Truth is his name

Who is to say who is right or wrong when only god is perfect?

If there is one thing that I hate doing, it is admitting when I am wrong. I am comfortable compiling my finances; I can visit the dentist without fear; doing the household laundry and other domestic chores can even be positively euphoric; but, admitting when I am wrong is something that I deplore and what is more, I just can’t seem to do it as often as I should.

As a teenager, I gained something of a reputation for endlessly questioning my friends, family and peers. I just couldn’t let go of a topic that I felt inclined to know about (which happened to be just about everything!) Relentlessly, I would hound somebody as to their opinion or experience.

This in itself was fairly harmless as I had always been taught that an inquisitive nature was the very essence of learning. However, it was the manner in which I would counteract during a conversation that led to my notoriety. To share your own opinions is tolerable, but I tended to declare my own thoughts as absolute fact.

I would take a stand on a point in question and unequivocally deride others (whom I now viewed as opponents) pressing them into submission. As if that wasn’t ghastly enough, I often found myself in a position where I needed to expand my argument further, but could not as I had already limited myself when making earlier assertions!

Admitting that perhaps I had gone too far or that I had hastily made statements was tantamount to admitting defeat and I just couldn’t admit that I was wrong. With age comes wisdom and over the years I have become a better conversationalist, but the agony in admitting I may have erred remains. I often wonder why this is. Is it as simple as the stubbornness of male-pride? Or is there some part of my personality that craves confrontation? I continue to ask these questions of myself, but have already found satisfaction from the philosophy of the Sikh way of life.

Guru Nanak espoused that there is only One absolute: God. Sikhs do not think of God as a being or deity, rather we believe that God is the very fabric of all existence: The Guru said Truth is His Name. It follows that beyond this absolute, unique perfect Divinity, everything else is not without flaw. It is comforting to know that we are not perfect.

To truly believe and practice the principle that only God is perfect is humbling. It helps us to refrain from the idea that we cannot be wrong. And yet we find ourselves in that position every day because we spend our time looking at the rest of the world who like us are imperfect. If they are imperfect too, who is to say that I am wrong and they are right? Perhaps I am right and they are wrong! It is this type of thinking that I believe has led me to hate admitting when I am wrong, a belief that perhaps I could be right!

This is why the Sikh way of life emphasises the greater importance of practising an ideal. Guru Nanak declared that “Truth is the highest virtue, but higher still is Truthful living.” We recognise that we are imperfect, but when we are put to the test and should accept that we could or have been wrong we fail to follow through. Sikhs believe that everything exists at the whim of the single Creator & Destroyer. That entity alone is responsible for life and death, for war and peace. Sikh philosophy dictates that our energy is better focused on that entity and to not get caught up in the petty squabbles of the World. Guru Nanak said that in life we should be like the lotus flower, floating within the water but not becoming sullied by the murky depths: to live within the World and embrace it whole, to attempt to resolve society’s problems and enhance the spirit of its people. But we should not allow ourselves to become embroiled or overcome by the differences that exist. Truly, it is human to err, but I would like to take licence with the idiom and add that to admit when one is wrong is also divine.

Harwinder Singh is a 26-year-old Law graduate turned film and TV producer. He is also a record label boss. Born in the UK to Punjabi parents, he been practising and studying the Sikh Way of Life for about 20 years.
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Britain's diversity crisis starts with its writers. Here's why

What happens on the casting couch draws the headline, but the problem starts on the page, says James Graham. 

I’m a playwright and screenwriter, which – pertinent to the issues we’ll be discussing in this enquiry – still feels weird to say. I get embarrassed, still, saying that, in a taxi or hairdressers. I don’t know why I still carry that insecurity about saying I’m a writer, but I do, because it sounds like I’m lying, even in my own head.

Obviously I’m completely biased, and probably overstating the influence and importance of my own profession, but I think so many of the problems surrounding lack of representation in the performing arts start with writers.

If we aren’t encouraging and generating writers from certain communities, classes or backgrounds to tell their stories, to write those roles, then there’s not going to be a demand for actors from those communities to play them. For casting agents or drama schools to prioritise getting diverse actors on stage. We need to create those plays and TV dramas –like the ones that I grew up with. I didn’t have any access to much theatre until I was fifteen, but I did have Boys From the Black Stuff, and I did have Cracker, and I did have Band of Gold. I think the loss of those regional producing bodies – Central, Granada – now all completely centralised into London, means that we just tell less of those stories. I remember a TV show called Boon – anyone? – which was set in Nottingham, and I would see on the TV streets I’d walked down, and think, Oh my God, that actor is walking down a street I’ve walked down. That sounds like it’s insignificant. If you’re from a town that is deprived, that feels ignored, it isn’t.

