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I saw the light.

I am the ultimate layman. I don’t have a doctorate or a PHD in science. My knowledge of the universe & the planet we all live on is limited. I’m trying though. I’m 29 & I’m a little sheepish in saying it’s taken me this long to find out about it. I wish it had been taught to me at school but then to be fair, perhaps it was. I was never interested in learning at school. Which is a shame as at the grand old age of 29, it’s only now that I seem to have developed the thirst for it. If I encounter an interesting subject I know very little about, I now have the urge to look it up. It’s a phenomenon for which I have no immediate answer for.

However, whilst I fully admit my knowledge of the world & how we came to exist is partial, every bit of scientific evidence I pick up merely compounds the view that not only is there very little proof of a deity, but that there is no need for one either. It’s important to note both these points as often there seems to be two questions being asked of religion. Or perhaps they are the two versions of the same question rhetorically asked by either side. Is there a God? (asked by atheists) & should we believe in a God? (asked by the religious). Now of course I can’t answer either of these questions definitively as 1) in theory, you cannot disprove the existence of anything & 2) the second question is one of philosophy.

What I can do though is add my thoughts & considerations to the ever growing mix of opinion & hope it positively fuels the debate & in some way asks some previously unconsidered questions of those friends & family around me.

It’s possible to brush over the first question as in my – albeit short – experience of this debate it often ends up in a cycle of “disprove God exists” & “well ok then, you disprove fairies exist” statements which – certainly for the rational adults among us – don’t get us anywhere. I appreciate the following statement on this argument shows fairly obviously where I stand but if you choose to believe in the possibility of God’s existence merely because you can’t disprove it as a fact then there is no debate to be had. You need to remove yourself from the activity of rationale discussion & not take part in any other logical conversation. I say this as there’s simply no argument to this. We can’t disprove anything 100%. Not God, not fairies, not goblins. Nothing.

Of course, for a lot of people, the sheer number of seemingly unanswered questions of the world & wonderment of everyday life allows them to believe in ‘something’ that transcends their current comprehension. This view I am more empathetic to. In fact, I would say I am of similar ilk. There are a lot of unanswered questions out there. However, my take on this is that I will spend much of my life seeking answers to those questions I have an interest in & then form my opinions on them once I feel I am in the position to do so. If instead I chose to form an opinion of those gaps in my understanding with the notion of a God, there would be implications.

For a start, it would probably diminish my appetite for seeking answers. Answers that could be out there & provable via evidence & facts. Rather than find a scientific answer for something, I would have plugged the gap with a pseudo answer & naturally my mind would most likely deem that as acceptable & move on to something else. But this is not acceptable in my opinion. We shouldn’t be forming pseudo answers to questions we don’t know. If someone asked you what was 458 multiplied by 346 & you answered with “Er…God?”, you’d sound like an idiot. If you don’t know, go & get a calculator. And now metaphorically speaking, if the calculator didn’t exist & the method of working the multiplication didn’t exist, don’t just make up the answer. Put it down as ‘unanswered’ & if you have an interest in finding out the answer, work on a method to find it out. Once you have that method, test it. Then test it again. Then get someone else reliable to test it. If all the tests align, it’s likely you have your answer. And until you have a testable & provable answer, be humble & modest about the possibility of the answer. If you form an opinion of that answer before being able to prove it, don’t force that opinion on others. You may think this plea largely hypocritical coming from me as I write this but remember, this is simply my view on the subject. Where possible, I’ve tried to base my views largely on evidence & facts but also, rather confusingly, it’s a view that is encouraging you to question what you hear that is not evidence based. I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t end up believing in a God as that may give you great comfort. But what I am suggesting is that there are very likely other answers to the questions you ask where simply ‘God’ is your current answer. I’m also suggesting you look to seek those answers out for yourself. Don’t take my or any other layman’s word for it. I sought them out & they’re fascinating. The truth, in my opinion, is far more interesting & thought-provoking than what I used to believe when I was 15.

