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How anti-racism strategies can backfire

While reading about refugee children in Sweden, I came across a study by Ann Runfors which looked at the way that schools on the multicultural margins of Swedish society instil identity in those they teach.

What Runfors found was that while the schools she visited worked hard to avoid emphasising the differences between people, with the aim to be anti-racist they instead reinforced a Swedes vs. Immigrants mindset.

In their desire to nurture an atmosphere of culture blindness and tolerance, the teachers in these schools avoided even asking where their students came from. The idea behind this was that if teachers didn’t recognise the differences between say Somalis and Kurds, or Afghans and Iranians, the pupils were less likely to see these identities as having an impact on who they should or shouldn’t associate with.

But the teachers still needed a way to describe the kind of behaviour which was desirable within Swedish society. And for this task they referred to “Swedes.” A Swede sees things this way, or does things that way…etc.

And who became the other to the teachers’ idealised version of a Swede?

Yes, you guessed it – immigrants.

In an environment that had been intentionally engineered to be prejudice-free, immigrant children were learning that they were not ideal citizens. They were second. Other.

The large group which was made up of many ‘invisible’ cultures was, according to the narrative told by the teachers, a unified block. This block represented the antithesis of Swedish culture.


I tell this story for two reasons.

First, that it is a reminder of the gap that can exist between intention and outcome. The teachers were not trying to educate their pupils to see themselves as lesser. This was an indirect effect of a well intentioned strategy. 

Second, it teaches us the need to reflect on the impact of our actions. It is easy to get busy with activities that are well intentioned but which reinforce destructive and inhumane power structures. It is important to seek the input of those who have a different point of view, especially if we are more closely aligned with the system of power than those who are affected by the things we do or say.

This can be applied to many contexts. It applies to the education of immigrant children, but it can also be applied to the #metoo movement. It has relevance to relief and development organisations, as it does the missionary world.

The more we are able to reflect on our own place in the world, the more we become aware of the voice that we have, the voice which can ask questions and challenge policies, which can prod and persuade and instigate change in the direction of a more just world.



Sweden’s new class system

A short time ago I visited a Syrian family with a friend of mine. My friend is an engineer and had decided to help this family’s two sons with their maths homework.

Our time with the family was lovely. We got there and the two sons were ready to get started right away. They started showing my friend their current schoolwork on a computer that they have been given by their school.

I sat on a mattress on the floor with the Mum and Dad, talking about life in Sweden, life in Syria and why, after two years, they still hadn’t been given a residence permit.

These boys had been placed in a class that reflects their age (they’re twins and both 12). The work they are doing is, by Swedish standards, several years behind their age.

Their parents are from the Syrian countryside. The mum is illiterate, even in Arabic. The Dad likes to read, but left school when he was nine.

In another setting in Sweden, the kids would be getting help with their homework from their parents, who would have the education level to understand the work their children have been given. But our Syrian friends don’t have those resources to lean into.

The Swedish system is designed to be a meritocracy – an environment in which people succeed based on their natural abilities, rather than the connections they were born into. Someone from a poor family who performs well at school has just as much chance of getting into a good university as someone from a wealthy family.

Kind of.

Although anyone who performs well at school can succeed, there are factors that prevent those from families like our Syrian friends succeeding.

One of these is not having parents who can help them with their homework.

Another is being taught in a language in which they are not yet fluent.

And then there’s the fact that they have been out of school several years because of displacement, journeying to Sweden, and then the time it has taken them to get enrolled in a school here.

Not to mention the trauma that accompanies witnessing war, travelling to Europe in a cramped sea vessel, seeing fellow travellers die, and being separated from family and friends.

All of this hinders them from competing with other children in their age group.

Which, to me, looks like the makings of a class system.

Because it’s theoretically easy to succeed in Sweden, and education is free, certificates are very important.

In fact, they are much more important than things that used to count for something, like experience.

I don’t know what the answer is for kids like these, who are so full of potential but have had so little opportunity to develop it. Perhaps it’s just the one-at-a-time offering of homework help by people like my friend.

According to Dave Eggers, the author who started the 826 Valencia homework club, a child who receives 35-40 hours one on one homework attention usually improves by one whole grade (see his TED Talk here).

That’s just one hour per week.

I wonder what could be achieved if enough people took this kind of  initiative?

Dear Habib

I found this video earlier today that tells the story of Habib, an unaccompanied refugee minor from Afghanistan who now lives in Britain.

