers get laid off, forced to do work for free, whilst the biggest titles in the world profit from their hard work.

“Freelance” is the biggest farce in the industry. It means that you don’t get a full time contract. No stability, and incredibly damaging to the confidence of a fantastic calibre of future changemakers. So no. I will not pander to the Huffington Post, The Guardian or The Independent, unless they start to put their money where their mouth is. Start paying your online journalists – make sure that you reward them for their time and effort. The death of the paper industry just opens up every writer to exploitation and it isn’t fair.

I won’t stop writing, and there are plenty of platforms to do it. If you are a budding journalist, be a part of the citizen journalist movement. Educate your tribe first and build a value to your work. Don’t be afraid to charge and don’t let people take advantage. You have worth. Recognise it. And don’t sell yourself short. I believe in you…and if you need any more inspiration, then have a look at this from Rick Edwards.

Expectation

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SPA

When I was about 13 or 14, I went to this intensive training weekend with a company that I cannot remember the name of. There were around 10 of us, I was the youngest, and we sat and listened to two trainers teach us how to achieve success. It sounds very far-fetched, but it has stayed with me to this day. It focused a lot of visualising what success was going to look like. Remembering all of the little things that you can see, hear and touch when you realise what success is.

I have noticeably been silent on a lot of what has happened this week. I am incredibly proud and humbled by all of the things that we have achieved this year and I have no idea how we got here. When I said that we were going to be the best student publication in the country, I was being naïve. I wasn’t lying because I believed it, but I still might be the only one who thought that we had a chance.

For me the nomination was always enough. At least, that is what I thought until I got to the awards ceremony and sat on my chair. As the night went on, I thought we would do the impossible and I have been kicking myself for the last few days trying to figure out what went wrong. I visualised what success and failure would look like – I dreamt about it and prepared myself for it. But in the end, losing on the night took all of the breath out of me.

The truth is that I am disappointed – upset, that we didn’t quite do enough – but that is the problem with expectation. I feel guilty for even feeling like this, because I am so proud of how far we have come. It is this strange inner conflict, of both complete happiness but a nagging sense of incompleteness that confuses me. I didn’t really know how to react and so I went with what I knew – I felt inadequate.

What is most annoying is that there are so many positives to take from this. All in all, the awards that we won were actually the ones that we deserved and the ones we put the most work into. Best Publication would have been a nice cherry, but in my heart of hearts, I know that we just weren’t consistently good enough. It is a hard thing to swallow, knowing that it wasn’t quite enough, but if I had it all worked out now, who knows what the outcome would have been?

The positive learning curve from this is that I am not quite there yet. Hell it hurts more than a lot of things that I have done, but it is the reason why I need to wake up early in the morning and keep going. We managed to do the best that we have ever done at these awards, and I need to realise how big a deal that is – regardless of my selfish motives and my ego.

Putting that all aside, I cried with happiness. I actually weeped and it didn’t feel like a bad thing. It felt like a wonderful thing to let the emotion out. Knowing that life never really works out the way that you know it, to have these pieces of glass, to go beyond the expectation, is one of the best things I have ever done.

It is with this that I finally put it to bed and realise that it is time for the next challenge. I have done everything that I can do here and it is finally time to say goodbye. For the millionth time, it is time to look back fondly, rather than turn my back.

Expectation is a bitch. But this is enough for now – there are more first places to come.

The library in your last term

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warwick library

The monotony can be jarring. I think when you are young, you always get the tendency to fidget. Knowing that a large proportion of your life is being decided in the next few years, and that the rest of it is going to be much less exciting (potentially), it does make you itch. Not necessarily for anything in particular, actually quite the opposite. You just don’t want to get settled down too quickly and so you move and flit more in your decision making.