Now to put a view forward for the second answer around whether there’s a need for believing in a God. Well, let’s refer again to the first question. An implication of believing in a God (any of the 2700+ Gods out there), is that for a lot of people, this means believing in & acting on a certain set of rule or principles. For many of my friends & family, I imagine this doesn’t apply. They may believe in a God of sorts but that doesn’t mean they necessarily conform to a certain religion. And for others that do conform to a religion, most of the resulting actions could only be described as good natured & socially beneficial. For now, let’s put to one side the pure intentions of these good deeds & agree that the (positive) actions – charity work, sense of belonging, social gatherings, etc – are good & acceptable for society. But what about the negative implications that derives solely as a result of religious influence? I’ll gloss over such events as the Spanish Inquisition as my knowledge of the event is very sparse & I’m sure – even if it could be used as a relevant point – many would argue that this would never happen again on the Christian side. But what about the violent form of (lesser) Jihad where the physical struggle against the enemies of Islam result in many deaths of – what we would refer to as – innocent people? This may be an extreme case but it’s still an example of a seemingly harmless belief resulting in a huge negative implication. Perhaps this is too an extreme an example & as a result not applicable as an argument for the majority of people reading this. Fair enough. So let me flip the question somewhat. Do we need religion for people to be good? I don’t believe we do. I, as an atheist, would class myself as good. I think it’s very important to be good. Not because I think I’m going to be rewarded in heaven for being good or because I think I’m going to be punished in hell if I’m not. Nor because I’m told to be good by a set of commandments established some 2000 odd years ago.

I’m good because that’s what I think everyone should strive to be. I guess I haven’t figured out why that is yet but perhaps that is one question that doesn’t need answering. Though, I do know that being good – for me – feels far greater overall than being bad. The definition of good in my head is influenced by many things. I don’t judge it on any of the religions I know of but then I don’t necessarily believe there aren’t things to learn from religious principles. If the Bible or Quran are considered moral fables that can be learned from, then it doesn’t really matter whether they were true or not. The points are still as clear either way. A bit like Jeffrey Archer’s fictional novel ‘Kane & Abel’ having as much to learn from as the Bible’s ‘Cain & Abel’.

But my definition of good & bad could – & does – change with every day that goes by. It can change when I take on knowledge or experience. Sometimes my views don’t change. Sometimes they are simply compounded & vilified. Does following a religion allow for this level of interpretation or flexibility? I am governed by my mind. And only I am in charge of that. If I want to change my opinion on something, I don’t grapple with any outside influence other than that of the law of the land I live in & those close to me that may be implicated by my view. I am certainly not influenced by an archaic set of disciplines handed down through generations & generations by someone unknown to me. If I followed these views to the letter than am I really taking part in my own life or am I just acting out a complete stranger’s philosophy? Homosexuality, abortion, contraception, stem cell research, gender equality – all topics I make my own mind up on.

Do I think the world needs to be told to be good? No I don’t. By all means there should be laws in place to deter & punish people who are – by their very nature – bad (or those who cross the line to do bad things). And by all means take the good work religion produces & promote it but let’s do it because, quite simply, it feels good to help people & because it feels nice to be good. Let’s not do it because our religion tells us to be this way & then talk about how good religion is. If we all conformed to this, I believe the planet would be a lot better off. It certainly wouldn’t be perfect as we will always have bad people but the negative implications of religious behaviour & belief would hopefully be largely eradicated whilst the positive ones continue & flourish. Yes there will be those who will continue to do bad things in the name of something else (i.e. previously using religion as a cloak) but there’s no denying that a lot of the despicable & downright horrible things going in the world right now is down to an absolute genuine belief that it’s at the request & demand of (their) God.

