Wednesday, September 27, 2017

THE PHILOSOPHY OF CLEANING

I bet you didn't know that cleaning has a philosophy.  Or that it warrants an article.

But think about it.

What is cleaning?


A PROBLEM OF DEFINITION: DEFINING DIRT

In order to have cleaning, you have to define dirt.  This isn't as easy as it sounds.  To make the point quickly, here is a phrase that has made it into the national press at various times:

'Ethnic cleansing'

This phrase causes revulsion in many circles, because it applies a philosophy of hygiene to culture.  It is at the very edge of what I am talking about, but it illustrates a key issue when it comes to the philosophy of cleaning: first, you have to define what you mean by dirt.

Generally, we operate with a practical definition that we rarely think about: that dirt is what we all agree we don't want present, and therefore that cleaning is removing the things we all agree we don't want present.  We spend very little time in polite society thinking about what we assume is dirt, what we assume is undesirable.

So, to have a concept of cleaning at all, you have to divide your world into two parts:

1. Things you don't want near you
2. Things you do want near you

You then start to try to remove item 1 from your presence, whilst retaining item 2.


A PROBLEM OF LOCATION: WHERE WILL THE DIRT GO?

You will notice that our concept of cleaning depends on a concept of presence.  That is to say, you are trying to remove so-called 'dirt' from your presence.

There are two ways to do this:

1. Simply move the dirt away from you
2. Change the 'dirt' so that it becomes 'non-dirt'

I propose that the first option is what we might call 'lazy cleaning'.  We are simply passing on the problem to somewhere else.  A little like the nuclear waste industry, which often ships danger around the world, in order to expose other people, who are not ourselves, to risk.

The second option is more interesting.  It implies some kind of process of reconciliation: changing the situation so that 'dirt' becomes something more acceptable.  The dirt does not need to go somewhere else (which seems to me a ridiculous way to behave - passing on the problem to others).  It can stay right with you, but a change is necessary.

Using the ethnic cleansing analogy, we are considering alternatives to simply shipping 'undesirables' out.  We instinctively realise that the latter is wrong on two counts: firstly, because these 'undesirables', even though maybe difficult to live with, are as valuable as us; and secondly, because there is not an infinite supply of different locations.  It is therefore logical to seek to manage undesirable things, or what we perceive as 'dirt', in our presence, rather than ship it away from us.


A PROBLEM OF CHANGE: WHO OR WHAT HAS TO CHANGE INTO WHAT?

Let's now sub-analyse option 2 above.  How can we change the 'dirt' so that it becomes non-dirt?  This breaks down into two options:

1. Change the nature of the 'dirt' so that it becomes harmless to us
2. Change our nature so that we cease to be harmed by the 'dirt'

Taking the first option first: how might we change the 'dirt' around us, to make it more 'hygienic', without 'shipping it out'.

An example might be packaging of foodstuffs.  Current food packaging creates a mountain of 'rubbish' (stuff we don't want near us, so we ship it out of our houses using undesirable-receptacles called dustbins).  Existing practice simply passes the problem on to others in another place and time.  We bury our mess in landfill, or ship it to other locations.

How can we change the nature of the dirt?  Well, we can change our packaging so that it does not need throwing away, and at the end of its life simply merges harmlessly into our environment.

And looking at the second option: how might we change our own nature?  Well, rubbish is only undesirable because we see it as so.  Hoarders have actually worked this out.  They change their nature so that they can accept all the rubbish around them.  It might be unpalatable to others, but it is a simple solution to the problem of dirt: learn to live with it.

Applied to our 'ethnic cleansing' question: having rejected 'shipping undesirables out' as a selfish and ignorant option, we can either: 1. try to change the person we have 'othered', or thought of as undesirable; or 2. try to change ourselves so that we learn to live with the person we have 'othered', or thought of as undesirable.


A PROBLEM OF RELATIVE VALUE: APPLIED DISCRETION

You may notice yourself reacting differently to the two examples above.  We generally value humans more than we value packaging, and therefore:

1. With items we value higher, such as humans, even if they make our lives a misery, we prefer to change ourselves to adapt to their presence, rather than trying to change them.  So our 'cleaning' involves self-change.
2. With items we value less, such as packaging, we feel more OK about trying to change their nature.  So our 'cleaning' involves changing externals.

This is not always the case.  You will be able to think of some people who use option two for everything.  They value themselves above everything, and therefore, whenever they feel 'unclean', they will set about trying to change aspects of their environment, including other humans... everything but themselves needs to change.  The problem is always external, and never lies in themselves.