It reminds me of some of the young men I had the privilege of getting to know during the research for my master’s thesis.

Many have experienced great loss, risked everything, and faced many challenges since leaving their homelands. They arrive in Europe having invested a lot of their time, energy, and resources in getting here. 

And when they arrive, they are eyed with suspicion by many in society. They are asked to prove their age. They are assumed to be the same as that one person from their country who was in the news for doing something bad.

They are over-represented in the mental healthcare system because of the trauma they have experienced at home, and during their travels. 

And yet they persevere. They go to school, they work hard, they build new friendships, and they do their best to fit in.

On the death of Eugene Peterson

I’ve been able to identify two different ways in which I grieve the passing of Eugene Peterson from this world. The first, and perhaps most obvious, is that he is one of my heroes. The second is the fact that while he leaves behind a legacy in the form of books, and disciples, the grounding influence of his presence on the church will be sorely missed.

Loss of a personal hero

Mentors come in many forms. Some are traditional, face-to-face relationships with someone who knows you well and invests in you personally over a period of time. Others write books or create other forms of media that speak to you in ways that are formative. We never meet them, but they still impact our lives for the better.

Eugene Peterson was one of the latter for me. I never knew him personally (though I would have liked to), but his writing about the pastoral life helped to shape me and how I see the spiritual life.

“Earthy” is probably the best word I’ve found to describe the kind of Jesus-follower Peterson was. He chose to never pastor a congregation that was too big for him to know all of their names. He was passionate about making the spiritual life something that people understood to belong “out there” in the world, not trapped inside a church building.

While it might not sound revolutionary, the life of Eugene Peterson was counter-cultural, even to the church. When everything was getting bigger and more “professional” and a famous pastor was more likely to invite an admirer to a conference he was speaking at than into his personal space, Peterson did the opposite. He made space for people, even inviting them to visit him at his home, to pray and eat with him.

He lived slow, had time for people, and practiced the Jesus life in a way that wasn’t distant and removed, but embedded in everyday practices.

The loss of a godly man of influence

When my grandfather died many years ago, it felt like part of the foundation of my life had been torn out. His presence on this earth was grounding, giving context to my own identity and journey.

While I’m not as personally attached to Eugene Peterson as I was to my grandfather, he is certainly one of the grandfathers of the faith for my generation. His presence grounding and his life an arrow pointing out an alternative to the distraction-filled, hyper consumptive lifestyle that has become so normative.

I’m sad for what it means for those of us who follow Jesus to no longer have Eugene Peterson around. We can no longer look to him as an example of what it looks like to live a life oriented on Jesus, an experienced sojourner on the Jesus path.

But his loss is also a challenge to those of us who put him on a pedestal and admired him from afar. Because we can embody the values he stood for and make them a reality in a world that so badly needs them. We can choose to go slow, to listen, and to embody the life of Jesus in the midst of this crazy world. 

When Bono met Eugene Peterson

Six of my favourite podcasts

Podcasts have been one of the ways I have learned about the world over the last few years while commuting or, in the early days of parenting, when I felt too tired to read. This is a short introduction to some of my favorite podcasts.

Revisionist History by Malcolm Gladwell looks back at stories from history, at something overlooked or misunderstood, and uses them as focal points for discussing something bigger. His recent series on memory was particularly engrossing.

Caliphate from Rukmini Callimachi at the New York Times looks at the rise of ISIS from the inside as she makes contact with a young man who spent time working as a member of the group’s religious police in Syria.

Where should we begin by Esther Perel is a podcast that takes you into the counseling room as a different couple in each episode participates in couples therapy. 

Philosophise This! by Stephen West attempts to give a succinct overview of the history of philosophy. Each episode focuses on a particular school of thought. This is a great way to get an overview of a philosophical concept before you read into it more deeply.

Desert Island Discs from the BBC is the podcast version of their long running interview show in which a well known person chooses eight songs and tells the story of their life. Often very insightful.

The Writer’s Voice is a podcast of short stories from the New Yorker. Read by the authors themselves and beautifully told. I love fiction, and it’s nice to be able to start and finish a story during a commute.

How about you? What are your favorite podcasts?

There’s a bit of Boris in us all

Back in 1890, a young Rudyard Kipling wrote a poem about Burma. The poem, The Road to Mandalay, was written from the perspective of a British soldier once stationed there. The soldier reminisces about the place, an encounter with a local girl, and describes his surroundings with the kind of paternalistic grandeur of someone who believes his empire, the British Empire, to be the ultimate expression of civilisation.