For those who say “but believing in God or an afterlife or a religion gives people hope”, I would argue that you can still get all of the good things you need & want in life by being a non-theist. And for those who think a life without God or Intelligent Design or a Creator or an afterlife is boring & depressing, well then you haven’t read, seen & wondered the things I have. There’s so much in the world that is simply amazing. Whether it’s the sheer scale of how long our ancestors have been around (or what they used to look like), whether it’s how we’re all made up of fallen stars from the universe, whether it’s the ability to turn off our pain receptors in our brain with the right thought techniques or whether it’s the fact we’re even able to contemplate the question why we’re all here in the first place; there’s so much that has the ability to blow our minds. And in my opinion, the stuff that’s out there that we all individually have yet to discover is more amazing & wonderful than the notion that the idea of God gives us. To come to the conclusion that God created stuff (however much) or that God is out there somewhere is – for me – capping your mind. You are actually stopping yourself in one way or another from exploring further. If you’re one of those people who believe in a form of God, just imagine for a minute that there is no God. How do you feel? Scared? Lonely? Exhilarated? Inquisitive? Good. For me, that’s how it should be. In order to defeat your fears, you have to face them first. To stop yourself from being lonely, surround yourself with knowledge. If you feel exhilarated & inquisitive about finding out the things you don’t know yet, then that’s how I feel! Embrace it!

I am no stronger than you. If you pray or ask God for strength, I believe you’re simply talking to yourself (though of course you may not think or believe it). What you may call God is what I call my mind. So if you’ve ever asked God to help your mind overcome something, don’t credit anyone else but yourself for that request being successful. Pat yourself on the back. Your mind did that – & you are your mind.

As an atheist, I can assure you I feel strong, I feel loved, I feel part of the world, I feel happy, I feel empowered, I feel free & I feel independent. I have my mind. I’m quite aware I’m probably not utilising anywhere near the capacity of my brain but I’m also aware that all those feelings & intuitions I get (like love, desire, happiness, courage, etc) come from chemical reactions in my brain somehow. And one day I’ll hopefully know how it happens. But for now, I’m quite happy leaving those unanswered questions, quite simply, unanswered.

There’s no such thing as bad press.

In an interview, Ricky Gervais was once asked “have you any advice for anyone who wants to be famous?” He replied with “yes, murder a prostitute”. A controversial answer maybe but I can see the point he was making. The interviewer wasn’t asking if he had any advice for those wanting to further themselves or to create something worthwhile in the world. They went simply to fame – assuming that this was the ultimate craving for today’s generation. Ricky’s reply was spot on. Fame is easy to come by if you’re not bothered about being remembered for being good. After all, why else would the television show ‘Big Brother’ exist?

But I suppose what frustrates me most about fame in society today is the way anyone can be widely regarded as somebody noteworthy – & I say noteworthy in the lightest sense – just simply by being seen on television. It’s ridiculous. Overnight a normal member of the public can gain celebrity status from just a few seconds on screen. Now, to be fair, when I say ‘noteworthy’ I’m referring to those who are interviewed by magazines, have millions of followers on Twitter & thousands of screaming girls rushing over whenever they walk into a supermarket. What is it about being seen on television that catapults someone to instant stardom? Do we still believe that you have to be someone special to appear on the box? This used to be the case decades ago when broadcasters only had a few channels to fill up & so naturally chose to use professionals who were in most part trained to entertain audiences & had some kind of talent.

I appreciate content had to change to remain original & this is what led to ‘reality’ programmes such as ‘Big Brother’. Believe it or not I do welcome original television & film. I was hooked when I watched the first ever ‘Big Brother’. Nasty Nick & Craig the Scouse builder caused such a stir at the time I remember scouring the daily papers on holiday in Greece to read about what was going on. It was a genuine social experiment never really done before & it had real life – yes, real life! – members of the public. There was an element of equal opportunities applied to the house guests chosen, sure, but overall I got the impression most of them were randomly selected. Unlike today where it’s fairly obvious what the producers look for when selecting from the audition tapes.

