Belfast Telegraph

The secret of having a good life hangs in the balance

By Nuala McKeever

I love the word "balance". It even sounds like what it is. I picture walking up a see-saw on the "bal", reaching the middle, the fulcrum, then walking down the other side on the "lance". Or standing at the midpoint, one foot on either side, perfectly still. To be like water, which is always balanced, that is a goal. To find equilibrium, no matter what the circumstances.

I used to think balance, in life, meant having everything sorted, nothing "wrong". By that token, it would always be elusive.

Now, I think balance is possible, no matter what the circumstances. It's just a case of finding the balancing-point in any given situation.

So, for example, when all you read about in the news is depressing, it's worth finding stories that are inspiring and encouraging, that remind you of the great human spirit, to balance out the dregs.

One of the most insidious effects of exposure to so much information through the internet, is the steady erosion of a sense of power in our own lives.

It's hard to maintain a sense of yourself as the creator of your own life when everything coming at you suggests that life is being done to you.

Politics - beyond your control. Social policy - awful, but beyond your control. World hunger - dreadful, but beyond your control. Pain - ditto. Suffering - ditto. Horror - ditto. It's easy to position yourself as a small, ineffective, powerless little cog in a huge, indifferent machine.

How many good stories does it take to balance out IS, or a starving pet, or Jeremy Clarkson?

Two stories this week restored my sense of balance. One is about soup and the other about fixing electronic devices. Both shift the balance of power from "them" to "us" to "me". In Detroit, a once glorious city, epitome of the American post-war dream, a simple idea around soup has taken hold. Detroit went bankrupt in 2013. Physically, it's an industrial graveyard, with mile after mile of derelict buildings and despairing people with no work. It's the pits.

Last year, a 33-year-old woman, Amy Kaherl, set up the first Detroit Soup event. People come, pay $5 a head, listen to a selection of pitches from people with ideas that benefit the community.

It's four minutes per pitch, a maximum of four questions asked, then everyone has soup and bread and then they vote on which idea wins. The winner gets all the money taken at the door. Crowdfunding, with soup. Simple, effective, empowering.

In France, a law is being passed to force manufacturers of devices to fix them free within two years of purchase and to say on labels what components are made of, to allow consumers to choose more easily on the basis of how long a machine will last.

The law means fewer objects produced with built-in obsolescence, less drive to cheaper throwaway goods, greater emphasis on craft and longevity, less trash, less consumption, greater respect for the world.

The Detroit Soup project is about people taking control. So is the French law.

Each story restores in me a small, but stirring voice that says, "Yes, we can!" We are not simply cogs. We are the heart of life itself, right here, right now, where we live. See something you don't like? You can do something about that. You can. Not them. You.

Life feels out of balance when you feel divided from yourself and your innate power.

Shift along the see-saw when this happens. Find that fulcrum.

Right yourself and stand up proud. That's living in top gear.

Now it's Ed 'Two Kitchens' Miliband

Okay, so I'm stuck for something to comment on. Can't be bothered with Clarkson, or St Patrick's Day, or rugby, or any of those topical topics. I want something silly.

Ta-dah! There it is. Ed Miliband, who doesn't bother my interest radar too much, has been pictured at home in his very modest kitchen, supping tea with his wife. Frank, at home, I'm an ordinary bloke photo, meant to endear.

Turns out it's his second kitchen. He has two kitchens. Blimey. Haven't stopped laughing since I read that.

Glad Labour's not the irrelevant clone of the Tories I thought it was.

The doll you'd be silly to toy with

The world's first interactive doll, Hello Barbie, has been unveiled by Mattel. She has a microphone in her belt. Children ask her questions, or tell her stuff, and the information is sent to an internet 'cloud', stored and a response given.

Uproar! The implications are huge. Kids giving out private information to huge conglomorates. Kids revealing illegal activity.

Who's responsible for what happens with the information and who'll foot the financial and emotional bill if social services turn up on the doorstep in response to allegations of abuse? And if they don't turn up? Gee, what was so bad about brushing your doll's hair and pulling its legs off?

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