The text is also dismissive of Burmese culture and religion:

An’ a-wastin’ Christian kisses on an ‘eathen idol’s foot:
Bloomin’ idol made o’ mud 
Wot they called the Great Gawd Budd

For Kipling’s soldier, this is an uncivilised, heathen place, albeit alluring.

Interestingly, Kipling only visited Burma once, for three days, on his way elsewhere, and he never visited Mandalay.

This lack of experience didn’t prevent him from becoming influential in shaping the perspective of his countrymen on the place. The words he penned on paper describing this destination he barely knew became a go-to text for understanding what Burma is like.

A 20-year-old shaping one people’s understanding of another.

Which brings us to Boris Johnson, who, on a recent trip to Burma, began reciting The Road to Mandalay at the site of a Burmese shrine, while a Channel 4 camera crew filmed him.

The UK’s foreign secretary reciting a poem praising colonialism and dismissing Burmese culture, at a Burmese shrine which he is being invited to visit by his gracious Burmese hosts.

Fortunately, Britain’s ambassador to Burma stopped him before he had a chance to complete his recital and embarrass the UK further, but the episode was a glimpse into the attitude that Johnson has towards the Burmese.

Just days later, at a Conservative Party Conference event, he commented on how the only thing getting in the way of a “wonderful” group of UK businessmen turning the Libyan town of Sirte into the next Dubai was the dead bodies that needed clearing out of the way.

For Johnson, it seems that the British Empire still stands, and he’s happy to brush aside any dead bodies or cultural inconveniences that get in his way.


But this post isn’t just about Boris and his blunders. I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the very real ability that we each have to see people who are different from us as somehow less valuable than we are.

And how if we don’t pay careful attention, we can end up using other people’s small ‘incivilities’ as a way of building our own sense of superiority and worth.

In 1978 Edward Said wrote Orientalism, which looks at what happens when this natural human tendency becomes a system of thought. He demonstrates how literature and art shaped the way that Europeans understand ‘The Orient,’ and the effect that perspective has had on justice and international relations.

Orientalism in its essence is about seeing ‘Western’ culture as superior to other cultures, and the actions which accompany such a perspective.

One example from Said is how ‘oriental’ women are portrayed in colonial era literature. They are usually passive, rarely speak for themselves, and are usually there to serve the various appetites of the men around them.1)Orientalism, 1979: 187-188 They are objectified: helpless and inferior.

Said might argue that this way of understanding non-European women has paved the way for our attitudes towards them when they enter our societies. When it comes to discussions like enforcing a Burqa ban, the voices of the women who wear them are usually crowded out by those who choose to speak for them, in the name of justice.

While we would usually offer a European woman (in a similar scenario) the opportunity to explain why she dresses a certain way, the women of the Middle East are still seen as helpless and inferior.


From his many gaffes and blunders, it’s clear that Boris is something of an Orientalist. He adores Britain’s colonial era, and apparently has little respect for other cultures: Britain is best.

But this post isn’t just about Boris and how he is embarrassing the British people.

It’s about how easy it is to view others as inferior, and how much damage that can cause in a globalised world.

Because we each carry a bit of Boris inside us.

We’re all capable of dismissing people who are different from us as weird, uncouth, uncivilised, inferior.

It might be a neighbour. It could be a refugee. It could be someone who votes differently from ourselves.

And in coming to conclusions about people who are different from us before we’ve taken the time to get to know them, we carry perspectives about them which are, at best, naive, at worst entirely false. And we miss the opportunity to promote the kind of understanding upon which justice and change can be built.

(Image by Andrew Parsons)

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Orientalism, 1979: 187-188

What no one will tell you about the Couch to 5K running plan

The wind in my hair. A smile on my face. It was so perfect. Legs supple and strong, covering kilometres effortlessly thanks to my newly developed running skills. Waking up each morning with the urge to JUST DO IT – to get out there and pound pavement – because I had broken through and was now more runner than walker. A natural athlete. Perfect.

At least that’s how I pictured my last week of the Couch to 5K program before I set out. The nine week program promises to take absolute beginners and get them to the point where they can comfortably run five kilometres (just over 3 miles).

After the birth of our daughter in December, and the accompanying sleepless nights (as well as a sleep-deprivation-induced chain of colds), I knew I needed to get fit if I was to be in good mental and physical shape for my new role as a Dad.

