society


The urge to swear gratuitously, graffiti-ing violently right here, right now, is overcome by the urge of self-censorship. So instead, I’ll ask you to transgress.

Pick a stranger to look at. If they catch your eye, hold it. No aggression. No immediate smile. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Now you can smile. No flirting.

What happened?

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You wonder,  sometimes, just how grown-up you really are.

This happens, in the main, when you stumble, perhaps even fall down; when you quite possibly weren’t looking where you were going and then end up, breath knocked out of you, gasping for air, with shock-hot tears poking at your pride ducts.

And to be fair, how can you find the things that need mending unless you can see the holes?  The real sign of being grown-up, of course, is how you decide to deal with the fall, and with what caused it in the first place.  Do you sit and stamp your heels against the ground, screaming and flinging blame? Do you quietly seethe and vow to win vengeance? Or do you (because these questions must go in threes) take a deep breath, look behind you to see what happened and remind yourself not to do that again?

You never step in the same river twice, so they say, but of course, if you don’t learn from the tough times – if you then don’t grow – then the river’s going to look pretty much the same throughout your life. And that’s possibly secure, but it’s bloody boring. If you reinforce your own prejudices about the world (people are not to be trusted; I’m boring and ugly;  people never understand one another) then you’re only building up impenetrable walls and choosing to make yourself lonely and miserable.  Or boring and lonely and misunderstood and unable to trust anyone. Oh, look – a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I really admire people who can bite their tongue; who don’t need to bolster themselves in the eyes of others; who live in the present and don’t worry. But I know that some of those people find it hard to do some of the things I find easy. We’re all different and we all have different qualities: not having some of the good ones is not a failing – but it is a challenge, and after all, what else is life for?

😉

Children are educated by what the grown-up is and not by his talk

– Carl Jung

The Imp spent some interesting time doing things she didn’t like this summer. And as a (chronologically) grown-up creature, I’m not so used to that. I’d forgotten that Doing  / Wearing Things (from haircuts to buckle shoes and long socks) That You Don’t Like was a major feature of my childhood.

We adults (by which I mean probably western, and therefore relatively ridiculously affluent) have a great degree of autonomy over our own lives. That’s especially so if you’re dependent-lite (no kids) and obligation-wary (renting, cash- not debt-led) et cetera et cetera. Indeed, yay and verily, this Imp has been known quietly to compare herself with the lotus-eaters: indolent, addicted and apathetic, lounging in luxury’s lap. Here’s some Homer (Odyssey IX) to tell you something about Lotus Eaters (translated by Samuel Butler):

I sent two of my company to see what manner of men the people of the place might be, and they had a third man under them. They started at once, and went about among the Lotus-Eaters, who did them no hurt, but gave them to eat of the lotus, which was so delicious that those who ate of it left off caring about home, and did not even want to go back and say what had happened to them, but were for staying and munching lotus with the Lotus-eaters without thinking further of their return; nevertheless, though they wept bitterly I forced them back to the ships and made them fast under the benches.

Or as Nick Cave’s version put it, “Sapped and stupid / I lie upon the stones and I swoons”….

But away from this indulgence and back we go, to the issue of the autonomy of grown-ups (western and well-to-do). If you’re in such a fortunate position, you live pretty darn near the top of Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Need”. Think of a triangle. At the base are the most essential things you need to survive; as the triangle narrows, the needs become less essential to survival and more about personal growth and satisfaction:

Maslow's hierarchy of needs

Maslow's hierarchy of needs

So, as an adult, once our survival needs (food, shelter, water and sex) are met, we strive to fulfil other needs, such as safety (financial, personal, health), then social needs such as friendship, support, a family, intimacy. When social needs are not met, depression can set in, leading to self-neglect, where the lower needs (comfort and survival) are threatened. And top o’ the pile are the self-actualisation needs (“I want to be a train driver”) and peak experiences – spiritual, mystical, and other such insight-giving moments of the life-changing variety.

Doing things you don’t want to do is not good for many reasons – the potentially negative impact on self-esteem being key. What I mean by this is that if an adult feels that they are not in control of their own experiences over a significant period of time, then they can be reduced in their own mind to the status of a child  – powerlessness – by whatever circumstances are making them endure the bad experience (unemployment; a bullying partner; manipulative friends etc).

But of course, an adult does have free will and self-determination. There is always (in the Imp view of the world) choice, there are always alternatives. There might not be a golden ticket out the door, but there’s always another way. I hear philosophers screaming (but if I can’t see them, are they real?). But bear with me: even if it’s only changing your perspective, surely if that act changes your experience, then it is an alternative (and one that is self-determined)?