I don’t even mind these new shows coming to fruition if that’s what others want to view. TOWIE, Made in Chelsea, Celebrity Big Brother (*bites lip*) – put them all on if that’s what people want these days to entertain them. But don’t, I repeat, don’t then turn the ‘stars’ into some kind of role models for the younger generation. They’re not. They may well be good people in real life but what real life advice have they got to offer over strangers in the street? In fact, the only difference between them & strangers in the street is that they had an application form to appear on a television show accepted. I imagine the advice would be something along the lines of “say stupid things then laugh at yourself”, “be ridiculously self involved” & “cry hysterically at nothing”.

I suppose I’m annoyed at those who fuel the obsession with celebrity status. And ultimately that’s those who have jumped on the band wagon given to them by the shows themselves & the media circus that goes with them. If no one bought a magazine, followed on Twitter or watched clips on YouTube there wouldn’t be an industry to fuel. I know there are still legions of those who, like me, think it’s all a load of rubbish & prefer to get their advice from reputable & well respected types. But I fear we’re fighting a generation that will ultimately get so large it becomes the norm.

Making dreams a reality

As I enter the last day of 2012, now seems the right time to reflect back on the year where all our plans & hard work paid off. It was around about this time just under 3 years ago that I grew up. In my head that is. I started having thoughts about marriage, a honeymoon & a house. At the time, I was living in a rented flat with my then girlfriend Jade. I was 26 & was paying off very little of the £9,000 odd I owed on a credit card each month. But for a few years, I’d had this nagging feeling. I didn’t want to be in debt & I didn’t want to rent from someone forever. I also wanted to marry Jade. So I started to formulate a plan. It wasn’t a particularly special plan. But it would require a huge amount of dedication, commitment & quite a few sacrifices.

Firstly, I needed to get rid of my credit card debt. Every spare penny I had went to paying it off. I cut down my social spending & pretty much stopped buying clothes. In fact, some would argue my dress sense & wardrobe froze in 2009 & hasn’t yet thawed out – others would probably suggest it froze even further back! This took me about 9 months of hard saving to clear my debt & I was grateful to my parents for clearing a personal loan I owed them from a previous year. It was the incentive I needed & cemented phase 1 of what has turned out to be a very fruitful 3 year period.

Amongst all the saving, I managed to acquire enough money to buy the all important engagement ring. I plucked up the courage to ask Jade’s Father for her hand in marriage & tried to influence his answer by giving him a lift home from the airport the same day. Thankfully the bribery worked & he said yes. Now all I needed was to get his daughter to say the same. The time came & on a pretty ordinary Thursday evening – just as Jade had finished making our dinner – I got down on one knee & asked her to marry me. She said yes. She had to be prodded but she did eventually nod & agree. After a few months of deliberation, we both decided on the 2nd November 2012 as the date for our wedding. Without meaning to sound mechanical, unemotional or clinical, phase 2 was complete.

Phase 3 came in many different parts. Firstly, we had to work out how on earth we were going to save any sort of substantial amount of money to put down for a house deposit, to pay for a wedding & have something leftover for a holiday of some description. We spoke to my parents & enquired about the possibility of living in their spare room for 6 months. Just long enough to save a decent amount of money to get the basics covered. Without anyone realising at the time just how important this next bit was going to be, my parents agreed & put plans in motion to get phase 3 properly up & running. We gave notice on the flat we were living in, I cleared my credit card debt to zero & as of September 2010, we moved ourselves into our new home with the majority of our stuff crammed into my parents’ double garage.

Jade had always been very thrifty with her money & over the years had acquired about £5,000 in savings. I was then given £5,000 of my own from my Gran which went straight into the pot. Between us, we were starting the next leg of our journey with a huge financial boost. We put together a spreadsheet (the famous spreadsheet) & were optimistic & ambitious with our projected savings figures. Eager to keep ahead of the game & be prepared we booked an appointment with an HSBC mortgage advisor & went along for a chat. Though we were told we were in healthy shape & should have no problems getting a mortgage when the time came for the amounts we were looking at, we went away from that meeting determined to put ourselves in the best possible position financially. As a result, we went back to the already ambitious savings figures & upped them. We agreed between us that we would stay a few months more in Mum & Dad’s spare room which would allow us to put down 20% deposit on a house rather than the previously agreed 10%. We were still budgeting a fairly modest £12,000 to pay for both our wedding & honeymoon at this stage but this would change in time, in parallel with the amount of months we stayed at my parents’ house.