I had tried C25K several times before, but two years living in Amman, Jordan, a city built on seven mountains with summer time temperatures of around 40 degrees celsius and cultural associations between running and lack of honour meant that I had all but given up.

But now I was back in Sweden, with no such excuses. So in January I committed to follow the full nine week plan.

The first weeks of C25K are very pleasant. Week one you alternate between one minute of running and ninety seconds of walking for twenty minutes. Week two follows the same rhythm but with longer intervals, ninety seconds running and two minutes walking. By week five you are running for twenty minutes without stopping, and this gradually increases until by week nine you can run for thirty minutes (an average of 5km).

I liked this slow build up because it meant that by the time I was running for longer periods of time, my muscles were ready for it. I didn’t experience the aches and pains I used to when I would run 5km after a long period without running. I was happy because I felt like I was becoming stronger.

However, I still felt worn out after each run and wasn’t waking up with that “I can’t wait to go running today” feeling.

Nonetheless, I persisted – cheered on by the voice of Radio One DJ Jo Whiley, who has replaced the encouraging but slightly less motivating voice of Laura from the first release of the app.

“By week nine, I will definitely be addicted to running,” I assured myself.

But even with the elation of finishing the nine weeks, I finished my last run worn out and didn’t feel more athletic.

That’s when I started talking to the runners I knew who have run half marathons and more. I even spoke to one friend who runs ultra marathons.

What they told me was very helpful: “you become addicted to running somewhere around 10 kilometres.”

All this time, I’d been thinking that the Couch to 5K would get me to that natural born athlete zone, when I actually needed a lot more kilometres under my belt to reach this point!

So I carried on. I increased my running from 5km to 6km, then from 6km to 7km, and now I regularly run 10km, sometimes more. The best part of this is that when I started running 8km and more, I started to feel better when I ran than when I didn’t! I had discovered the tipping point!

(image by Hernán Piñera)

Stop falling for the allure of News FOMO

Last night I dreamed that I bumped into Nassim Nicholas Taleb in a cafe.

He was sat thinking, recording his ideas via audio note on his mobile phone. Then his phone rang and he spoke to someone in Arabic for a few minutes.

After the phonecall I introduced myself. I told him how inspired I was by his Antifragility concept.

Half way into this dream, a girl in a beret snuck behind the philosopher. She switched his beret, which had been resting on a shelf behind him, with hers.

He didn’t notice the girl but, before she finished sneaking behind his back, I pointed her out to him. He had a twinkle in his eye as he stopped her and reclaimed his hat.

The whole time, he seemed gathered and at ease, in good spirits.

Once the girl was gone, it was like she’d never been there. He finished his conversation with me and went back to his thinking.


I think this dream illustrates my own inner dialogue pretty well. I adore well developed, longform writing and thought: philosophy, theology, fiction. I long to be part of that world. But I have a boundary problem: I let too many of the thoughts of others into my head.

I do this through Twitter, news apps and email. Before I deleted some of my apps, I was also a slave to Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Flickr.

For example the BBC app tells me “worry about the Democrat Party leadership contest,” and I do. Even though the outcome of this particular contest will have little or no impact on my life. Even though there’s nothing I can do to change the outcome.

By letting others dictate what I think about I lose control of my mental space.

I lose the opportunity to apply my thinking abilities to the work of crafting ideas that I can be happy with.

The girl who wants to steal my beret and the guy who wants to stop and have a chat have distracted me from my work of thinking.

Unlike the Taleb of my dream, my undisciplined mind falls prey to the many things that vie for my attention.

Now I’m not saying that I want to cloister myself from the world. There will always be diversions, welcome or otherwise, from the path I expect to take.

But there’s a difference between handling everyday intrusions and choosing a lifestyle of distractedness.


There’s a phrase that Paul of Tarsus uses in a letters to his followers: “take captive every thought.”

I think he’s alluding to the fact that we have some influence over what we think about. We have responsibility for taking every thought captive.

But how do we do it? I think it involves looking at each one, examining it and asking “does it belong in my mind?”

We have to cultivate mental space that we own and that reflects our values.

Thinking right is important

We all know that thinking right is important to how we view ourselves and the impact that we make on the world. We’ve all seen the damage that thinking wrong can do to a person’s life.

We’ve known people full of potential but held back by their fears of who others say they are. For some of us, we are those people: always asking ourselves, “who do you think you are?”

