• Jake Russell

Dog Shit & Courage

Hi everyone,

My dad’s been on my mind a lot these last few days. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because it was his mum, my grandma, Shirly’s birthday on Friday. She’s 88. Pretty good number, that.

Or maybe it’s because I saw my own mum on Thursday, and we went to the spot on the Heath where his ashes were scattered. They’re not there anymore of course. In their place was an orange peel and a pile of dog shit. He wouldn’t have minded one bit. He used to eat oranges like an apple which always struck me as eccentric. Who eats an orange like an apple? Biting right into it like a goddamn maverick, unconcerned with the trivialities of life like juicy run-off. And as for dog shit, he used to say he enjoyed the smell. Even tried to get a whiff of it into the perfume he made. Barefoot Doctor’s Shitty Whiff was the working title before a marketing re-think took him to Chi Qi. Pretty good name, that.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been reading something he’d recently written, his distinct and witty style instantly recalling his inimitable character. A character comprised of peculiarities aplenty, like admitting to liking the smell of turds.

I’ve enjoyed it, mostly. Thinking about him, that is. It’s been sad too of course, and I’ve cried a bit, but amongst the tears and feelings of loss I keep bursting out in laughter at the thought that this mad bastard was my old man. Sometimes I really can’t believe he was.

He was just so very, very, eat-an-orange-like-an-apple, dog-shit-smell-appreciatingly different.

And one of the things that made him so different was what my brother Joe spoke about at the memorial we put on for him: he as a brilliant encourager.

He said he learnt it from his own dad, my grandpa Victor, and he wrote about just that so lovingly in his Observer column right after Victor died almost 20 years ago (and a big, warm thank you to the person who sent the article over a few weeks back—and I’m sorry I’ve forgotten who).

But yes, Stephen was an encourager. He’d listen, truly, truthfully listen to your plans and schemes and then he’d encourage. Rarely, if ever, would he censure. He’d fortify, rarely, if ever, diminish.

That’s quite some quality. To want to encourage – and therefore see blossom – rather than exert control – and therefore lessen.

It speaks to an inner courage in the encourager. And when you think about it, it’s obvious, isn’t it? Because how can you encourage others without first having courage in yourself?

Courage in the sense of its Latin root, cor, meaning heart.

When we have courage, we speak and act from the heart, with authenticity and congruence. When we do so we’re in alignment with ourselves. Everything balanced. And so it follows that the words that come out and the actions expressed extend our true orientation. We’re in harmony with ourselves. We’re free.

And when we’re in freedom and harmony with ourselves, the more we want others to live freely and in harmony too, because ultimately, we all benefit.

So the benefits of courage are exponential.

When we have courage, we want others to do well, to live well, to succeed. We’re not concerned with competition; we don’t want others to fail so that our chances of success increase. We want us all to win.

You might say there’s only so many resources available, that the laws of scarcity dictate there must be losers too.

But winning, success – the good life – needn’t mean material riches or celebrity, those things are the surrogates, the substitutes, for the good life in its real essence.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting houses and cars and status and bling, but they’re just the shiny things that stand in for the real thing, the thing we’re all in search of:

To find that strong and peaceful place inside of us that we know is home, that place inside where we’re free from the need and clutches, the addictions, distractions and crutches of all external trappings and traps. That clear place inside from where we speak our true mind, enact our true self, and become a conduit of light.

The place inside from which we look out at the world, drink in the experience of our lives and say “I love this, I love that I’m alive, pass me an orange I want a bite, god I love the smell of dog shit.”

And when we love the moment we’re in we extend that conduit of light outward like a beacon, signalling to anyone passing that we’re open, to feel welcome to join us in celebration.

Isn’t that – rather than houses, cars and yachting, expensive shoes, fine dining and sprauncy shopping – the good life?

And isn’t encouragement a form of celebration too? The language we use in encouragement is much the same as in celebration. The sensations so similar.

To encourage someone is to celebrate them as a human on this planet having the will and spirit and imagination to go about their endeavours with intention.

But when we criticize rather than encourage, the entire aspect changes. Because criticism is born of fear, its tone heavy and limiting.

Of course, I’m not talking about objective critique here. About a film or piece of art for example (although our reaction to anything might say as much about us as that to which we react) and obviously I’m not saying we should all go about in blind encouragement, slapping each other on the back for being racist or bullying or anything else filled with hatred. That would be bonkers.

But when someone comes to us with their plans or ideas, and even if what they say doesn’t fit into our perspective, even if we care for that person and think we want the best for them, only the fearful (controlling, neurotic) response is criticism.

The courageous response isn’t. If we disagree, the courageous response is – if not encouragement in this instance – simple curiosity. The cousin of encouragement. Curiosity and encouragement are closely related—two branches off of the trunk of courage.

The courageous acknowledge the other person as an autonomous entity. And rather than criticise or control or chastise, rather than try to make them change their mind, the courageous listen and ask honest, open questions. They seek to understand rather than become heavy-handed, imposing their own brand of I-know-best life rules.

The courageous are brave enough to either encourage or listen and ask questions.

Either way the outcome is the same: two people attending to one another with respect, acknowledging the other’s singular expression in the common field of humanity.

And so it goes that connection is made, that the conduit of light extends onwards again, and this world we’re all living in is made a more harmonious place.

Which all sounds quite simple when it’s put like that, doesn’t it?

How encouraging.

With love – and courage – in the time of quarantine,

Jake x

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