Most people would accept that these latter people are wrong (i.e. that we can't always be trying to change the outside world to suit ourselves).  In fact, we can apply a sliding scale of hygiene, so that:

1. More selfish people tend to solve hygiene problems by either shipping the undesirable out, or trying to change it
2. More selfless people tend to solve hygiene problems by adapting themselves, so that they no longer see 'dirt': they see opportunities for self-adaptation

We all exist somewhere on this sliding scale.  You will have things you value highly (usually friends); and things you don't value so much (usually enemies or objects).  And your happiness, or cleanness, will usually involve adapting to the former, but trying to change or distance the latter.


SELFISH PEOPLE HAVE MORE CLEANING WORK

Now I would like to propose that selfish people have much, much more cleaning work to do.  We should feel sorry for them, because their work is never done!

Think about it.  A selfish person wakes up in the morning.  They are surrounded by things they value less than themselves.  Therefore, when they experience difficulty, their solution is always to (a) ship the problem away from themselves, or (b) try to change everything and everyone but themselves.  How exhausting!  Such a person will have a never-ending response to their own suffering.  They are permanently employing themselves as a kind of police of the whole world, constantly trying to throw people and things out, or to change every single thing around them to suit themselves.

The reason they are likely to collapse in exhaustion is this:

1. They have divided the universe into 'desirables' and 'undesirables'
2. They are allergic to undesirables, and therefore spend all their time trying to push them away
3. They are allergic to self-change, and therefore spend all their time trying to change everything around them


DO WE HAVE TO DIVIDE OUR WORLD INTO TWO?

A good question is: do we have to divide our world into desirables and undesirables?

We are questioning our whole concept of cleaning.  Because without that division, we have no basis on which to clean.  Because nothing is, in fact, dirty.  Dirt simply does not exist.  Everything is neither desirable nor undesirable.  It just is.

I'll leave you with that thought.  Obviously it is an impossible thought.

I mean, who would want to think that there is no need to clean, that our work is done, that everything is OK?

Unthinkable.



 

Saturday, September 23, 2017

WHY AM I AFRAID?

Fear is a much-disliked emotion.  Humans try to avoid it if at all possible.  But what is this thing we call fear, and how might we harness it constructively?

OUR BIOLOGICAL PAST
Think of a species evolving.  What we call evolution is simply developing over generations, with members of a species that behave in one way dying, and members who behave in another way surviving.  Simplified, but essentially what happens.

Imagine a group of people growing up with no sense of what to avoid.  They eat all the wrong things, even poisonous things; they put themselves in the way of being eaten by dangerous animals; they walk over cliffs... anything dangerous, and this group of people ignores it, and walks into it as though it were nothing.

A happy group of people it may be!  But you can't argue with the fact that they might end up becoming extinct.  If enough of them meet up with danger and receive a bad deal from it, without learning why danger is a problem, then there will be none of them left.

This illustrates the beginnings of fear.  Fear is the emotion that causes us to draw back from possible danger.  Even micro-species seem to have this response built in.  It is incredibly advantageous to have a natural response of withdrawing when you are near danger.

But there is something even better than this instinctive withdrawal response.  What if, instead of having to wait to be in the proximity of danger, a group of people can learn an emotional aversion reaction when there is even a distant sniff of danger? Instead of having to wait until risk is imminent, this group of people sees danger coming at a distance, and takes aversive action very early.

This is the origin of our fear response.  Groups of animals, and groups of humans, avoided death because they were hard-wired to be averse to risk.  They even had slightly too much of it, so that they had some spare, unused fear of the unknown which wasn't allocated to any particular risk, but was just experienced as a general existential anxst.

YOUR NATURE
This is the nature you have evolved with.  Because your other ancestors died, your lineage includes millions of forbears who were afraid (experienced a deeply-felt aversion to possible danger) much of the time.  It is no use wishing you weren't afraid: fear is hard-wired into your system.  You learn to walk the pavements and keep away from possible traffic; to eat your normal food and keep away from possible poisons; to relate to your friends and keep away from possible enemies.

THE POSITIVE SIDE
The above illustrates the positive side of the fear you experience: it has stopped your ancestors, for generation after generation, from dying.  It is, quite literally, the reason you are here.  Without it, you would have to work out, painstakingly and logically, and without motivation, what actions to take to avoid mortal danger.  You would not see why you shouldn't damage your neighbours and be destructive; you would be missing a key socialising force - fear of the consequences of stepping out of line.  Fear plays a part in your social conscience: it keeps you on your guard, consistently obedient, law-abiding, social, kind.  It is not your only motivator, but it is an important one, and one it is hard to un-wire from your system.