To cut a very long & arduous story short (for us but most likely more for my Mum & Dad), we stayed in that spare room for just over 2 years. We probably saved more that we had ever hoped, dreamed or planned & with ridiculously generous contributions from our parents, family & friends, we had amassed around £85,000 in two years.

We spent pretty much every penny. And it felt good to do so. We had a wedding that was beyond our dreams, a honeymoon beyond our dreams & now we live in a house beyond our dreams. We don’t have a single penny on credit cards, we don’t owe any of our friends or family any money & other than the huge mortgage we now pay each month, we don’t owe anything to anyone. Other than a lot of dinners & a huge amount of gratitude!

Two years is a long time in a spare room but please don’t be fooled into thinking this is some kind of sob story. Thanks to a lot of different people, those two years weren’t overly difficult. Our friends Sally & Ben had us over for dinner countless times knowing the return offer wasn’t going to be on the cards for quite a while. Nicola & Iain did the same. Jade’s parents cooked us dinners & paid for restaurants whenever they could (too many times). Both our families chipped in & of course, my parents made everything as easy as possible. They treated us both as adults & never once complained about all their red wine, beer & Baileys we drank.

I know my parents are proud of what I achieved. But I think more importantly, I’m more pleased in the fact that I’m proud of what Jade & I did over the last 3 years. And I don’t say this because I want you to think good things of me. I say this because it feels good to be proud of yourself & personally speaking, I think this is the only real opinion anyone needs. Only you know the real effort you put in. Only you know the sacrifices you made. And only you know what your achievement really means.

I am nothing special. I don’t have any particularly amazing talents to speak of. But with effort, hard work, sacrifice & application, I – along with Jade, my two families & friends – created something very special for ourselves. And if I can do this, so can anyone else.

Battery indicators, font colours & desktop icons.

It’s getting worse. I used to scoff at those with irrational ticks. In fact, if I’m honest, I still do. My girlfriend Jade can’t have the volume of, well, pretty much anything on an odd number. If it is, she simply shouts “turn it up one!” at whoever has the remote control. Jade isn’t a loud person in general. So you can imagine my Dad’s surprise one Sunday afternoon when she suddenly randomly shouted this to him out of the blue after innocently turning the football up a bit. My Mum has to line things up so they everything is straight. Coasters, magazines, you name it. I would be sitting down watching TV & she would come in chatting about something & without noticing she’d line up everything on the coffee table in front of me. She’d walk out the room, I’d mess everything up & she would come back in & line it all up again.

But I am developing my own annoying habits. And it effects me mentally if I don’t act on them. For example, Jade & I currently reside in a very small room at my parents’ house. If there’s too much on the floor or there’s post left on the desk, I feel uncomfortable. I can’t relax. At work, I regularly keep my desk tidy. I can’t have wires visible & if I’ve not touched a piece of paperwork or a magazine in over 3 weeks, I normally get rid of it. None of this “I may need it one day”, it’s gone. One of the weirdest examples I noticed is that when I have two screens open on my PC, in order to focus on an email properly, I have to drag it to a separate screen from my inbox. That’s weird isn’t it? It’s like my mind has physically left the inbox – and all the stresses of the other emails – in another place to focus on that one email.

I suppose it’s nice in a way, as at the moment my habits generally keep my surroundings fairly tidy & neat. Jade isn’t too happy when I go on a rampage though. My stressy questions “what is that doing there?”,do you need this now?”,why hasn’t this been filed away?” & “when was the last time you used this?” are normally met with even stressier “just leave it!”,yes I used it last week” & the most used “I’ll sort it out soon!”.