If thinking right is so important, why we give so much mental space to others?

After all, those “others” usually don’t have our best interests at heart.

Back to the BBC

All news organisations are in a competition for readers and viewers. Reporting feel good news doesn’t attract readers the way that reporting danger does.

Humans want know what risks are ahead.

Journalists know that a story describing some new risk will be easy to sell to a news agency. Their goal is selling papers, and spreading fear does just that.

Those agencies have apps and Twitter feeds that keep us updated on the Breaking News that we need know about.

At any moment we can be interrupted with the latest notification. The new thing that totally overshadows whatever it was we were just thinking about. Our previous thought relegated to the back burner.

FOMO

If it’s not our just our hunger for knowing about risk that keeps us tuned in. We are also plagued by FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out).

It’s no fun being the only person who doesn’t know about that latest thing that just happened.

But in this sphere not missing out (NMO) isn’t as satisfying as we expect.

In the real world, when we let FOMO take over, the payback is usually tangible. We go to that party instead of staying home. That means that we have the memories and experiences of that party.

But most of the breaking news that we hear doesn’t offer us a payback. Our day gets distracted because X has happened, but there’s nothing we can do about X.

Sure, we can talk about it. But the outcomes of this particular scenario are out of our hands. Instead of feeling engaged, we end up feeling alienated.

The elites skirmish and play their power games and all we can do is spectate.

Our news cycles are set up to reinforce dissatisfaction and a sense of powerlessness.

Take the power back

I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all answer to this question. It’s something we each have to weigh up for ourselves.

There are some for whom electronic discipline comes naturally. They know when to turn off their phones and focus on the real world.

And there are others who just don’t see it as an issue. The convenience of constant connection to the shared consciousness far outweighs its drawbacks.

But I’m not in either of those groups. I want to take back my inner space, and I can’t do it without conscious effort.

Maybe I’ll begin by learning to take every thought captive. 

Language Hack 6: Uncomfortable Situations

One way that you can really stretch yourself linguistically is to put yourself in situations that are uncomfortable.

In comfortable situations you usually use vocabulary you know well. Only spending time with friends can leave you relying on their familiarity with with your style of speaking, rather than on your accuracy.

It’s also easy to treat speaking your target language as a performance that you’ve prepared in advance: you’ve chosen the subject, memorised the relevant words, and now you’re demonstrating that knowledge to someone who you feel relaxed in front of.

Making yourself understood by strangers, in higher pressure situations, is a whole different ballgame. Your choice of words and style of communication become really important because the listener doesn’t have relational history to lean into as they try to follow what you’re saying.

Go get rattled

Although I’d practiced this while living in Jordan, I hadn’t really reflected on it’s benefits until I read Nathan Field’s blog post, 20 strategies for becoming a fluent Arabic speaker, a really useful post that he’s currently converting into an ebook. In his post Field says:

the key to really getting good at spoken is making sure a huge portion of your 250 hours take place outside of your comfort zone. You want: To be in situations where you are nervous [and] To be in situations where you are “rattled,” if not embarrassed.

He describes two situations in which car trouble (a blowout and a collision) forced him to speak, and where adrenaline and the ‘muscle memory’ of his studies “took over”:

The Arabic words just came out.  I didn’t think.  I reacted and spoke effectively

Taking up the challenge

Yesterday I put this principle to the test using the other language that I’m learning: Swedish. I’ve recently returned to Sweden, and decided to visit Arbetsförmedlingen, the official body that assists job seekers.

I had an appointment, and decided to use only Swedish during it, even though I knew the person I was meeting probably spoke pretty good English.

Beforehand I was much more nervous than I would have been going into an English-language meeting, but the decision payed off. The two staff members I met with were happy to stick to Swedish, and I understood almost everything they said. There were two moments when I reverted to English because I didn’t know the right word, but we returned to Swedish afterwards.

I left the interview excited and invigorated at what I’d just achieved, and exhausted from the amount of focussing I’d had to do!

Tips for getting uncomfortable

Here are a few of the ideas that Field gives for getting out of comfort zone language practice:

  1.  Take 5 minutes to research terms related to vacuum cleaners or some other device that you need to buy. Then Go into a department store and ask for the pros and cons of the vacuum cleaners they have on stock. Only in Arabic. Preferably with a queue behind you.
  2. Intentionally “get lost” in a neighborhood in the Arabic city you are studying.  Then ask for directions in Arabic back to the spot you know and find your way back home.  If anyone tries to help you in English,  say you are from a country where no one would know the language: Mongolia.
  3. Phone calling – so much of communication is conveyed by body language, seeing each other and that is often a crutch for Arabic students: just call a restaurant to order; call the department store to ask about stuff etc.

