How Ruby Wax is Offering Us Hope and Positivity in 2020
Joe Gallop, Journalism & English Language Graduate, University of Roehampton
Ruby Wax OBE certainly picked a fitting time to release her new book And Now For The Good News [Penguin Life]. The American actress, comedian and mental health campaigner joined journalist Rachel Cooke to give the final BookFest audience of the weekend a dose of positivity at a time when it is most needed.
Exploring themes of community, technology, business and education, Wax travelled to various places across the world in order to shine a light on people and organisations making a positive difference to others’ lives. She began writing the book, subtitled …To the Future with Love, before the outbreak of coronavirus, but its premise is no doubt more pertinent than ever as it offers “green shoots of hope” in troubled times.“I wrote it because even before the pandemic we were in a crisis,” she said.
The book begins with a chapter on community, which has become Wax’s obsession, particularly looking at how it can help eradicate loneliness and isolation. “The theme of the book and the hope for the future is community,” she told the crowd on a calm Sunday evening on Wimbledon Common. “When the whole street came out and knocked a few pans, you could really feel the compassion gushing. Unless we start working together, nothing is going to work. “We have to start seeing each other as human beings and really listen.”
The book also looks at companies practising ‘conscious capitalism’ – putting its employee’s happiness first and striving to make money while also having an ethical vision. American outdoor clothing company Patagonia caught her attention, as they not only focus on sustainable materials, but also allow employee’s children to attend an onsite crèche.
Using Finland as the benchmark for success, Wax explored the education sector, looking at UK schools helping children from disadvantaged and often violent backgrounds achieve good results, while also improving their mental health. Wax was particularly interested in schools that were changing their teaching methods to reduce students’ stress levels, for instance at an academy called REAch2 in Hertfordshire where the children were taught empathy. “The whole school came out and sang a song for me… I was sobbing!”
Wax debunked the contemporary cliché of the internet being the ultimate problem in life – for the purpose of the book’s narrative at least. She focused on the positives of technology and reasons to invest in AI and other developments for the ways it can help boost empathy and make us “more human”. Wax observed how her mental health charity Frazzled Café, which she started four years ago, operated over lockdown while using Zoom instead of physical meetings. She even claimed the demand for events was even greater during this period. “Everybody is looking at everybody and listening because now you are captured on your device, so you can’t be distracted by it. I’ve never been so moved by people because they really care about what everyone has to say.”
On World Saviours
Part of Wax’s mission was to find “world saviours” – a group of inspiring, selfless individuals, who she highlights at the end of the book. She visited a refugee camp in the Greek island of Samos, where she met a group of women from an organisation called Choose Love, who she described as “reckless in the name of saving lives”. Wax opened up about her own reckless side - including a story from last year when she fell off a horse and severely injured her back having lied about being a showjumper. This recklessness, she said, was a reason for her not fearing the trip to the camp, where she ended up finding her place there by teaching pilates and giving manicures.
On Mental Health
Before the audience questions, Clarke concluded the discussion with a topic very close to the author's heart. Wax, who holds a master’s degree in Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy, spoke about the concept of being “frazzled”, which she wrote about in her self-help book A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled [Penguin Life], released four years ago. This concept, which she describes as a “contemporary illness”, relates to being stressed about being stressed and having anxiety about being anxious. “If you live in fear, you will get sick,” she said. “We are supposed to be stressed and be sad and anxious.” “It’s not [just] mental illness now, you can get physically sick by just thinking how terrible things are.”
And on Looking Forward
Having done her research and investigation for the book, Wax is remaining optimistic about the world and is backing ethical business to make a real difference in the future. “If you want to wait for a politician to change the world, you’ve got a long wait,” she said. “Business is going to change the world, not politics.”