How To Be a Hero
What Zelensky has been reminding me about purpose
I must have started this first post about seventeen different times! I mean, it’s my first, and you’ve signed up to it, so it HAS to be good, right? I’ve been through Putin, Priti Patel, Germaine Greer, Albert Camus, Jesus, Simone De Beauvoir and David Attenborough so far. They’ve all featured in one way or another and will appear again at some point I’m sure, but for now, I’m going to take a big giant breath that goes, here, we, are ….
So hello. Thank you for signing up. I was quite taken aback by the flurry of activity and while I’m not quite certain how this is going to shape up (I’m new here too), I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next. It will probably take a few weeks to get this under my fingers and find the right rhythm so please bear with me if it chops and changes as we go. I’ve been pondering things like, do I post on a Monday or a Friday? Weekly or fortnightly? Shall I cover just one thing or a few? Shall I make it like a newsletter, or a column? And I don’t yet have the answers ….I thought I did, but then when you signed up, well it suddenly became real!
So, let’s jump in because a LOT has happened this week. My eyes are glued to the war on Ukraine and I’ve been heartbroken alongside the rest of us watching these people’s peaceful lives get destroyed. Zelenski immediately came on top as hero number one though didn’t he? He has shown the most incredible case of rising to the challenge, which goes to show that just because you choose one career at the start, doesn’t mean you have to be wedded to it. He was a comedian and an actor, he even won Ukraine’s Strictly Come Dancing. Now look at him, taking the limelight on the world stage and bringing down the house with what can only be described as the most incredibly impactful political PR we have ever seen. He is driven by passion and conviction and the way he carries himself and leads his country, sets an example to us all.
Then on Monday, another hero appeared!
Russian journalist Marina Ovsyannikova decided that enough was enough and took her life into her hands by storming the live news set with a banner saying ‘NO WAR’. She knew the risk she was taking. Spreading ‘fake news’ about the war could mean prison for up to 15 years in Russia but she did it anyway. Not only that, she released a video message saying how she was ashamed of working for the Kremlin’s channel which had been lying for years and encouraged her fellow Russians to protest.
They are lying to you. No war! Stop the war!
Don’t be afraid of anything, they can’t imprison us all.
I mean, how brave? I cried when I heard her video message, absolutely stunned by her guts. The ramifications could, and still might be, horrific. For the time being they’ve played it low key, I imagine they don’t want to give her any credibility. I wonder if it is over though, and I pray for her safety.
The other triumphant story this week is the news of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe coming home. I was driving along the Oxford ring-road as she landed at 1am in Brize Norton, and listened as Liz Truss commented from the runway. Having watched this story develop over the last six years, I felt like I was part of her welcoming committee, being near(ish) to Brize Norton, I waved. Daft, I know. I can’t imagine how frightened and alone she has felt these last few years.
Part of what I have been struck by is the love and devotion of her husband Richard. He campaigned tirelessly for her release, dedicating himself to ensure her plight wasn’t swept under the carpet. He kept her name in the press, including a high profile 21 day hunger strike outside the Foreign Office in October. His strength and determination to get her home was incredible. When he was interviewed ahead of her coming home he was asked, ‘How are you going to make up for the time you have lost?’ he said,
We live in the future, not in the past.
What an amazing family they are, they’ve fought for truth and campaigned for justice, without giving up, powered by love and hope.
We’ve been pretty lucky over the last few decades haven’t we? It’s been fairly easy really. Yes, there has been the threat of terrorism and some major atrocities have taken place but to a certain extent, until Covid came along, they’ve not really knocked on our doors. We’ve been blithely steaming along, living our ‘best’ lives, searching for happiness as if it’s a human right.
Can you cast your mind back to your maths class? I can still remember mine well. They may be more than 30 years behind me now, but I can still recite the formula for quadratic equations (thanks to the rap we set it to), and I can also remember the countless times I was separated from my best friend Amanda because we spent more time entertaining each other and the class, than paying attention to poor Miss Dunlop who replaced Mr Tricker, or was it Trickle? I also remember being stumped by a simple question in a test.
‘What is the product of 12 and 15?’
I enjoyed maths and was pretty good at it, so this simple question caused me to break out in a slight sweat! I couldn’t remember, was it 12 plus 15 or multiplied by? It was multiplied by, and I don’t remember if I got it right, but my point is, a product is made by a combination of other things. Sound obvious?
Our society has become obsessed with having what we want over the last couple of decades. We want to have what we want, and we want it now. The self help industry is huge because we want to buy the answers, no longer content in the mystery of discovering them for ourselves. Gimme happy and give it to me now.
Happiness is a product, but not one we can buy. It’s not a thing that comes in a box, it’s the product of combining other things together. Professor Paul Dolan, author of Happiness by Design, and Happy Ever After is a professor in Behavioural Economics at the London School of Economics and for a time was the government’s advisor on wellbeing in the UK. After interviewing thousands of people he came up with the following recipe for happiness:
Happiness is the combination of pleasure and purpose, over time.
It’s not a thing in itself, it’s a product of other things - pleasure and purpose, according to the Prof, and that makes good sense to me. I think we’ve got the pleasure side down pretty well, but I’m not so sure about how much stock gets put in purpose. I like to look at it as finding a balance between the things that we love, and the things that make us mad.
If you aren’t sure what you are passionate about, just think about what gets your goat, or what you’re happy to fight for and make sacrifices for. You’re likely to find purpose right there in the middle of the action and it’s likely that it will change through life, that’s ok, pleasure changes too - I didn’t drink wine until I was 40, imagine that!
When we look at the heroes of our time, we are seeing purpose in action. We are all called to be heroes, heroes of our own lives, to be people who have conviction and passion and who will fight for what matters with the hope and belief in better. The search for happiness based in consumerism feeds a bottomless well. We can’t get happiness through buying what we want, we find happiness through being who we are, through being willing to roll our sleeves up and do the journey.
We can’t get happiness through buying what we want, we find happiness through being who we are.
So as we pray for Ukraine and watch with wonder at the heroes on the global stage, my hope is that we are all challenged to look at what gets our goat, so that we don’t just look to be happy, but we look to make a difference in the world around us, big or small. We find purpose in pinning our colours to a mast, and pleasure in flinging our arms around those we love. That, my friend, will be the start of a good thing.
Until next time, love first
PS please feel free to share this post and if you haven’t subscribed yet, here’s the link:
Women What Whistle is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.