THE NEGATIVE SIDE
The bad news is that you are using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.  Social life nowadays does not require us to worry about predators around every corner.  If our society provides a minimum of protection, then we can go about our lives without the likelihood of falling prey to danger.

However, try telling your brain that.  Your brain was developed thousands and thousands of years ago, and is kind of designed for a more dangerous environment than you now experience.  But you live a safe life.  Most of us are not going to die tomorrow from lurking danger.  Put these two things together (a risk-averse brain, and an unrisky environment), and what you have is spare fear wandering around wondering what to do with itself.

Put numerically, modern life has a danger quotient of 2/10, and your brain is wired for a danger quotient of 6/10.  You have 4 points-worth of brain-wiring which is unnecessarily fearful.

YOUR EXPERIENCE
How you experience this will change through life, depending on your age, your upbringing, and your internal messaging system.  But most people, at one time or another, will have an internal feeling that goes something like:

'I feel unnecessarily worried about everything, full of an unnameable fear that is hard to express.  I wake up afraid, am averse to going out and socialising.  I just want to curl up into a ball, be in my safe place, and ignore the world for a while.  Don't make me go out there.  I feel it's all dangerous, even though I know intellectually that many things I fear can't really hurt me.'

THE LOGIC OF FEAR
This is entirely logical when you think over millions of years.  Your brain is part of a development process that is a natural response to the environment, and those who were not like you died years and years ago.  You're a survivor.  But you're still experiencing the trauma of danger millions of years ago.  You are worried about things that stopped happening literally ages ago.

HARNESSING FEAR
Here are three suggestions as to how to use your fear for constructive purposes:

  1. MEDITATE - Sit and listen to your brain.  Notice it worrying on overdrive.  If you sit for long enough, just listening, you will notice your whole being relaxing as it comes to understand, more and more, that your fear is useless, and not founded in the present.  You are participating in the human race growing up.  You are becoming less fearful.  Good on you.
  2. INVOLVE YOURSELF IN CREATIVE ACTIVITY - Creative work is great for mopping up spare fear.  Here's why: instead of worrying about monsters round the corner, you become concerned about correcting anomales in your creative work.  You work harder to iron out the problems, to anticipate them and overcome them.  In other words, you have found a safe battleground to use up your fear-emotion constructively.
  3. TEST OUT YOUR FEARS CONSTRUCTIVELY - Cognitive Behavioural Therapists know this trick.  What you do is: 1. Identify and name one of the fears that haunts you; 2. Develop a test to see whether it is a valid worry; 3. Review your results.  Most of the time, you will find that your fear is irrational.  You kind of knew that anyway, but it stops your fear growing monsters in your mind: you have found a way to test out the monsters, and prove they don't exist.

IN SUMMARY
In summary, then, fear is something you were born with.  It's not abnormal; it's the natural response your species has used to get so far.  Unfortunately, your generation has been left with far more fear than it needs.  You can learn to play with this extra fear you don't need: if you dare, you can sit with it and watch it until it's effect lessens and you master it (more or less what is meant by mindfulness); you can find it a harmless channel in creative work; or, if you want to, you can become your own cognitive scientist, and go about proving to your mind that its fear module is overactive and needs putting in its place.  All these methods can be a lot of fun, and are infinitely preferable to letting fear get the upper hand.



Enjoying testing it all out.

Friday, September 15, 2017

DO MOBILE PHONES AFFECT YOUR MENTAL HEALTH?

THE RISE OF MOBILE TECHNOLOGY
The last couple of decades have seen an exponential rise in the use of mobile technology.  It uses microwaves to send and receive communication signals.  As we know from the fact that we have microwave ovens, microwaves have a habit of cooking animal tissue, especially items with a high water content.  So we are installing, and placing close to our bodies, a network of tissue cookers.  The question is, is there a chance that this tissue-cooking network might affect our brains and bodies adversely?

MICROWAVES AND THEIR EFFECT
Microwave ovens operate at around 2450MHz, with a wavelength of about 12cm.  The microwaves created agitate the water molecules in our food, causing it to heat up.  The important thing here is the water content.  Waves in the microwave spectrum tend to be very effective at heating up things with a high water content.  That's why liquids heat up efficiently in a microwave, but items with low water content take much longer.

When you cook chicken in the microwave, for instance, you are exposing it to a high dose of microwave radiation, which makes the water molecules in the meat heat up.

The microwaves created by mobile phone technology are capable of causing the same kind of heating.  The difference is, instead of cooking our food, the waves cook our brains and bodies.  By placing a mobile phone close to your head during a phone call, you are heating up the inside of your brain.  The microwaves can penetrate your skull, and start to cook your inner brain tissue.