I guess I’ve always had a form of OCD. Or perhaps it’s just the desire to have things look correct & proper. I’ve always been a stickler for spelling & grammar. If ever I write someone a text, my grammar & spelling are perfect. I don’t do abbreviations. It would annoy me too much. Even when taking notes in a meeting on my PC, I have to go back & correct immediately if I’ve made an error. I can’t leave it as it grates me. If someone sends me a spreadsheet at work with some of the cells missing appropriate borders, I will go in & correct. If I copy & paste something into an email & the font is a different size & colour, there’s no way I am sending it as is. I will have to go & change it. No matter how much of a rush I’m in.

What else makes me stressed? Battery indicators that are not 100%, unnecessary PC desktop icons, unread notifications on social media sites & not being able to see all my ‘must action’ emails in one screen. It’s amazing how much I feel better when I manage to get all my inbox emails onto one screen. Even if I’ve just simply deleted the other mails to make them fit. I still feel better, in my head.
I’m noticing a pattern though. A lot of my stresses come via the PC & online world. Perhaps it’s natural as that’s what I spend 70% of my life on. And of course my job revolves around the PC so there are bound to be links.

Whether it’s work related or not though, I hope it doesn’t get much worse. I hope one day I don’t have to dress in a space suit to avoid dust particles making sure every baked bean is clean before I eat it. I’m not sure Jade could deal with that.

It’s ok to judge a book by its cover.

You have an interview lined up. What should you wear? Most people would suggest you put on your best suit, a tie, your nicest shirt, polish your shoes and then remind you to turn up on time. Why? Because you want your interviewer to think you are professional, conscientious & dependable. And that’s fine. But is this not adhering to the old cliché ‘judging a book by its cover’?

If you rocked up to a poker tournament & saw a 16 year old kid hanging around, you might assume they knew nothing about the game. Now, if this was a sitcom on TV, you’d get thrashed by the kid & as you were walking away from the table shaking your head, someone would wisely pipe up with ‘ah, never judge a book by its cover’. You would then knowingly smile to yourself, sigh & drop your head in shame muttering ‘I should never have assumed’. The sitcom would finish, the viewer would get up & make themselves a cup of tea whilst mentally making a note to never underestimate a kid at a poker table in the future.

Lesson learned eh? Well, no. Not really.

To get through most situations in life, you have to make decisions based on the smallest of clues & signs. For example, I would cross the street to avoid 10 youngsters with hoodies on late at night. I wouldn’t confidently stride into the path of the group waiting for the first punch or kick before I formed a proper opinion.

Let’s explore the nature of a ‘cover’. Is a CV a cover? Are your clothes a cover? Is your smile a cover? Your bank account? Your car? Where does the line end? At what point are you finding out the real person underneath. At what point is it ok to ‘judge’ the book?

Assumptions are another bug-bear. People shake their head and tut when someone falls victim to assumption, but you have to assume a whole host of obvious things in life just to exist. You have to assume restaurants are cooking your food appropriately. You have to assume hairdressers know how to cut hair. You have to assume the brakes work in your brand new car. We assume so many things day in day out that it’s perfectly understandable when one person assumes slightly more than others.

If you see a dishevelled, dirty, tramp-like figure on the street, I would say it’s fairly safe to assume they are homeless. To go a little further, you might assume they are sad, depressed & a little pessimistic in life. You have no facts to back this up but there are clues. And that is what life is all about – judging situations using clues along the way. Very rarely do we get to make decisions with all the relevant facts available.

This cliché of ‘never judging a book by its cover’ is – in my view – wrong. I believe it’s perfectly ok to judge a metaphorical book by its cover. If that’s all you have to go on then that’s all you can do. The real issue is when you judge a book only by its cover & choosing to ignore the pages that are available within. That is the real sin.