So, does it follow that Doing What You Don’t Want to Do can actually be a thing that strengthens you – aiding self-actualisation? Adversity is – I would argue – surely necessary if we’re to rise to the challenge of being proper adults (not just chronological ones)?

What’s important is that we see the tests and accept them – that we don’t just peep at them and roll over, weeping. We need to address the things that challenge us – how else can we grow?  OK, it might not be a ten-day shamanic ritual of tiger-hunting, but swallowing pride, finding the positive, or seeking a better way (of action or perception) are all the kinds of behaviours we expect from grown-ups; not running away, refusing, shutting the mind and throwing our weetabix against the wall.

It’s good, this grown-up thing – after all that hard work in getting here and putting up with being a child, don’t miss out on all it has to offer!

😉

I was watching the adverts last night and there was one that stuck out. For trying a bit too hard. Almost uncomfortably so; embarrassingly, like a kid in the playground who makes up a stupid nickname for themselves, a belittling one – so people will befriend him / her. And by dint of wanting too much to be liked, is a little despised.

Well, this advert was like that. I can’t remember for the life of me what it was for – that’s the nature of the nondescript, perhaps; their utter immemorability – but what I do remember is that it was out of place.

It was showy, smart, and most of all, was calling “buy, buy buy!”. Perhaps it was for Sky or a snazzy TV – yup – got it; Blue-Ray recorders. Ho ho ho. With the lovley, seductive voice of Sean Pertwee (yup, son of Dr Who and the guy who shags Hermione Norris in the penultimate season of Cold Feet.)

Anyhoo, the Imp smiled at the obsolescence of the ad. Obsolescence? Sure – ‘cos who – really, who?! – is buying up new technology these days, when they already have DVDs, plasma screens, and – verily – VHS machines?

Are there really people out there, listening to Sean’s dripping, dulcet tones, saying to their Signif. Oth. “Gosh, babe, yeah, let’s nip out and get a Blu-Ray recorder at the weekend!”? The only person I know who might ever have said those fine words is bankrupt and (finally) happy.

So?

I wonder whether we have moved to a new era – from the “gotta get the best” to “it’s good enough” mentality. I mean, after all, if your standard of living’s fine, and you’re managing to pay the bills, in the current risky climate would you really consider (even before you know the cost) upgrading your home TV system for some slightly enhanced technology (might be worth getting an eye test and better specs before splashing out several thousand for a new box)?

New UK graduates can’t get jobs – I doubt they’re going to live incautious financial lives. Millions can’t get on the housing ladder (the definitely-over-35-year-old Imp included, but that’s been rationalised to A Good Thing). Are they going to be hunting for new technologies to splurge on? Ahem.

If we are shifting to a “good enough” consumer approach, might that outlook bleed into other cultural areas? For decades to come, as UK debt mushrooms and people have to make decisions their parents and grandparents did not have to, how can the near-universal big-consumer mentality survive? Tony Blair’s taxpayer (read: consumer) “choice” agenda looks profligate in such an environment – although the Conservatives will seek to widen (wealthy) taxpayer choice if they get elected in 2010. And they’ll make it aspirational for the struggling middle-classes. Just like in the first half of the C20th, when the Tory vote was hard core working class. But this is not about party politics – it is about people politics (ah, how they forget, these men and women of The Party …). It’s about the best way to make life good for as many people as possible.

Making the most of what you have, working ambitiously within limitations, can inspire innovation. Not having easy access on demand to whatever you… demand can develop self-discipline and resourcefulness [God, I sound like a Presbyterian (Prime) Minister]. These things are good as long as they’re encouraged. The flip-side is “don’t try too hard; you can’t win. Nothing’s possible; this is just the way things are.” Utter bull, of course, but look at how some communities and societies lived that mantra through the 1950s. We can’t go back there. Selfishly speaking, it’s not how I want my middle age to be spent, with the politics of envy and class division thriving. What we need is support for those who fall (victims of pension fraud, the aged unemployed, the pregnant woman made redundant, for example) and encouragement for those who need it (new graduates, young parents, 16 year-olds with an idea).  Not a Blu-Ray. Swap it for an eye test and a run in the park, having ideas.

Here endeth the lecture…..

😉

I died as a mineral and became a plant, I died as a plant and rose to animal, I died as animal and I was man. Why should I fear? When was I less by dying?

