Who are les miserables?

We’ve just got back from the cinema, where we watched Les Miserables. Hubby and I have seen the musical a couple of times. We showed middle son the DVD of the 25 year concert, and he was interested enough to read the book and wanted to come. Youngest decided to try it – he hadn’t even realised it was a musical, bless him!

But the movie made me think, and gave me an answer to a question I’ve been pondering lately. I’ve been reading the news and looking at the world around me and wondering if we’re actually making any progress, or are we moving backwards? With all the pressures financially, and people losing jobs, and businesses closing, and people living on benefits with no intention – or hope – of getting a job, it just seemed to me that the world is becoming less and less pleasant to live in.

Then watching Les Miserables, I was reminded that however much we complain about people receiving little punishment for crimes, at least they have a chance to turn themselves around and make a positive change, rather than being condemned for the rest of their lives for a minor crime. However much we complain about people who live on benefits, at least we know that people are no longer thrown on the scrapheap if they are unable to support themselves. As much as we know that people in some countries still live a miserable life, there are those who are aware and actively campaigning to improve their lot.

If we’ve gone too far the other way, if it’s too easy to commit crimes without punishment, or to live on benefits without bothering about trying to live independently, or to ignore those who suffer, at least the majority is aware of that fact, and not believing it is an acceptable way of life, which means there must be hope.

While on a year to year basis, and maybe even decade to decade, there can be swings back and forth, overall I guess the world is improving, has improved and will continue to improve. We look on episodes from the past as barbaric, which means that in years to come this era will also seem backward, and as long as we can see the injustice and suffering in our world we can stand up against it.

In general, we have to see what is wrong with the world in order to make any progress away from it. We have to feel the pain to appreciate the freedom from pain. We have to get upset at injustice in order to appreciate what justice is. And even in the midst of the pain, there are those willing to stand up for what they believe in, who sometimes stand on their own but sometimes are joined by more and more who are willing to suffer and to speak so that life for others might be improved. The time we need to worry is the time when we see nothing wrong, when we’re happy with the world, because that means not that we live in a perfect world, but that we have grown to accept its imperfection so well that we no longer notice it.

Yes, I did enjoy the movie, by the way!



A rare evening to myself

Just for a change, hubby is out for the evening, leaving me in the living room by myself.  So what do you do when you get your own choice of activities?  I’ve got a couple of movies to watch, the type that the rest of the family would never be interested in: The Help and Pay it Forward.  It’s my chance to sit in comfort, watch movies, drink fruit cider and have a nice relaxing evening.

I’m currently watching The Help, and as always when I come across the subject matter I find myself horrified that people could treat others in such a way.  We’ve come a long way in 50 years or so; not as far as we need to, maybe, but seeing scenes where someone is horrified to see “a colored person using our bathroom!” I feel distinctly uncomfortable.  At one point, after featuring as one of the King’s wives in a local production of The King and I, I tried to read Uncle Tom’s Cabin, but again the sentiments in the book I found unbearable, and I soon set it aside.

I’ve been similarly shocked by a topic much closer to home this week: I’ve been reading about the attitudes of some male gamers to females who dare to stray into their territory, ranging from in-game abuse (from the mildest “get back in the kitchen” comments to swearing, and threats of rape and abuse) to hounding them on the internet generally, including death threats and public harassment.

Why do we have to be so cruel to others?  Because it makes us feel better about ourselves if we can consider someone else as inferior?  Because we actually believe it?

I understand that part of survival is banding together with “like” and rejecting “unlike”.  I understand that fear of the unknown is a protective mechanism.  But shouldn’t we be beyond that by now?  Shouldn’t we be able to see something different for what it is, no threat to us, and welcome the unknown?

I have a son who has a strange interest – despite being of university age, he’s addicted to My Little Pony.  Since they resurrected the show a year or few back, it seems to have attracted a strange audience, made up of males in their 20s and 30s, known as bronies, who religiously watch every episode they can get their hands on, create or collect art, fanfic and little plastic figures and socialise on forums.  His brothers are treating this interest with thorough hostility, to the extent that sometimes shocks me.  While I’ve been rather disapproving of this interest, considering it rather strange, I’ve been tempted into playing the game and even started watching some of the episodes myself.  The reluctance I’ve felt to admit this in my family, knowing the reaction I’d get, makes me realise just how brave – or merely uninterested in what people think of him – my son actually is.

How can we get to the point where we can accept someone for what they are, without questioning, or pressuring them, or expressing anything other than support?  How can we get past the initial fear of something different, and start to move towards acceptance and celebration of the difference?  All I know is that I need to show acceptance of my son, and show the others in the family that their attitude is not reasonable.