You won’t eat dinner at the same time every day, and you’ll set an alarm but you’re definitely sleeping in most mornings. You can be persuaded to go out and do things that you otherwise wouldn’t even entertain. You are more inclined to travel, because you don’t think you have seen or experienced enough yet. You are constantly reminded that other people ARE, and that you can see it on any social networking app you have on your phone. Photographs, anecdotes, throw backs and videos of the best parts of everything, from nearly 2,000 “friends”. We are all guilty of it.

Every day for the past two-and-a-half years, you have been told that the world of work (and inevitably routine) is very far away. Every essay can be done half an hour before the deadline and you can balance your time by making 60 per cent of your lectures and 100 per cent of everything else you would much rather be doing. You can pretty much do what you want, eat what you feel like and wake up (and nap) whenever you feel it is necessary.

Oh, but then the real world hits you. The prospect of getting a decent degree looms and you make your way to the library. You remember that you need to have breakfast in the morning and make time to pack a lunch. It becomes clear that pasta is going to be a bigger part of your weekly shop than alcohol for the foreseeable future. You have a bed time, because you have to get up early and do work. Reading is a thing, and you haven’t done enough of it. Graduation is just around the corner, and whether you have a job or not, you have to leave the idea of being a student behind.

Sitting in the library, at a desk, for five or more hours a day is the monotony. The slow conclusion that dawns on every finalist: this is what the rest of my life is going to be like. It has been a good run, and the nights out have been fantastic, but this is all ending and I wasn’t ready. I have convinced myself that I am ready to go, that long days of reading and writing about thinkers is not for me, and that the last good bits are already over.

The truth is that without it, I’d probably be a bit of wreck. I haven’t made the most of my lectures and taken the knowledge that I should have done. I have learnt a lot since I’ve been here, but maybe I should have taken it more seriously. There are so many new things that I didn’t get the chance to do or gave up on. Many relationships that I failed to cultivate, or made mistakes with – things I said that I could take back, but that isn’t how this works.

The positive thing is that this feels like a peak. Whether this is just a camp on the way to the summit, or if there is a sharp drop coming, at least I felt the high. The sense of bliss from knowing that something, anything came good with the effort that you put in. And that is what I am going to remember, not this feeling of loss.

So I am jittery, I am itching to leave in once sense and fidgeting in another about what is going to happen. I guess it is the sort of thing that could be quite normal at this age. The only thing that I do know for sure is that regardless of how monotonous and all-consuming this work feels at the moment, it stands at the culmination of the end of my time at university. It is the important last element.

Getting that scroll of paper may be a chore, and these two months will be the most mentally intensive of my life, but it comes with a reward. And some of that reward has come good already. If nothing else, I am going to enjoy this period of learning because it might be the last, at least academic, in a while.

Every time my eyes are starting to close in the library, I am going to read this through again and realise that I’m lucky to be here. And now it’s time to stop taking it for granted and embrace it. Only a little while longer, keep the faith.

Bleed Blue

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Credit: sum_of_marc / Flickr

Credit: sum_of_marc / Flickr

I looked on my Facebook this morning and saw someone say that they were proud to be Indian because we (I say “we” in the loosest form here) beat Australia in cricket. Sitting in a pub in Birmingham yesterday with my family, it was clear that that everyone was in a good mood. Boundaries and sixes were celebrated with noise that could probably be heard from India. However, this morning I stumbled across a documentary called “India’s Daughter” about the violent Delhi gang-rape of aspiring medic, Jyoti Singh, and it left a bitter taste in my mouth about patriotism.

All over my social feeds yesterday, there were plenty of people that were jubilant about the victory. It created a great atmosphere over lunch, although there were a few people that inevitably took it too far. I watched some of the reactions to players like Virat Kohli and M.S. Dhoni, the vice and captain respectively, as many people created a cult of personality around them. Sure, they are incredibly talented individuals, but there have already been allegations of match fixing with both of them at the very top and not to mention Dhoni’s infamous goat sacrifice scandal 6 years ago now which saw him banned from games.

