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‘Speakers’ Corner is a traditional site for public speeches and debates since the mid 1800s when protests and demonstrations took place in Hyde Park.’ (from royalparks.org.uk)

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment”. Ralph Waldo Emerson

It is a summer Sunday in early noughties and I am accompanying my friend, as I regularly do, to speakers’ corner in Marble Arch, London. As usual there are a scattering of speakers standing (literally) on their soap boxes. Most are ranting so ferociously that I can’t take in what they are saying. They are so angry and the crowds around each of them is up in arms, either in total agreement or total disagreement. Their fists pounding the air, like a staged propaganda poster in communist Russia. People just love to have an opinion, about politics, religion. One speaker, though, is not standing on a soap box. He is holding a piece of cardboard up and has attracted a small crowd, which is growing by the minute. These people, thirsty to hear something different, stand quizzically, assessing the scene. Tourists on their way to Buckingham Palace, joggers, young people, children, all stop at this man with his sign.

He is a bit of a quirky guy; it’s as though he was just passing and decided he needed to make this statement. I am just as thirsty as the rest of the crowd for the message he is holding. He might as well have been the messiah. On his scrappy board, he has painted out the words ‘Everything is ok’. No mincing words here. It is not a self-righteous rant. It is not an essay with for and against feeling it’s ok to let yourself be okay. It is not an article peppered with pros and cons and evidenced with research.

I for one am in desperate need for this message. I will probably fall in love with him or start kissing his feet, I think. Because on a day-to-day basis, living in London as a young woman, nobody ever grants you permission to be OK. That’s not to say stress and lovelessness only exists in London and for young women, but as a twenty-something, obsessed with the way I look, how successful I am, I am putty in his hands. If I were living in a village I might have a mentor, a mother on hand, a vicar, a neighbour. But I’m in the big smoke and I am lonely.

Even if I hadn’t been a bit lost, life is a series of messages coming at us at varying velocities and varying degrees of persuasiveness, which, if we listened to, would drive us mad. Not only is advertising enticing and pervasive, it is now almost impossible to avoid, and carries so many harmful messages about what we should be and pushes us to an unattainable target. And it’s not only advertising but information we now have at our fingertips, which can have its own sub-agenda too: ‘you must know this, it is important that you know this, this information can help shape and change you and make you better’. It’s a bit like living with an annoying sibling who has an obsession with collecting facts and reeling them off to you at any given opportunity. We always try to measure things: six degrees of separation, fifteen minutes of fame. Next to come is the number of centimetres or minutes we are from someone’s opinions, advertising or surplus information. With so many agendas and personalities around, it is a wonder that so many people are relatively sane. How do we manage to be ourselves with so many inculcations and incantations around? And are they there to set us off course?

The man, still standing holding his makeshift placard, still with his wan smile, has started asking the crowd what talents they have. It is a long time ago but I think at one point he asks us to pat ourselves on the back, reminiscent of a motivational speaker or a cheesy teamwork training session in the office. My friend says about me: ‘she speaks three languages’, and I am disappointed that she thinks this is the most noticeable talent I have; what about my looks, my exotic Burmese-Indian-Portugese heritage, what about my underlying writing talents, my potential. Then I realise I am always looking for something to make me stand out from the crowd, as is the temptation in a big city, where you are just a face amongst many, many others. This most novel propaganda, though, I think could prove to be the most useful to all of us: ‘Everything is OK’.


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