I was very lucky that at my school (which was, at the time, the largest comprehensive school in the country), from the headmaster down to the drama teachers, everyone just believed that working class kids should do plays. Be in plays, read plays, perform plays to the community. Both inside the curriculum of the school day, and outside it – drama teachers dedicating their time to staying behind. Our head of drama identified a group of us who clearly had a passion for it. We weren’t likely thesps. One lad’s entire family were made unemployed when the pit closed. Many lived on the big council estate. My parents and step-parents worked respectively in warehouses, the local council, or as the local window cleaner (incidentally, my first real job. Which I was terrible at).

Our drama teacher was encouraged and determined enough to launch the first ever Drama A-Level in our school. Based on that, about 10 or 12 of us got the confidence – or arrogance – to take our own show to the Edinburgh Festival. We were 16 or 17, and the first people in our community to ever go to visit the festival. We did a play up there, and after that, a psychological unlocking happened, where I thought: maybe I could do a degree in drama (it was the first time I had ever thought to do so) at university (the first in my family to go. Well, joint-first. My twin sister went on the same day, but I walked into my digs first).

I enrolled in drama at Hull University. A high proportion of my peers were middle class. A higher proportion from London or the South East. They talked often about institutions I had never heard of. They were talking about the National Theatre: I didn’t know we had a national theatre that my parents had been paying tax for that I had never been to. Many had performed with the (again, apparently) ‘National’ Youth Theatre, also in London. Paul Roseby, also on this panel, has made such leaps forward in getting the NYT producing in regional venues, and making auditions possible for people across the UK, but unfortunately, at the time, that wasn’t the case for me – and I was the ideal candidate to be in the National Youth Theatre.

I started writing because I had the confidence after I read texts by people like Jim Cartwright, Alan Bennett, John Godber, Alan Ayckbourn: Northern writers, working class writers that made me think it wasn’t just something that other people do.

After returning home, and working at local theatres, I moved down to London. I had to. The major new writing producers are there. All the TV companies are there. The agents are there. I was lucky to find support in a pub fringe theatre – though the economics meant there was no money to commission, so I wrote plays for free for about four years, that would get produced, and reviewed in the national press, while I worked various jobs in the day and slept for a time on a mate's floor. The first person to ever pay to commission me to write a play was Paul Roseby of the National Youth Theatre. I’m now very lucky to be earning a living doing something I love. In a way, compared to actors, or directors, it’s easier for writers who don’t come from a background that can sustain them, financially, in those early years. Your hours can be more flexible. Yes, it was annoying to miss rehearsals because I had a shift in a call centre, but it was still possible to do it. If you’re an actor or director, you’re fully committed. And if you’re doing that for nothing, there starts to be cut-off point for those from backgrounds who can’t.

I’m sure that local and regional theatres are the key to drawing in talent from less privileged backgrounds. But the range of national arts journalism that cover work outside London has been so significantly reduced. In our little echo chamber a few weeks ago, we theatre types talked about Lyn Gardner at the Guardian. Her coverage has been cut, which is very directly going to affect her ability to cover theatre shows outside of London – and so the self-fulfilling cycle of artists leaving their communities to work exclusively in London takes another, inevitable, turn.

I am culpable in this cycle. I have never done a play at the Nottingham Playhouse, my local producing house growing up – why? Because I’ve never submitted one, because I know that it will get less national press attention. So I just open it in London instead. That’s terrible of me. And I should just bite the bullet and say it doesn’t matter about the attention it gets, I should just go and do a story for my community. And if I, and others, started doing that more, maybe they will come.

I also want to blame myself for not contributing back to the state schools that I come from. I really really enjoy going to do writing workshops with kids in schools, but I would say 90 per cent of those that I get invited to are private schools, or boarding schools, or in the South of England. Either because they’re the ones that ask me, because they’re the ones who come and see my shows in London and see me afterwards backstage, or because they have the confidence to email my agent, or they have the budget to pay for my train ticket. Either way, I should do more. It would have helped the younger me so much to meet a real person, from my background, doing what I wanted to do.

I don’t know how to facilitate that. I take inspiration from Act for Change, creating a grassroots organisation. I know that there is a wealth of industry professionals like me who would, if there was a joined-up structure in place that got us out there into less privileged communities, we would on a regular basis go to schools who don’t get to meet industry professionals and don’t unlock that cultural and psychological block that working class kids have that says, that is not for me, that is something that other people do, I would dedicate so much of my time to it. That’s just one idea of hopefully better ones from other people that might come out of this enquiry.

James Graham is a playwright and screenwriter. This piece is adapted from evidence given by James Graham at an inquiry, Acting Up – Breaking the Class Ceiling in the Performing Arts, looking into the problem of a lack of diversity and a class divide in acting in the UK, led by MPs Gloria De Piero and Tracy Brabin.