It is very easy to look at sport in isolation. To watch and enjoy a game at a time, and ignore the politics that is happening behind the scenes. To be honest, a lot of the people who benefit from these games would prefer it that way – so you were not aware of what is going on. And if you don’t think that sport, even cricket, is political…then let me direct you to every India and Pakistan game that has been played since 1947. Whilst I can understand why it is exciting to see Indians of all shapes, sizes and genders colouring their faces in blue paint, donning their jerseys and singing in the crowds, it feels like this doesn’t translate outside of the stadium.

The problem with these sorts of tournaments, is that whilst they are a release from the mire of what else is going on, they do nothing to tackle the ongoing injustices that are plaguing Indian society. Speaking as an NRI (non-resident Indian), I am sure there are many that would label me a hypocrite. However, listening to the story of Jyoti, who had her entrails dragged out from her private parts with an iron rod before being thrown into the road, tells me that a cricket game is not going to fix it. If anything, it is more of a distraction.

Passion and enthusiasm are key. When you hear the cries of “India Zindabad!” during these games, it is fantastic to see the voices of many joining the chorus. Whether they are men or women, young or old. But we pick and choose the parts that we are patriotic about – the conversations about female foeticide, rape, a lack of sexual education, inequality, cultural backwardness, changes in attitude are all swept under the carpet. Not only are we not proud of that India, we choose to ignore it and let those individuals suffer in silence – shaming them for our own crimes of ignorance.

I don’t want to dampen any celebrations. It is fantastic that India are through in a tournament that comes around all of the time, with individuals that get paid too much money and who might be cheating. I mean in reality; I couldn’t give a toss. What concerns me is that we cheer for a nation that seems to be doing well in the ICC World Rankings, but is also dubbed as the “rape capital of the world” in Delhi.

I mean we could practice our bowling and batting, because it is easier. It also means someone (probably not you) will make a lot of money. But does it really make you proud to be Indian? When you watch that and realise all of these things going on in the background, does it make you “bleed blue” as everyone seems to say?

I wouldn’t say that I am that sort of patriot yet.

A Little Time Off

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Credit: petalouda62 / Flickr

Credit: petalouda62 / Flickr

It’s been just over a week now since I left the best job I ever had. It feels weird to think that, let alone say it. When I was still there, it definitely didn’t feel like the best job, but the last seven days or so have given me some perspective. I wake up in the mornings not routinely checking my emails, clearing my Facebook messages or wandering onto the website to see how everything is going. I have started to make time for breakfast in the morning, I don’t wake up panicked and I actually have time to read on the bus without falling in and out of sleep.

I miss parts of it. Of course I miss the inevitable sense of importance and being able to work with fantastic people on a daily basis. I miss being at the beginning, middle and end of the story, watching the whole journey happen – and knowing that there was a small part of it that was down to me. The feeling of accomplishment that you get from doing a good job and working with people who (hopefully) feel valued is second to none. I miss watching the names and faces of those you start with, grow and prosper. There are so many fantastic individuals that have made me smile and gasp in awe this year, many of them close to home, but also a number that I can already see on the horizon doing their thing already.

It would be impossible to thank everyone that has been a part of this. There have been times along the way, probably more than I expected, when I needed to lean on someone for help and they have always given me the time I needed. I am not going to say that those people should know who they are, because many of them are reading this – and I wanted to express a heartfelt thank you. Feeling empowered in the position that I was in is only boosted knowing that I represent and sponsor the values of others walking alongside me. Like-minded individuals marching fervently towards change.

It has been a privilege to hold that baton for nigh on 12 months, but batons are meant to be passed. In truth, even though it was difficult at first, it has been refreshing to find myself again. It also amuses me slightly that at a moment’s notice of focusing on me I am back at this keyboard and typing it all out. I guess this gives me a platform to transform myself. A constant that I can turn back to for more challenges and puzzles that I am craving now.

It does feel empty at points. A numbing feeling looking back at some of the best experiences and achievements of my university life, knowing that it is not only the end of that, but nearly the end of another chapter. I look back at them fondly, but it hurts knowing that they are past and the future looks a little more uncertain.