If you assume a 17 year old to be trouble despite them being polite, friendly & respectful then that is just unfair. You have chosen to focus on 1 potential negative sign & ignore 3 clear signs to the contrary. It’s even worse with skin colour or nationality as these invariably have no real effect on something being positive or negative. It’s just racial discrimination.

Fois Gras. Objecting isn’t as simple as you might think.

Over the past year, I have found myself in many a situation wishing I hadn’t bothered bringing up the argument that is Fois Gras. You see, I know my argument is solid but it’s incredibly hard to put it forward verbally. So let me try in writing.

First off, let me make a few things clear. I have & would again eat Fois Gras. I am, currently, of the opinion that it is ok for us as humans to prepare the dish of Fois Gras in the manner in which it is currently prepared in France & other parts of Europe. This is to say, by force feeding a Goose or Duck so the liver of the bird expands to 3 times the size thus making the liver far richer in taste when it comes to slaughter. Yet, I don’t believe everyone should share this view. I will go into more detail in just a second but ultimately, I believe there is no middle ground on this argument.

Of course the nature of Fois Gras is controversial. No one likes to hear about any creature being force fed. Our instincts kick in & we believe this rather unusual farming process is cruel & should be outlawed. However, & this is the key point, we still believe it is ok to farm & kill animals simply to satisfy our own taste buds.

For many decades now, we have learned to live without the need for meat in our diet. I’m not suggesting we all do. But those vegetarians amongst us have learned to form a diet made up of many proteins, carbohydrates, sugars, vitamins & minerals. Some of the healthiest people in the world are vegetarians so it’s pretty clear that if we wanted to, we could all – in the UK certainly – become meat-free eaters.

But we continue to eat meat. Why? Because we want to. Therefore, as it’s not illegal to farm & kill animals to eat, we deem it socially acceptable to do so. We think this, because this is what was decided many years ago (probably due to necessity rather than choice at the time) & this is has been passed down to us via generations & generations. Fair enough.

However, at some point in life, we decided between us that as humans, we are more important than animals & therefore our need for meat is greater than an animal’s need to live a full life. This point of view is shared today, in the year 2012. Let me repeat this. We decided it is ok to farm & kill an animal’s life short (often in their prime), because we as humans prefer to eat the dead meat of an animal than live off vegetables, fruit & vitamin supplements. Again, fair enough, I don’t have an issue with this.

My issue, however, is when someone pipes up & says assumingly that while it’s perfectly fine to farm an animal & kill it for its meat because the human race decided it preferred the taste of dead animal than that of things of the earth that don’t require killing, it is apparently horribly barbaric & – of course – wrong to force feed a bird corn via a tube. The line – for most people – seems to be categorically drawn firmly between these two acts. This is what I question. The placement of this line. The line being – I presume – our moral conscience.

Surely you’re either against the killing or harming of all animals for meat eating purposes or you’re not against anything at all as long as it makes something taste nicer. How is there a line halfway or 90% of the way up this continuum? It’s ridiculous when you properly think about it. People are outraged that a bit of discomfort comes to a bird in the lead up to its death. If anything, they should be outraged at the death part. The bit where we as a society say “yes, it is ok for us humans to kill a perfectly healthy animal in its prime just so we can vary our food choice on a daily basis”.  By accepting the above statement you have morally chosen the corridor to head down. The corridor down which you believe animals are beneath you in society. Don’t try & head down the other corridor that fights for the animals right to a comfortable life before its untimely & unneeded slaughter. That corridor is insignificant & tiny in comparison to the one you chose earlier.

And don’t talk to me about responsible farming where animals get looked after up until the point of slaughter. If I told you I was farming & slaughtering humans you’d say I was mental & call me barbaric. Would your view change if I told you I was looking after them very well up until the day they were due to die? No of course not. It’s irrelevant. It doesn’t make a difference.

I never really got this responsible farming concept. Is this something we as a society came up with to make ourselves feel less guilty about the fact we still farmed & killed animals for no survival need at all? I think it is. And because we have all had this taught down to us through generations & generations, it’s ingrained in us. We don’t know why we think it, but we just do.

