My last post about the hardships of life was so popular (at both ends of the sympathy spectrum) that today we’re going to meet Ben. I don’t know Ben, but in the same way that Raymond found himself in the spotlight, so does he. In another piece of fearless journalism, the BBC has chosen Ben to represent a generation of young people with seemingly no hope and no prospects. Though I disagree, I actually have a great deal more sympathy with Ben than I do with Raymond – for starters I have kids, and I don’t want them to end up like Ben. And as you may recall, I had no sympathy with Raymond whatsoever. None. And anyway, Ben receives a tenth what Raymond does. Mind you, he could quit smoking....
Ben is 25 and last worked when he was about 21, though the jobs were essentially menial. If you listen to the accompanying audio clip, he sounds an OK kind of bloke, relatively articulate, relatively intelligent. For the last three or so years though, it appears he has sat at home playing video games, watching TV, and smoking. Note that this is not too different from Raymond.... The article unfortunately goes into no depth as to how Ben ended up where he is – this is a shame, it would have been far more insightful had we heard something about Ben’s family life as a teenager and even earlier, and what might have caused his premature exit from the job market, and seemingly, a fulfilling life.
Let me start by saying I am not a psychologist, I am making this up as I go along, but to me the issue seems one of being stuck in a rut and of having no confidence, and one probably feeds the other into an ever descending spiral. People are born very different, and I believe that some people have a natural confidence. Ben has very little, or at least very little now. There is probably a nurture vs nature element here, hence why some life-history beyond poor exam grades would have been helpful, but I think that confident parents produce confident offspring, be it genetic inheritance or merely a function of what life is like growing up in a particular household. If I had to put money on it, I’d say it’s both - Darwin had nothing on me. Apart from me, my whole family is very confident....
Whether you are brimming with personality and a sense of self-worth or not, I am a firm believer that life is what you make it. Ben (and his flatmate) are, to my mind, not making the most of it. My personal experience is perhaps not ideal for being able to understand and empathise with feelings of complete despair, but Ben needs to get real and pull himself together. I’m sure he’d love to hear that from me, and would immediately go and do the washing up, and from that first squirt of Fairy his life would dramatically turn around. For that is all it would take, one thing would lead to another. Imagine the satisfaction of doing three weeks worth of washing up – he could even tackle it over a couple of days if he so chose, it’s not like he has anything else to do is it? He says he's unimaginably bored, but clearly not bored enough to do the dishes. Imagine looking at the now immaculate draining board and thinking “Wow, that was me!" - I get that feeling and I'm a happy kind of person, so imagine what it might do to Ben! He might then clean the whole kitchen, which is almost certainly totally disgusting. A quick 48 hour gaming stint, and then he might progress to the no doubt equally-horrible bathroom – in fact I just shuddered involuntarily as I envisaged what it might be like. And here’s the key, with the sink shining, and the mirror clean, would he shave off that scabby beard? A beard which shouts “loser”. A beard which totally precludes employment of any kind. A beard which totally defines the kind of individual that Ben currently is. He insists, of course, that he isn’t lazy. A large beard, three weeks worth of washing up in the sink, mould in his tea-cup and not leaving the house for days at a time, and that’s not lazy? What would you call it then, a life-style choice? Don’t get me wrong, I feel sorry for the guy, I can’t even begin to comprehend how miserable he feels, but at the same time, how difficult can it be?
A few tiny things – no, miniscule things – and the sense of despair and hopelessness could be alleviated, however fractionally. Sitting at home in a filthy flat playing computer games isn’t going to help him meet people or help him get a job. Surely anyone can see that? The BBC doesn’t mention his IQ, other than to say that he didn’t do well in exams which isn’t correlated to intelligence. I didn't think he sounded stupid, but he must be if he can’t see that the future holds no promise for as long as he doesn’t sort himself out. I realise that this sounds supremely arrogant - I only wrote it to annoy the anonymous commentators. One thing I do know, and that I would hope everyone agrees with, is that to sit at home and play computer games and watch TV requires far less effort than getting up and at least attempting to do something else that might actually help. In other words, it’s a complete cop out.
One thing I do appreciate is his comment about the lack of feedback after job interviews. I wouldn’t employ him either, but I’d tell him why (see above), which might be highly discriminatory but would help propel him in the right direction. Or my view of the right direction anyway, which is generally known to pragmatic people as “real life”. When I was trying to get a job last year after over two years out of paid work and thus diminished experience (note that I viewed what I did – childcare - as an alternative form of work; typically prospective employers did not...) I had several interviews. These were at big, multi-national companies, not small local businesses. One was at a quasi-government institution! Not one of these places ever gave me any feedback about why I hadn’t got the job. Two of the places I never heard from again – at all! That they didn’t want me is purely an assumption on my part after a couple weeks of silence! You would think that if you have washed yourself, dressed up nicely, presented yourself at their offices at the appointed time, in other words been thoroughly professional in all respects, that - irrespective of how you performed in the interview - at the very least you might get some constructive feedback. And if that is too much, too burdensome, at least an email or a phone call to say thanks but no thanks. If my experience is anything to go by - and I would like to think I am a damn sight more professional than Ben is when he turns up for a role – it is no wonder young people can quickly become disillusioned and jaded by what they would naturally perceive to be a rather nasty and unfair system where they have no visible worth. They end up blaming the damn system, and from there it is but a short step to burning Tottenham and swinging on the Cenotaph.
So – and you knew this was coming, right? - my advice to Ben. The fact that he’s not asked for any is irrelevant.
1) Clean your filthy flat, it will make you feel better about yourself, and that is half the battle.
2) 2) Clean yourself - ditto.
3) 3) Get rid of the beard, and get a haircut. You will be amazed at the prejudices that will melt away. People probably think you're a birder.
4) 4) Kick your flatmate into shape as well, you probably feed off each other.
5) 5) Quit smoking, it is a waste of what was once my money.
6) 6) Stop playing computer games and get your ass out of the house.
7) 7) Start with unpaid work. Do anything. It will get something current on your CV and potentially give you a sense of worth and of belonging.
Of these seven pearls, numbers one to three are the most important, and it’s crucial you start with these. They were probably the first things to slip as you started your slide into the cycle of failing and believing you are a failure, and their reversal could also be the springboard to climbing out of it. Please bear in mind I’m not a qualified self-help expert, though you would struggle to tell. I come from the “pull yourself together” school of advice. So Ben, I admit it might not work (though the chances are very slim), but how will you know unless you start to do something? Because at the moment you’re doing nothing, and that definitely won’t work.
If it doesn’t, and in two months from now you still find yourself at a loose end, at least get some bins and go find a local patch. Migration should be in full swing, and finding a Wheatear cannot fail to lift your spirits.