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I must confess, I do have a fondness for self-help books despite knowing that the promise rarely matches the reality and that there are few quick wins in life. However, my latest dive into self-help, Essentialism: The disciplined pursuit of less by Greg McKeown offered a clear and focused message that felt achievable and actually useful. It had a somewhat similar to the messaging from the Marie Kondo book in that it felt achievable and rooted in the real world.
Essentialism at its core advocates a pared back lifestyle focused on doing only what is necessary and enjoyable in order to have a great life. A key theme that resonated with me was the idea of focus as a noun and a verb. Mckeown explores the idea of focus not just as a way to be, but also as a way to do. It’s my key takeaway from the book and something I hope to deliberate and develop over the next few months. For McKeown, focus is and can be a dynamic, ongoing process that allows people to make the fundamental changes they want to. It is both static and moving.
The only critique that comes to mind about the book was as with many self-help book, Greg belabours his point and could have delved into the whys of essentialism. Otherwise a good entry in the world of productivity and self development.
From the moment African Americans arrived in the United States as slaves, their journey has been one of resilience, suffering and an ongoing pursuit for fully formed citizenry. Whilst the declaration of the Emancipation Proclamation on 1 January 1863 by Abraham Lincoln was justifiably seen as a milestone moment, it’s worth noting that African Americans have not rested on their laurels. They’ve organised, campaigned and fought ceaselessly for rights and justice. The fight carries on today although the nature of it is changing with the use of new tools and approaches.
Society as we know it, is currently in the middle of a transformation that could be called a new age of technology. This new age has transformed businesses and other sectors as well as revolutionising social connections and interactions. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram have changed the way that people across the world interact with the younger demographics seizing and using these tools in new and exciting ways. In particular, the focus on online social connections and engagement has proven to be a catalyst for reinvigorating the push for equality and justice. It makes sense that social and political advocacy particularly on the racial justice front would also make use these tools.
There have been several developments in the use social media platforms for social and political advocacy, with the rise and influence of Black Twitter serving has a notable example. This cohort of African American super Twitter users have directed their power to start conversations about many issues including the extra-judicial killings by American police. Other platforms have also been used for engagement and connection with Tumblr serving as a platform for social commentators to delve into issues of intersectional feminism, racism and existing power structures. Despite having less prominence than Black Twitter, Black Tumblr has also been a connecting space for online savvy, socially aware African American focused presence. Both of these platforms and to a lesser extent others like Instagram and Snapchat have re-energised the civil rights movement for a younger audience.
The power of the aforementioned platforms in the civil rights movement has finally started to be noticed by the wider media and American society. In particular, with the filming and distribution of footage of extra-judicial killings of African American citizens by the police who are supposed to protect and serve them. The numerous films that have emerged over the past five or so years have become documentary evidence of the injustices that African Americans have been talking about for decades on end and can no longer be ignored by wider society. Social media platforms are being used as a fulcrum for discourse and organizing with the most spectacular example being the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement, which had its beginnings with a #hashtag and has moved from online communities into the mainstream media world.
Although many social media platforms have stated goals of connecting people, the advocacy developments are challenging and some respond better than others. Twitter for all its faults as an echo chamber and troll megaphone has been responsive to the social advocacy that takes place on its platform. Facebook on the other hand has been more hesitant not wanting to jeopardise its wide user base. It will be interesting to see how the social media companies marry the original intent of their companies with the unintended use of their platforms for advocacy.
As the UK spins in a crisis of its own making and Donald Trump continues his march towards the presidency of the United States of America, I’ve been thinking about the causes of the recent spate of populism in the West, wondering why we are once again moving in this direction.
In my opinion stagnating income and wealth growth and intense nostalgia play an important role in the current maelstrom, underpinning the motivations and behaviour of huge segments of the American and British populace.
The central thesis of Thomas Pikkety’s book Capital in the Twenty-First Century is that income/wealth inequality has been rising in the West since the 1970s and there’s been a failure to recognise and respond to this capitalist failure by political and economic leaders in the West.
Yuval Levin’s The fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in the age of Individualism argues that intense nostalgia is the locus point for modern political narration when politicians seek to connect with the electorate. I agree with Levin’s conjecture that an idealised past is used to convey ideas to the populace. For the Left this is a romantication of 1960s cultural liberalisation and stable economic order or the pre-industrialised society and whilst the Right romanticises pre 1960s and the 80s economic liberalisation. It’s not lost on me that both sides can sometimes misjudge the pre-industralised society, for women and people of colour, life was far from golden. No matter the focus, both sides hark back to a golden age when things were right, the world made sense and the ordinary person could get on. Is it any wonder that as globalisation continues apace, ordinary people also look back and wish for ‘simpler times’.
I suspect that the Brexit vote and Trump’s political rise are driven by revolt against globalisation and rising income inequality as well as fading memories of the dark path that populism and its consequences can lead to.
Ultimately, I hope a future focused mindset prevails; in truth the world was very imperfect for many demographics. In fact, for a black woman like me, the past would have been hellish. I know people that lived through segregation, lack of women’s rights and very turbulent insecure times. For most of us who are not white men, right here, right now, is pretty dam better than back then. I don’t welcome a retreat and I don’t want to go back to the past. I want to expand, grow and thrive and I hope that others want to do so too.