That’s why we think the concept of Fois Gras is wrong. It’s not something we’ve grown up with (especially in the UK). If you were French, I’m sure you’d have a different view. Just like if you were Korean & I told you eating Dog was ok.

Let me get this straight. Causing temporary discomfort to a bird is unacceptable. Yet, killing it & eating is perfectly acceptable. Really?

As I said before, whilst I may seem to take the moral high ground in my argument at times, I am someone who has taken that big wide open corridor that most other people took that said it was ok for us to kill & eat animals for our own pleasure (not necessity, pleasure). However, I also question this rather natural & instinctive negative reaction we all have towards the process of Fois Gras.

There’s no middle ground here. There’s no fence. You either believe it’s ok to kill animals for our own (food) pleasure or you don’t. I don’t believe there’s a line you insert to make yourself feel better.

What am I like? You tell me.

I often wonder if I should change the way I am around people. The old cliché of ‘just be yourself’ is all well & good, but what if people misunderstand your traits as negatives? Let me explain.

I like to think of myself as someone who doesn’t partake in social fakeness. I don’t laugh at jokes that I don’t find funny, I find it hard to smile on cue & I don’t ask how people are if I don’t care. I would like to think these mannerisms could be perceived as honesty & genuineness. However, I’m sure – even more so as I write this & read it back – others would perceive these mannerisms as unfriendly & cold hearted. Perception is a funny old thing. I can tell you I’m not cold hearted or unfriendly but does that really matter? What do I mean? I’ll come back to this in a minute. First, let me give you one more example.

I believe it’s important to walk tall, look at people in the eye & be confident in your approach. However, there’s a fine line between being perceived as confident & being perceived as arrogant. I’ve been accused of the latter many times. And that’s just from the people who admit it. Imagine how many people think it but never say it, or who don’t have the opportunity to say it to me.

The thing is, I can live my life safe in the knowledge I am not arrogant, unfriendly or cold hearted. But when it comes down to it, if everyone else believes me to be all of these then is that who I am by definition? I suppose it depends on whether I care about what others think of me.

Well, if you must know, I do care. I am conscious of what my friends & colleagues think of me. It affects me as a person. And so, as a consequence, what others perceive me as, is who I am.

So if I am affected by what people think of me, perhaps I should change the way I am around people. It won’t necessarily mean I feel any different but I may be perceived differently. Is that bad? To act in certain ways around people. I don’t think it is.

We spend our lives giving off signals to others hoping to convey certain subtleties that may or may not be true. Clean shaving for an interview, power dressing for a meeting, tidying the house for a dinner party. All scenarios where you can set the parameters for how people are likely to perceive you. All understandable & in theory, all reasons why I should do the same in my own life.

The way I see it, there are 3 sets of traits that are important.  Firstly, & most importantly, there are the traits you would like to have (decided by you). Secondly, there are the traits you perceive to give off (decided by you). Thirdly, there are the traits people perceive you to have (decided by others). In an ideal world, if you can align & synchronise all those traits – across all 3 sets – you’re laughing. Surely that is the holy grail of living a happy life.

So if I wanted to be seen as generous, but instead, worried that I came across as naive when actually others perceived me as tight, I may spend my life in a constant turmoil of split personalities – if I worried about such things of course. I’d much rather spend my life wanting to be seen as kind, knowing people probably thought I was kind & having people actually perceive me as kind. That sounds like a nice calm & relaxing way to live your life doesn’t it?

Of course, some people are born with all the right traits & naturally give off the signs because by nature this is who they are. But if you are not one of these people, I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with setting out what you believe to be the right traits, learning the relevant signals to give off & spending your life doing so.  If the reaction you get back in return is something that makes you happier, then does it matter if people don’t know the ‘real’ you? Perhaps if you practise enough, you become the person you wanted to be all along.

I say, decide the type of person you want to be & learn how to be perceived that way.