A certain, low-level amount of this kind of radiation is present in our atmosphere all the time.  But the advent of mobile technology has dramatically increased our exposure.  The question is, how does this increase affect us and our bodies?

SOURCES OF MICROWAVE RADIATION AND THEIR DISTANCE
Early mobile standards often used frequencies of around 800MHz.  Later technologies doubled this to around 1900MHz.  Generally, the higher the number, the longer the wavelength, and the further the waves can travel.  However, all of these frequencies are capable of heating human tissue.

So why are we not all permanently cooking?  Because of a distance effect.  Basically, the further away you are from a source of microwaves, the less it can affect you.  Microwave ovens put food very close to the source of the signal.

Placing a mobile phone next to your head does the same kind of thing.  The distance is very small, and therefore the microwaves can enter your head and heat its insides up.  Which is exactly what happens.

STATUTORY CONTROLS ON MOBILE PHONES
Governments have implemented a rule.  They say that a mobile phone must not cause more than 1.6 watts of heating energy per kilogram of your head.  This is called the SAR (Standard Absorption Rate).

This is the only rule they have.

Does this mean we are safe?  Not at all.  For two main reasons:

1. The standard SAR requirement does not take distance properly into account.  In particular, it does not allow for the fact that many people place the phone against their head when making and taking calls.  Yes, you heard that right.  Mobile phone companies are not required to test the effect of their phones next to your head.  In fact, if you check your phone's instructions, it is likely they explicitly WARN AGAINST placing the phone next to your head.  Yes, you heard that right too.  Mobile phone companies sell you a phone designed to go next to your head, and then warn you against placing it there!

2. The standard SAR requirement does not take proper account of variations in signal.  For example, you may be sold a phone with a SAR below 1.6, but then the SAR may increase dramatically when your phone is exposed to different kinds of transmission equipment.  Yes, you heard that right too.  The heating effect tested in the laboratory is potentially completely different to the heating effect out in the field.

In summary, what is considered a safe rate of heating in the phones we are sold, bears little relation to the actual level of heating when the phones are used in real life.

How is the industry allowed to get away with heating our heads so much?  The answer is, too much money is being made, by companies, and by governments.  Remember, these 'frequencies' we have been talking about are sold to mobile companies by governments, in the form of licences, for millions and billions of dollars.

WHAT ARE THE POTENTIAL EFFECTS?
Finally, a brief look at the potential effects of exposure to microwave radiation.

Effects can include:

  • depression
  • anxiety
  • feeling 'jittery'
  • stress responses
  • brain tumours
  • mood swings
  • sleep disturbance

IN SUMMARY
Exposure to microwave radiation, at the levels to which we are exposed through normal use of mobile phone technology, puts us in danger of, essentially, slow-cooking our brains, bodies and nervous systems.

These are known risks.  We are prepared to put up with them, because we are unable to live without the perceived communication benefits mobile technology brings.

FOOTNOTE
I have focused on heating effects in order to simplify the illustration of the logical effects of mobile phone technology.  But there are a number of ways in which mobile technologies affect our brain and body tissues which are non-thermal.  In particular, the balance of our nervous systems and brains, both chemical, physical and biological, is influenced by the influx of microwave interference.  Although simplified, I believe that the general argument still holds: we are, every day, exposing ourselves to the inadequately regulated risk of ill health.  These are known risks.  But neither the industry nor government has any particular vested interest in exploring them, or exposing them.  They make too much money.  It's up to us.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

WHAT IS A PSYCHOPATH?

WHAT IS A PSYCHOPATH?

A good question to ask.  And a problem question.  The problem is one of definition.  But we can have a go at it.

If we were asking 'what is blue?', then I might be able to point at blue things until you twig that I am labelling something that is direct to your experience.  If you can see colour, then you are likely to have an appreciation of what I am labelling.

If we were asking 'what is a car?', then I might be able to point to those things with four wheels that are usually sold as cars.  You will be so familiar with your own use of the concept, that you will have little trouble appreciating what the label 'car' refers to.

But if we are asking 'what is a psychopath?', we immediately have a problem.  We are not talking about something you experience every day.  And we are not talking about something which most people are used to identifying and living with.  What I am saying is, the normal routes to learning a word - experience and usage - are not really available to us.