However, I am taking a little rest to start with me. That is the reason why I have not been so diligent in responding to messages this month or have taken time out of other commitments. This phase of hibernation is slowly drawing to coming to a close with this succinct message, but it has been nice to have some time away from most responsibilities. As time like this, as much as I hate the mundane, it feels good to have a tidy house, a decent schedule and time to relax. It is something that I have missed immensely, and felt guilty about for too long. No one should begrudge themselves a little time off.

With the last few months of a staple life to go, before things take a massive upheaval, I can honestly say I feel calm for the first time in a while. I have absolutely no idea what is going to happen, but having fought against the impossible last year and managed to achieve some of it, I can’t wait to see what is in store.

The thrill is in the chase right?

Bedouin

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The bow of a traditional pearl diving boat // credit: Bala / Flickr

The bow of a traditional pearl diving boat // credit: Bala / Flickr

Bedouin. No, it isn’t something from Star Wars. The inhabitants of the desert and forefathers of the hyper-city that lies before us was no more than a nomadic tribe diving for pearls only 100 or so years ago. Before the discovery of oil in the 1970s and the mass development of Dubai, it started off from fairly humble beginnings. I was convinced before I came here that Dubai had no history at all – it was one of the reasons that I avoided coming here, but there is a heritage. It isn’t something that you are going to find in Dubai Mall or in a 5* hotel (of which there are many). You have to dig a little deeper.

The city tour that we booked ourselves onto this morning was to settle us in. After resting our swollen feet from the floors of the Burj Khalifa, we decided that it was time to sit on a bus. The national museum had told us the brief story of this place, and now it was time to see the effects. Bur Dubai, where the old gold souks (markets) lay were noticeably empty – it was the quietest street market I had ever seen. However, it had a character that did not shine with the veneer of the imported marble that we had seen everywhere.

Jumeirah. You have heard of it. It means chandelier and relates to the most expensive part of Dubai, probably the wealthiest street in the entire world. A road filled with the emirati, descendants and loved ones of the royal family, that own the UAE and its rich contents. Whilst the oil may have dried up, the wealth has never left. Only the distant descendants of the Bedouin tribes are able to open businesses and own property in this country – which means that the only thing that we can take away is what we can carry in our Prada bags – the real wealth in estate and citizenship don’t go any further than the Arabian Gulf.

What struck me about this place is the sheer size. It is like an enormous Monopoly board in which someone has put hotels on everything. From the breathtaking Atlantis hotel as a window onto the ‘Gulf; to the familiar sail of the 7* Burj al-Arab hotel on the Palm Jumeirah; the word ‘luxury’ is ripped out the dictionary and replaced with a map of Dubai. The only place for modesty here is in clothing, with its unspoken yet strict Islamic laws.

However there are contradictions. The pork aisle in the Waitrose supermarket labelled “non-Muslim”. The variety of cigarettes and alcohol on offer to any tourist willing to pay the tax-deductible price. The emphasis on greed and spending, and the absence of humility and humanity. There are thousands that build these buildings and maintain this 24/7 tourist attraction, but they do not exist in the minds of those who come here. The backbone of the populace is almost invisible outside of their uniforms and duties – it is as if they are the ghosts that prosperity left behind.

It is easy to get caught up in the hype. The thousands of shops, crystal white beaches and unimaginable luxury, but it is not real. It can’t be real when 80% of it is dependent on foreigners and there is no incentive to work for the vast majority of residents. Yet, the destructive circle continues. More skyscrapers are built. The world’s largest zoo is in construction. Companies continue to pay no tax. And investors continue to pour talent into this man-made oasis.

For me, a society built on this level of consumerism is a recipe for disaster. Imagine how many people in Syria could be saved if the King sold his solid gold Rolls Royce. Perspective is a very damning indictment. And it doesn’t seem to exist here.