Ahimsa – More than just be kind
18th February 2020
I was very sad to hear the news of Caroline Flack’s death this weekend. Especially as I met Caroline on a yoga retreat a few years ago, so got to know her just a tiny bit.
On that retreat, I was seated right next to her at dinner on the first night. As a group made up mostly of strangers, we began to introduce ourselves. The woman next to me was asking about jobs. Caroline answered that she worked in tv. The woman asked more specifically what she did, Caroline replied “I work on the X Factor”. The woman asked ‘So what do you do on the X Factor?’ Caroline had to answer ‘I present it’. Cue some embarrassment from the woman who asked, apparently she’d never actually watched it.
Later, the woman asked me if I’d known who Caroline was. I said yes. She asked me why I’d not said anything. I replied that I hadn’t wanted to put Caroline at a disadvantage. If I’d said that I knew who she was, it meant that, potentially, I had read an enormous amount about her when she knew nothing about me. I didn’t want her to feel judged or different to the rest of the group. We were all just there to practice yoga together. Over the next few days of the retreat, we all got to know each other. I spent some time chatting with Caroline and her friends. They’d known each other for years working in tv together.
When I got back from the retreat, out of curiosity, I googled her name. I was shocked at the volume returned. At this point, she had not long finished her stint presenting X Factor with Olly Murs. She’d been skiing just before the retreat, and there were dozens of pictures of her on that holiday, along with commentary (ie judgement) about what she was doing and who she was with. I felt very, very sad for her then. To be held up to that kind of scrutiny, even for a moment, I think would be awful. As seems to be very obvious now, to be subjected to that sort of judgement for years must be absolutely unbearable.
Ahimsa means non-harming, and it’s the most important aspect of yoga philosophy. In my classes, you’ll have often heard me talk about the importance of not judging and not comparing ourselves to others, it harms both them and us. It’s hard to overcome though, because we all do it, all the time.
It’s a completely normal human tendency. An evolutionary tactic which helps us bond into groups. Every human’s biggest fear is rejection by their group. By judging someone (including ourselves) as ‘wrong’ in some way we encourage conformity within the group which means it’s more stable. In the natural world, difference may be a positive advantage in the long term, but in the short term, it can mean vulnerability. Feeling vulnerable is very uncomfortable indeed.
After the retreat, when I mentioned that I’d met Caroline, people asked me what she was like. In a way, they invited me to pass my judgement on her. As I’ve said, it’s totally natural to do that. But, although I had spent a fair bit of time with her, I never felt like I should or even could say that much. She was completely ordinary in the nicest way, just like her friends, just like the rest of the people I met on the retreat. Just like virtually everyone, once you get to know them a little bit.
So what can we, as similarly nice, ordinary, people do to stop this sort of thing happening to the next Caroline? I think the answer is to do a little bit more than just liking the latest #bekind. It is important to support that, of course. But as well as that, when we are online, we have to act in accordance with that philosophy, by using our clicks consciously.
The pressure on Caroline, and others like her, comes from the media but, the fuel to this fire is every click WE make. The internet loves traffic, because traffic means revenue for big business. So, the internet feeds us with what we tell it (through our browsing behaviour) that we want. And it seems a lot of us are telling it that we want celebrity gossip. If we continue to read and consume this media, we are supporting and condoning it. It’s not enough to just say “be kind” we have to actively avoid harming others. Just as important, we must not stand by, allowing or supporting others to do harm.
Every single time we click to read the latest ’news’ about some celebrity’s personal life, we are reinforcing the cycle. Our clicks are putting more pressure on sites to publish gossip, putting more pressure on the paparazzi to take those pictures, putting more mental and emotional pressure on those celebrities. But as Caroline herself said ‘People see the celebrity lifestyle and assume everything is perfect, but we’re just like everyone else.’ They are in fact, actual real people, perfectly imperfect, exactly like us. So, whether online or in real life, let’s do no harm. Let’s treat others in the way we’d hope to be treated; with respect, with compassion, with kindness.
#ahimsanow #bekind #perfectlyimperfect