– Jalalu ‘D-Din Rumi, Sufi poet

Some people believe in reincarnation, and there are many variations of that theme amongst the faiths and spiritual models of the world. Many times I’ve mused here about the cyclical nature of the single life, peeling of layers, of skins, personalities, and of the spiral nature of …nature!

Neuropsychologists such as Paul Brok will posit that there is not in fact any such thing as the ‘self’. That, in fact, we are no more than a series of firing neurons – not even the product of those firing neurons but that ‘we’ are the actual neurons themselves.  Consciousness is no more than that. All is flesh; there is nothing else. And of course, the word “reincarnation”, if you like playing at etymology,  is about “being made flesh again”. But leaving aside the question of a single, identifiable soul moving from a human to a bird to a tree for today, I wonder whether we “reincarnate” many times within the one lifetime?

What on earth is this about? Well, is it so sacrilegious to wonder whether I really am the same “person” I was when I was 17? No, of course not. For many people, it is common wisdom to accept that we all change. However, most tend to believe there is a common thread of selfhood, on which the multi-coloured, -shaped and -sized buttons of my ‘persona’ hang (a button each for me at 6, me at 10, me at 50).

What if we denied that thread, and said instead that we’re just a bag of loose buttons? An initial reaction might be that in so doing, we lose something. But what? I have my memories – I remember things that happened in the past. I don’t necessarily need to be the same rigid ‘soul’ to remember, do I? Could denying that thread of rigid selfhood be instead liberating? If we let our selves perceive our selves as a button collection, might we be freed of notional constraints? For example, you might be uncleashed from self-limiting beliefs, such as “I’m a secretive type of person”, or “I’m never been good at sharing my thoughts,” “People don’t warm to me,” or “I’m rubbish at remembering birthdays.”

I suspect that if we let go, denied, ignored, that thread of Me-hood, we could all have much more interesting, exciting and fulfilling lives. If we un-anchored ourselves from the Legend of Me (made both by others and ourselves) and let our present, current being be, who knows what voyages we might make? If we understood that I am who I am this moment and that is the only Me that matters right now, then perhaps we would find it simpler to find happiness and satisfaction?  We would not be seeking to fulfil past or potential needs; we would not act out of fear for the future, only out of clarified self-knowledge.

We would not confuse our worries with our desires.

I’m not advocating short-sightedness – quite the opposite. Rather look forward to the lfe that you will live day after day, knowing you’re your best person today and will be another best tomorrow. Look forward to that and recognise the boundless potential you’ve just spotted! If – as a result – anyone has a problem with you being you, well….

😉

A Freudian slip is when you say one thing and mean your mother…..

I hope that made you smile. I was just wondering about the nature of “control”, as a matter of fact, and trying to think of something funny to say about it, and came up with that one instead (it’s the way my uncontrollable mind works: darn fractally thing that it is).

Here’s another. Walk into a crowded room, shout, “Hey, you! Paranoid!” and see who turns round.

But enough jokery-pokery. Control (behave, Imp!). Control (and breathe…..).

So, why am I on this subject today (when the sun is shining and I am killing time before I can run without getting a brunch-related injury)? Well, I am feeling a little stressed out [thanks, Stu, for your recent comment about meteorites landing while I’m on stage: I’m not sure if that add to or lessens the angst..;-)  ] and I would like to feel less stressed. And as we are all prone to do in such circs, the Imp has been trying to find little solaces, consolations, to provide relief.

And then it hit me.

I’m all a-fizz and a-bother because…I don’t feel in control!

And then it hit me again (well, not the same thing; I’m not a goldfish): I don’t want to be the sort of person who wants to be in control! I want to be the sort of person about whom other people say, “wow – that Imp is just so relZZZZxed” *

And then when I’d finished beating myself with a slide rule (oh, the angles, the precision!), I got to calculating just why we feel uncomfortable when we sense we don’t have enough control as we would like over our lives.

Many psychological studies show that if we don’t feel in control, we’re more likely to become stressed – or, rather, to react less well to stressful factors (like having too much to do, being tired, a lack of consistency, having uncertain rules of the “game”). Well, it’s hardly brain-science. Oh. Yes, it is, actually. Sorry.

Anyway, the opposite of a sense of control is, of course, a feeling of powerlessness. It’s wholly understandable that the more powerless we feel, the more we will attempt to control our world, to enforce an order on it, so that it conforms with what makes us feel comfortable again.  And the thing is, that enforced order can seem exaggerated, OTT, to others.  For example, everything might have to be “just so” (moving into the extreme of OCD territory), or we might need to know all the details of how something works before we accept it, asking a million-and-one questions; we might bully or nag; we might develop little superstitions, rituals, routines from which we won’t budge. All that hassle, just to feel comfortable again!  So you can imagine, it can’t be feeling good inside someone who’s introducing these kinds of (false, temporary) consolations into their lives.