A FEW POINTERS

Firstly, the word 'psychopath' still does not have a steady definition among professionals.  There are, however, a few key characteristics which are frequently cited:

  1. Lack of empathy
  2. Selfishness
  3. Antisocial behaviour


DEFINITIONAL PROBLEMS

  1. Regarding lack of empathy, there seems to be confusion as to whether a 'psychopath' would simply not have the ability to empathise with others; or whether, alternatively, a 'psychopath' can empathise perfectly well, but just chooses not to be influenced by empathy.  This capacity/choice debate has yet to be resolved.  It is important, because, if it is a matter of choice, then so-called 'psychopaths' would not need to be treated any differently for legal purposes.  They are just 'normal' people making an 'abnormally extreme' choice not to be influenced by empathy.
  2. Regarding selfishness, there is a philosophical problem.  It is perfectly possible to argue that all humans are selfish, directly or indirectly.  So egotism, in itself, may not end up being definitive in terms of what a 'psychopath' is.
  3. Finally, regarding antisocial behaviour, there is a political question.  When we say 'antisocial', we usually mean someone's behaviour is disturbing because it departs from social consensus.  For example, we consider unorganised fighting antisocial, but reward Olympic fighters with gold medals, because they are doing tidy, organised, socially-approved fighting.

These are all important questions, because without resolving them, we are stuck not being able to tell the difference between a so-called psychopath, and a 'normal' person who makes an unusual choice (a) not to be influenced by empathy, (b) not to bother disguising their selfishness, and (c) not to indulge in socially-approved behaviour.


THE SEARCH FOR A BIOLOGICAL BASIS FOR PSYCHOPATHY

Some have attempted to find parts of the brain which, when damaged or inhibited, increase one of the three above tendencies.  In particular, a lack of empathic response (and a lack of fear response) has been found in those preselected as showing psychopathic traits.  The circularity of this should be obvious: if you select someone for their traits, it is hardly surprising if their brain processing reflects those traits.  It is about as unsurprising as discovering that those who jump less high usually have inhibited leg processing.


EMPATHY AND FEAR

An interesting aspect of the above brain scan research, is the potential linking together of lack of empathy, and lack of fear.  If I am a soldier in battle, I may choose to limit the resources I expend on empathising with the enemy.  I may also choose to limit resources expended on my fear response.  The relationship between the two may be mutual: reduced empathy may reduce fear; and reduced fear may reduce empathy.

It may have occurred to you that this is not the only possible pairing.  For example, some soldiers may retain sufficient empathy to anticipate enemy movements, and sufficient fear to motivate self-protection.  The no-empathy, no-fear pairing is only one strategic option.  My guess is that the single-minded focus on one, rather cartoon, definition of 'psychopath' will give way to a more subtle, multi-faceted appreciation of the different ways that empathy and fear can interact.

But I wonder whether the traditional view of the 'psychopath' will stray towards suggesting a simplistic developmental pathway where, for whatever reason, a child has become unable or unwilling to extend empathy, AND has become unable or unwilling to feel fear.  The definition may tighten itself up in this way, and then find a story about child development that corresponds.  Whether anything new arises by congregating such a selective story around the word 'psychopath', is a matter of debate.
 

THE FUTURE OF THE WORD 'PSYCHOPATH'

So where are we?

Many people lack empathy, are selfish, and do antisocial things.

The word 'psychopath' is an attempt to label certain people as extremely, and possible irretrievably, unempathic, selfish, and behaviourally antisocial.

The problem in the plot will be our inability to tell the difference between (a) those who CHOOSE to divorce themselves from the interests of others, and (b) those who are COMPELLED THROUGH INCAPACITY to divorce themselves from the interests of others.

I suspect that polite society has developed a wish to label a set of people as (b), as deviant monsters, unable to share. It will carry on refining its definition of psychopath, until TV channels and pundits have their industry sewn up.



I would just ask one final question: are you so sure you can tell the difference between (a) law-abiding citizens who endanger a whole world with consumption, pollution and war, and (b) individuals who endanger others with their selfishness.  Remind me, which ones are the psychopaths?

Thursday, September 7, 2017

HOW DO I COPE WITH AN EMOTIONAL BULLY?

Recent legislation in the UK has brought controlling behaviour more firmly into the spotlight.  It is now more clearly against the law to conduct yourself towards another person in a way that, over time, takes away their freedom and self-esteem.

However, many such situations will still happen, and go unpunished by the law.  In particular, the exercise of controlling behaviour within a family remains difficult to deal with - not least because the victim may want to protect the perpetrator.  Or the victim may feel so low in self-esteem, that taking appropriate action can feel too difficult.  How can you take action against the very person who is designing their behaviour around stopping you taking action to protect yourself?

