Who’s in control – us, or our phones? Is loneliness a symptom, or the cause of our problems? How can we actually help the homeless people that we walk past every day? What’s the real cost of fast fashion?
Can We Just Ask is a platform to open up discussion, debate and, ultimately, problem-solving, around today’s social and environmental issues. Ahead of their second event, we sat down with the couple behind CWJA, yogi Annie Clarke (a.k.a. Mind Body Bowl) and creative producer and presenter Will Sebastian, to ask some of our own questions.
First things first – tell us a bit about yourselves.
W: I work in TV and am also a Creative Producer, which basically means I write scripts, create content and mentor exciting young creatives. I also occasionally present entertainment news for Channel 5 and am the host of Balcony TV where we film musicians live on balconies around London.
What about you Annie?
A: My first job after uni was working for Deliciously Ella.
Oh really! Before she was Delicious, or…?
A: She was already Delicious! She had just signed her first book deal, and I was her first employee. During the couple of years that I was with her, yoga was becoming more and more a part of my lifestyle, and then I decided to do my yoga teacher training, and enjoyed it so much I moved into teaching yoga.
So how did ‘Can We Just Ask’ come about?
W: I felt limited in the conversations that I can have in public, on social media or with my job. There are so many conversations that Annie and I have behind closed doors and that we thought other people are probably talking about, too. We wanted a platform for people to be able to come together and express themselves and learn from each other.
A: I was becoming more and more aware of two things; firstly, our relative privilege in the world and the fact that I have no idea what to do with that. I’m lucky to have created certain opportunities, and been handed other ones, but how do I connect back to the fact that that’s not it for everyone? Secondly, I had realised that I was regurgitating information in conversations with others, things that somebody else had told me or that I had read somewhere, without taking time to critically evaluate it. There’s always a bigger picture than just the information that you hear in the media or from other people with their own views. Our first talk on whether plastic-free is sustainable really demonstrated this – I was the first person to try and ditch plastic wherever I could, and then it became apparent that there were so many flaws in my argument due to lack of information, for example a glass jar would have far more CO2 emissions than plastic jars. The only way that we can educate ourselves more is by listening to other people. We try to bring together thought leaders with different opinions to come together and challenge different topics.
W: It’s easy to live in your own bubble, especially with social media. You follow people and are friends with people that you assimilate with. You only see one part of the beast, and it’s easy to listen to the rhetoric.
Do you find it can be hard to know what’s truth and what’s ‘fake news’?
A: One of the most amazing things about today is that we’re so connected, yet one of the biggest epidemics of our time is that there is so much fake news.
W: There’s also a lot of surface-level conversations; it can be hard to get to know someone on a deeper level unless you actively encourage it. We want to build a community so that people can engage, talk, trust.
A: It doesn’t have to be big discussions all the time, but it can just be having a more meaningful conversation where people connect on an emotional level. Especially in a big city, it can be easy to feel isolated.
Do you think social media exacerbates that feeling as well?
A: We can choose to either fight things like social media or celebrate the opportunities that it gives us to challenge ideas, educate ourselves and, hopefully, ultimately change the world for good. Or you can let it put you in a horrible place and make you feel rubbish.
So your next talk is on the 31st of May and is going to focus on ‘What does it mean to be a man?’
W: I’m really excited! I talk about it all the time.
Do men talk about it enough?
W: It doesn’t happen enough. I went to a Men’s Circle recently and it was actually hard – I think men find it difficult to talk, especially when they’re on their own. I think it’s also a difficult time to know how to identify as a man. Quite rightly, there’s a lot of talk about being a woman with things like the Me Too movement a wider championing of female empowerment.
A: With the Me Too campaign, you found that quite difficult didn’t you, Will, in terms of how do you comment as a man? Is there a correct way to comment and involve yourself in the conversation? There are certain expectations that make it incredibly difficult to know how to comment.
W: And saying nothing won’t do either. It’s tricky to navigate because there are a lot of different opinions. For the talk on the 31st we want to hear all sides of the conversation, especially with recent reports that male suicide is at an all-time high. I want people to start thinking about what we can do about it, and not just talk about it.
A: Men and women have the same emotions, traumas and struggles, but men don’t seem to have the same invitation by society to share and express them.
W: We don’t know the answer to any of the questions, but what I want to get out of this next talk is to figure out what we can do when raising future generations.
What other topics have you got up your sleeve?
A: Fake news will probably crop up, as well as fast fashion and what constitutes as sustainable practice.
W: Another is phone addiction! We have a long list, and we also want our audiences to tell us what they want to discuss.
A: We want to cover a range of different topics so that we get diversity not only in our discussions but also in the audience that we bring to the event. I hope that people enjoy a talk so much that they come back to others and they learn new things about different topics.
What are your long-term goals with CWJA?
A: We really want to give back, and we’re trying to work out the most effective way to do that. So far we’ve donated a percentage of ticket sales to charity, but we want to find ways to donate to a cause in a greater way.
W: We want the impact to reach beyond those two hours of conversation, whether that’s through financial contributions, or providing access to the talks for people that can’t physically attend.
Well we are super excited to attend the event tomorrow – see you there!
For more information on upcoming talks, visit Can We Just Ask’s website.
Will wears the Aries in Gold and the Palmer in Matte Sunkist, and Annie wears the Bermuda in Mint Swirl and the Theodore in Rose Gold.