Now, you might have noticed I have talked about a feeling or sense of being in control – ie, we don’t actually have to BE in control, but we need the security of feeling that the situation is UNDER control. And that means that other people can provide that security if we let them. We can trust parents, friends, bosses, doctors, whoever, to be managing the situation – we don’t HAVE to take responsibility for it ourselves.  But if we let ourselves trust, we can feel more secure – we don’t have to carry the world all by ourselves.

So, in the Impish case, I know I have (as mentioned in an earlier post) identified the facts (I’ve done my homework; done my best) in order to demolish the feary phantoms, and to regain a sense of control, I can have faith in others around me – we’re all in this together and we’re all doing the best we can. I just need to remind myself that the boxes are ticked (a great list-maker, me, at times like this) and I’m happy. Not so anal, after all….

I will leave you with a smile – the real definition of a control freak: someone who swears they wouldn’t correct you about your breathing if you weren’t “doing it all wrong.”

* See? See? I make a typo and don’t need to correct it, ‘cos it’s just, like,  so cool? See? Uhh, like, how totally chilled is that, yes? You do agree, dontcha?

😉

Assumption is the mother of the screw-up

– Angelo  Donghia, New Yorker and interior designer

I had an idea today – or perhaps it was a thought. I almost wrote, “just a thought”, but realised that would put ideas above thoughts, and that’s just a false promotion.

Anyhoo, it struck me, this notion. It was this: without a whole bunch of feelings and thoughts about the world – and more specifically, the people – around us, it could be very hard to function effectively. But they don’t – by any means – necessarily help us out all the time, either.

What sort of things are in this bunch of feelings and thoughts, then? It’s assumptions, empathy, sympathy, compassion (“feeling with” someone), anticipation of another’s wants, needs or feelings. All of these are about putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes. Neurologically, it’s partially about prediction of events (“if or when X happens, Y tends to follow” becomes “when her ice-cream falls to the floor, Suzie will be upset”).

That’s the logical side of things – but in terms of narrative, it lacks what would be the natural next step for the majority of people: to anticipate and then react to the other person’s need (compassion / empathy / sympathy), perhaps by putting your hand in your pocket to buy another ice cream, getting the hankies ready, or providing a distraction, like letting the ice-cream fall on your own head to make Suzie laugh, rather than cry…..because all of those would be a nicer thing for her.

Some people are very empathetic (watch out for people who ‘catch’ other people’s yawns) and in extreme instances can be irritating in their ever-readiness, meeting, matching, catching the needs of those around them. But they might be the ones who make the world go round, so I’m going to leave them alone.

And there are other people who choose not to “feel with” others, or choose not to at certain times (ranging from ignoring the whinger in your group of friends to “compassion fatigue”  – a term now used to describe the public’s weariness at hearing “too much” about suffering and donating less and less). And we all do this on occasion, whether for tiredness, boredom or other reasons, ranging from the selfish to the “it’s good for them” school of thought. And before you ask, I’m not going to address the issues of empathy and autism and Asperger Syndrome – others are better qualified.

But…

…what interests the Imp today is how we walk around our worlds making all kinds of assumptions about other people; about their thoughts, needs,  desires, dreams. And very often, especially with those we flatter ourselves we know best, we don’t even realise we are doing it.

How often do we hear ourselves and others say, “he did it because…..”, or we explain another person’s behaviour away with, “oh, well, she’s jealous / excited / waiting / plotting….”? And doing this is not a bad thing – I think we need to do it to learn, to interact, but it can be ludicrously off the mark and lead to all kinds of misunderstandings, wrong judgements and rather unusual situations. We usually only find out we got it wrong when we get a surprise (which makes sense, doesn’t it?) or offend (prejudice being the bad extreme of this “thought-about-others” spectrum).

Alfred Korzybski, a profoundly influential semantician,  said that “the map is not the territory”. IE, it’s important to remember that what you believe to be the world around you is not the reality. It’s your perception of it. Others perceive it differently, constantly, and you can perceive it differently, too.

By extension, in the Imp world view (which is ever-changing, of course), it’s best always to be reviewing your map as you move through life – just as if the life ahead of you is uncharted. Because, of course, it is.

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