Emotional bullying looks so obvious to those outside the immediate perpetrator-victim circle.  When at peace, and in the comfort of our own space, we would all tend to agree that we all have a right to freedom, to our own space, to being able to move and talk freely, without the constant fear of confrontation.  But inside the circle of abuse, things get trickier.  The victim often becomes an apologist for the perpetrator, giving excuses for their behaviour.

Typical comments are: 'I don't want to make matters worse,' or 'let's just see how things go.  If they do it again...'  Often the victim is acutely embarrassed, and almost doesn't want to believe it's happening.  That's partly because we all take pride in our close relationships, and so we hate to divulge that all is not well.  But it's also because we fear what will happen if we finally stand up to the behaviour, and are clear that it is not acceptable.


THE WILINESS OF THE BULLY

Bullies often apply a certain amount of intelligence to their actions.  They know that there is a danger of their actions getting out, being reported to others.  So they become very adept at PR.  They are constantly dressing up their actions with a running commentary that basically says 'In case anyone thinks to call me out on my behaviour, I would like to make it clear that I am the victim here.'  They will often be full of the wrongs others have done them, and will hardly ever talk about the wrongs they have done others.

This is what makes it so difficult to meet a bully on equal terms.  They are so used to turning everything to their advantage in their own mind, that they fail to be able to see things from another's perspective.  You will often hear such a person say: 'Oh, you're making it all about you,' but not often 'So, how are you feeling about this?'

This brings us to the key of such behaviour: it is designed so as to minimise criticism to the bully themselves. Criticism is like poison to a bully: it's alien to their system, and they don't know how to deal with it.  So they spit it out as far as possible, without a second glance at whether there is truth in it or not.


3 WAYS TO SPOT A BULLY

1. A bully tends to turn all conversation around to themselves.  Test them out: try talking about a third party you both know, and see how quickly they turn a story about someone else, into a story about them.  They may start criticising the other person, calling them 'an idiot' or something similar... anything to make sure they remain on top of the podium in the Olympics of being.

2. A bully tends to use hyperbole - in other words, they will use extreme language.  A situation is not just 'difficult'- it will be 'disgraceful'.  They can't help getting the PR team to spin an extreme story about everything they see.  The key here is an inability to be neutral.  You will feel pulled into a tabloid-like story in which you have to take sides.  You are for the bully or against them.  No half measures.

3. A bully will be unable to 'let it lie'.  Like a dog with a bone (which is unfair to dogs actually), the bully will push and push, when they have something to fight about.  Resentments seethe; revenge is demanded; enemies must be confronted.


THE 3 THINGS THAT DRIVE A BULLY

Underlying these three behaviours, are three motivations.

1. DOMINATION - They must make sure, at all times, that they are at the top of the tree.

2. AGGRESSION - They must turn everything into a fight between their interests, and the rest of the world.

3. ACTION - They must act on every perceived slight, every infringement on their liberty.

Notice that these are precisely the opposite qualities to those of a peaceful person.  A peaceful person will not seek to dominate; they will not be aggressive; they will be able to sit peacefully and let others get on with things.

Some psychologists would call bullies egocentric, and the opposite allocentric ('allo' meaning 'others'; in other words, focused on others).


THE TOXIC COMBINATION

Now we can see how joining a bully with a peaceful person can be so toxic.  An aggressive dominator, if they can strike up a relationship with a peaceful appeaser, can have their needs supplied, on tap, day after day.  They have a partner in life who will protect them from criticism, never attack them, always support them.

But at what cost?  This is where the recent changes in the law come in.  There comes a time when a pattern of behaviour is so toxic that it leads to suffering in the victim.  In this case, something that started out as a complementary match of opposites, becomes a match made in hell.  The bully becomes so set in their ways that they don't even notice how they are infringing the other's liberties.  Others outside the relationship see it clearly.  The peaceful partner always has to ask the bully's permission; will never assert their own wishes clearly.  Conversely, the bully always has to have their permission asked for.


THE CENTRAL ISSUE: CONTROL

This leads us to the central issue in the whole thing: control.  What we have, is a partnership between someone who has to have control at all costs, and someone who has learned to give away control.  And both people have learned to disguise their behaviour behind phrases that sound innocent.  So the victim will learn to say 'I'd better ask my partner', when what they mean is 'I am afraid of deciding anything without asking permission'.  And the perpetrator will learn not to say anything that betrays the control being exercised.  A bully doesn't walk around with a label saying 'I am about to control others'.  A bully simply punishes anyone close to them who doesn't play ball, ideally behind closed doors and in secret.