Read Nathan Field’s blog here.

 

What Downton Abbey Can Teach Us About The Future

When my wife told me that she wanted to start watching Downton Abbey, I was a little reluctant. Although I enjoy reading the Brontes and Dickens, I’m not usually enthralled by TV period dramas. That said, after sticking with it for a season, I started to enjoy it for several reasons…

Before I get onto them, I want to talk about StrengthsFinder. When I got my results from Gallup’s personality profiling tool, I learned that Futuristic is one of my strongest themes. This means that I’m always looking ahead, and can picture fairly vividly what it might look to take certain turns in life. I gravitate towards ideas about the future, so am more naturally engaged by Sci-fi than by period dramas.

But there’s something interesting about Downton: it’s all about change.

After a few episodes I began noticing the overarching narrative: a traditional aristocratic family in the first part of the 20th Century coming to terms with a rapid succession of changes.

Transitioning from Honour to Guilt

Right now I live in the Middle East. The dominant culture here leans towards collectivism and honour much more than the individualism and guilt of my birth culture. People recognise themselves first and foremost as members of a particular group – usually a family or tribe. Even in Europe, Middle Easterners can learn a lot about each others’ history by exchanging last names.

Honour is a big part of collectivism. What one person does affects the standing of the group as a whole, so it’s important to make decisions that honour your family.

The family in Downton Abbey are on the knife edge between collectivism and individualism, and this is incredibly interesting. An example of this from season 5 is when Lady Mary decides to stay at a hotel in Liverpool with her potential fiancé in order to decide if she wants to marry him or not.

In the collectivist mind, this is outrageous. Think of the damage she could do to her family! But Mary is making a decision that she believes is in her interest as an individual.

Of course, because she is still living in an honour culture, her grandmother goes to great strains to cover up Mary’s behaviour, in order that the family, and her future prospects, are not harmed.

Embracing The Other

One of the intriguing things about the Crawley family is that they are continuously faced with opportunities to accept or reject people who are outside of their social sphere, and who others would consider outcasts.

One of the first of these is Tom Branson, the socialist chauffer who wins the heart of Lady Sybil. The family are faced with a choice: lose Sybil, or accept Tom. To begin with they reject Tom and push away their daughter, but over time, and with the untimely death of Lady Sybil, they begin to accept Tom as one of them.

As time goes by, the Crawley family become adept at absorbing people from outside into their family, whether it be ex-convicts working as servants, nouveau riche businessmen, or Lady Rose marrying into a Russian Jewish family.

The Best Educated Are Not Always The Best At Embracing Change

It’s easy to think that society’s elite are the best suited for embracing change. They’ve been to the best schools, had access to the most information, and been exposed to the highest standard of art and culture. However the Downton story shows that these things don’t automatically result in people with open minds.

In reality, Lord Grantham has been raised to maintain a system. His goal is to maintain the honour and reputation of his family, and that means stewarding Downton well. He and his butler, Mr Carson, are kindred spirits. They see the world that was as the way it should be. If possible, they must uphold the old ways and traditions.

But the world is changing and the foundations of the old system are beginning to crumble. The finances of the aristocracy are no longer entrenched. The working and middle classes are asking for more opportunities and exerting themselves politically.

For each character in the series who is intent on maintaining the norm, there is another who embraces change. The Dowager Countess has Mrs Isobel Crawley, Lord Grantham has Tom Branson, Mr Carson has Mrs Hughes. Each of these relationships is a mix of polar opposite attitudes to change, and extreme fondness for one another.

Why is this important to the future?

Each of these themes is important to our world at the moment: Exploring honour culture should help us better understand the challenges refugees face when coming to terms with European society.

As our cities and towns become increasingly multicultural, it’s good to ask ourselves if we will open the door to embrace and include the outsider, even if it means that we may be changed in the process. Check out this small town in Finland that did just that.

And when we see the entrenched elite squirming at the rise of new leaders from more ordinary backgrounds, we can remember that they’re not always the best suited for facing change. We mustn’t fear change just because they do.

Who knows, perhaps the trouble Lord Grantham had with accepting the future is the same that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were expressing at the prospect of Jeremy Corbyn gaining power 🙂