Gran, me and Hare Krishna

A few years after my first visit to London. My grandmother is on the left and I’m next to my Aunt Elsie, doing the then tourist “must do” pigeon feeding (I don’t think its allowed now)

A few years after my first visit to London. My grandmother is on the left and I’m next to my Aunt Elsie, doing the then tourist “must do” pigeon feeding (I don’t think its allowed now)

Growing up my grandmother took me to lots of places. From Bristol to Miami, these adventures were always eagerly anticipated and as much as they were fun, at times they also taught me a range of lessons in life.

As my grandmother’s sister lived in London I enjoyed regular visits there from an early age. Sometimes it was just me and gran, and other times it was a combination of siblings, cousins, parents and aunts, and we always had a wonderful time. I remember learning to ice skate at Streatham Ice Rink, and thankfully the first thing they taught me was how to stop, no crashing into the barriers for me!

Although it was on an earlier visit in 1973, possibly my first trip to London, that I learnt one of the most important lessons in my life. Memory tells me it was just myself and my grandmother on this particular day. I could well be mistaken, but what is crystal clear is what happened when we arrived at Trafalgar Square. I was expecting to see the lion statues, the fountain, Nelson on his column, and of course to do some of the now frowned upon pigeon feeding. This was a tourist “must do” in the ‘70s.

However when we got to the Square, the pigeons had been temporarily evicted and in their place was the most amazing “happening”. I say happening, because as a young child, from a small town I’d never seen anything like this, it was totally outside my limited range of experiences and almost impossible to describe. Here they were, what seemed like thousands of people, many were dressed in a way that I’d never seen before, they were happy, some were dancing, some chanting, some playing finger cymbals. The whole space was alive, and to complete my sensory overload I could smell food, but unlike any cooking aroma that ever came from my parents kitchen.

Of course I was clueless as to what was happening, but I wasn’t scared I was holding my grandmother’s hand, and she was already picking up the beautiful mood of this gathering. So I felt safe, which is just as well because she was no bystander and before you knew it, we were in the epicentre of what I’ve since learnt was a Hare Krishna Rathayatra Festival.

(I’ve managed to find this video, that I think even includes a short clip of the Festival.)

Then I noticed what my grandmother was doing, she was talking to people, asking who they were, what they were doing, what Hare Krishna meant to them. Her genuine curiosity was consistently met with enthusiastic responses, and the conversations flowed, we were invited to share food, and to experience a belief totally different to our own. Nobody was trying to convert anyone, no one was passing judgement. Instead we simply enjoyed each other’s company and gained an appreciation for a different way of life.

On that day, even if unintentional, my grandmother taught me the most important lesson of my life. I learnt the value and importance of respecting people. I learnt that mutual respect doesn’t mean you have to agree with each other, or share each others belief, but by having mutual respect you soon find common values that bring you closer together as people.

Even as a child, I could sense myself being surrounded by people who, irrespective of their belief, knew the value of sharing love and not spreading hatred. A value I cherish and find easy to uphold too.

Fast forward to our world today, and we find ourselves in a place where certain establishment figures seem to have abandoned respect altogether. Instead, in their drive to gain power at all costs, they are prepared to encourage division and hatred between people. They create sensationalist, often inaccurate stories that are lapped-up by mainstream and social media. They use a crude vocabulary, that fuels hatred towards the groups of people who don’t fit their target demographic.

Using hatred as a means to gain support means innocent people suffer, and this is already happening. Leaders who are making the hatred of others acceptable, are the leaders who are undermining civilised society. The human cost is unacceptable, the damage they are inflicting is unacceptable, their lack of respect is unacceptable.

Yet regardless of how much hatred they perpetuate, they will never be able to change the fact that people will always be different. There will always be people of every ethnicity, there will always be an LGBTQ+ community, there will always be people of different genders, ages and abilities, and there will always be a rich diversity of beliefs. This is our amazing human race.

Targeting any group of people because: they differ from a “norm”, are part of a “weaker” minority, or have different beliefs, in order to achieve political power is the ultimate abuse of power. History has shown that left unchecked, the hatred becomes deepens and increasing numbers of people suffer. This has to stop. We are all different people, we all deserve respect.

Having been fortunate to grow up with a grandmother who was a truly inspirational role model, I know that offering respect to others is fundamentally the right thing to do.

Respect makes life better for everyone, and it really is time for a lot more people to start showing a lot more respect.