Often, the public life of such a partnership looks so easy and companionable.  But behind the scenes, one is dominating the other.  It's just that both have learned to hide it.


HOW CAN I GET OUT OF SUCH A SITUATION?

OK, here's a home truth.  Ready?

Just leave.

Leave.

You need to make an unequivocal, definite statement that their behaviour is unacceptable.  Negotiating won't work.  They will turn it to their advantage, accuse you of bullying them.  They have the PR sewn up.

So I'm afraid there is nothing for it but to separate.

Oh yes, when you are apart, they will turn the charm on, and make you feel as though the same thing is so unlikely to happen again.  But if you give in, then, hey presto, you will find the same thing happening, the same unhappiness, the same suffering.

So leave.

Do not negotiate.


IT'S EASY FOR YOU TO SAY...

No it's not.  Actually, it's not.  I have been there.

Let me tell you why I say leave.

If you think about it, we are all separated from each other anyway.  Think of how your kindest friend behaves.  They let you be a separate person.  That's the point.  That's why they are so easy to be with.

So in leaving the bully, you are only doing what you should be doing with everyone you know: retreating to a safe distance.  With your kindest friend, that distance is not very far... because you trust them not to interfere with your existence as a separate person.

The greatest paradox on this earth is that to find something you must lose it.  It's the same with people.  To find a person you must lose them: understand that they are their own person, and nothing you can do changes that.

IN SUMMARY

Emotional bullies can be recognised by 1. their need to dominate others (you will feel deprived of freedom); 2. their aggression (you will feel afraid); 3. their willingness to fight (you will feel, frankly, tired out!).

Coping with an emotional bully involves leaving.  No ifs, no buts.  It involves separating yourself from them, not being in their presence.

How do you know you are in the presence of kindness?  You feel free, fearless, and able to be yourself.

Anything else, leave it.

Leave it.

Monday, August 28, 2017

IN PRAISE OF DOING NOTHING

We are often looking for our next thing.  Whether it is the adrenaline rush of a new activity, or a new relationship, or a new car - whatever it is, we are often looking for it to bring us out of an imagined rut, or a sense of things being too still.  

Sometimes we seem allergic to stillness.  When it arrives, we mistake it for boredom, and go about trying to remove it as though it were wrong.  We are so used to reporting to others on our activity, that to contemplate doing nothing almost becomes a thing of fear, as though we imagine we might die if we are not always seen doing something.

But what is it to 'do something'?  Are we not 'doing something' simply by living and breathing?  We don't see a rabbit in a field and remark: 'well, that's all very well, but why isn't that rabbit doing anything?'  We assume that wildlife has an idea of what it is up to, and we are quite fascinated when it stands still.



What if we are like wildlife?  What if, sometimes, all we have to do is sit or stand still and do nothing?  Or rather, stay still and breathe, remain aware, perhaps walk a little, relax, see what's around us, chill... whatever we want to call it, there's a place for it.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

WHY ARE PEOPLE SO PICKY?

Picky is an interesting word.  Allegedly first used in around 1900, it is used to refer to people who are fussy, choosy, demanding... also critical or fault-finding.  The idea is often that someone is focusing on finding fault, rather than being positive or supportive.

WHY WOULD PEOPLE BE PICKY AT ALL?
Think of animals evolving in a competitive environment, where those best-adapted might survive.  Intelligent animals use internal models of the world, held in their head, to find their way around.  For instance, when you are going for a walk where you live, you rely, in part, on a mini version of your neighbourhood, a kind of map if you like, held in your memory.

If you watch a cat or a bird in your garden, you will notice that they are constantly on the lookout for surprises.  The cat pricks up its ears at all unusual sounds; the bird turns its attention to anything out of the ordinary.  They are being 'picky'.  The function of this kind of attentiveness is to notice, as quickly as possible, parts of the environment that have changed... are not as expected... and make sure that any danger they represent is neutralised, often by running away, sometimes by combat.

Being animals, humans have a similar way of doing things.  We spend a lot of our time constantly checking our surroundings for exceptions to our rules, departures from our internal maps.  While walking the road, we are responsive to anything surprising or unusual, because it may represent a threat.  In our communications, too, we tend to be very attentive to exceptions rather than rules.  For example, we are likely to notice others' rudeness more quickly than we notice their courtesy, because the first alters us to difference and danger, whereas the second is just a confirmation of familiar patterns.

IS FINDING FAULT INGRAINED IN OUR NATURE?
For the above reasons, I would suggest that we should expect other people to be 'picky', to be alert to anything that is different from what they expect.  They are simply doing what their animal nature demands of them - that they operate according to internal rules of what to expect, and become alert and responsive when those rules are broken.   Pickiness is built into us.

THE SOCIAL EFFECTS OF PICKINESS
Socially, humans seem to have developed the ability to be picky in groups.  In other words, when several people are gathered together in a common culture, they seem to develop, together, a whole raft of common internal rules.  They spend years educating their children into sharing those internal rules; and teaching them how to spot when those internal rules have been broken.  Families develop internal sets of rules, not always immediately apparent to the outside world, that determine what will be picked on and how.  Gangs and clubs are a little more explicit in their enforcement of certain rules, and also more explicit in their reaction to, and punishment of, infringements.  There are all social uses of our internal ability to (a) make an internal map of expectations regarding our environment, and (b) to become alert and responsive when those expectations are not met.

WAYS OF RESPONDING THROUGH LIFE
However, different people respond differently when faced with exceptions to their rules.  Young babies have a vested interest in seeking out exceptions to rules for learning purposes.  You will notice that a baby often takes great delight in surprises, and turns the head towards interesting exceptions to what they know so far.  In contrast, old people may often have a rather grumpy response to difference - they perhaps have a vested interest in keeping things as they expect: comfort takes precedence over the need to learn more and more variety.  A general rule might be that we begin our lives with a preference for learning from greater variety (though even babies get scared and like their security!), and end our lives with a preference for being more critical of the new, and more welcoming of stability, expected-ness and comfort.

INDIVIDUAL TENDENCIES
During their lives, you will also notice that individuals have markedly different responses to surprises and differences.  Some are openly picky with those that break their rules, until the other falls into line, or drifts away.

Others, however, have learned to disguise their pickiness behind a veil of sociability.  Thus, you will find people who initially seem friendly and welcoming of difference and surprise; but, later, they drift away from it.  They don't openly pick fights or criticise - but behind the scenes they take action to retreat into commonality, and protect themselves from it.  An example might be a group of rich people who are very polite in immedite society, but in the medium term build gated estates in which to live together to defend themselves from unfamiliar intrusion.

OVERCOMING PICKINESS
So, we have a tendency, increasing as we age, to become alert in the presence of the unexpected, and take action to remove surprises from our experience.  We are, naturally, 'picky'!

But what if we want to overcome this tendency?  What if we find that, in a relatively safe society, our animalistic 'pickiness' is making us hypervigilant, over-anxious, almost allergic to change and difference?

A DEVELOPMENTAL APPROACH
We could take a developmental approach.  We could notice our own pickiness, and then try to seek some kind of mastery over it, so that our animal nature governs us less, and we become more masters of our own minds.

The next time you find yourself being 'picky', take time to notice it.  What, in your environment, have you decided is scary, or to be avoided?  Is it a person, whom you and your friends have decided is 'persona non grata', too different to be welcomed?  Is it a colour, or a noise, or a design, or a piece of technology, or an item of clothing, or a sexual preference, or a political view, or a way of behaving?  What have you decided, in your animal being, is some kind of threat to you and your friends?

These 'pickinesses' are very hard to notice in ourselves.  (Though we are great at noticing other people's 'pickinesses'.  In other people, we call them 'prejudices'.  In ourselves, we call them 'standards', or 'tastes'!)  But try.  Then, when you feel you have identified a 'pickiness' that you are inflicting on the world, ask yourself:

(a) Does the object of your pickiness really represent a threat to your survival?
(b) Are you distancing another person from you to try to make yourself safer?
(c) How might you become less of a slave to your own pickiness, and become more tolerant?

THE FUTURE OF PICKINESS
I have illustrated how pickiness might be ingrained in us because of our evolutionary past.  But our past was one in which we faced daily threats to our survival.  Constant attentiveness was perhaps more understandable.  These days, many of us do not have such daily personal threats.  Yet we are left, as individuals and groups, with the residue of this defensiveness... we jump at exceptions to our rules; we hide, in our groups, behind group rules, defending ourselves against perceived violations and differences from the norm.  In mental health arenas, terms such as 'disorder' are used to isolate the different.

A BETTER WAY
A more masterful way of conducting ourselves might be to attend to our own tendency to be picky, both as individuals, and as groups.  If we can notice when we are doing it, and attend to our own responses before reacting, we might learn to 'downsize' our own internal models, and 'upgrade' the interests of others.  This might avoid us all constantly alienating those who are different from ourselves.

A certain amount of watchfulness is understandable.  A bird that did not pay attention would get eaten by a cat.  And a cat that did not pay attention would get attacked by other cats too often for comfort.  But a being that knows its own attentiveness, and has mastery over it, can defend against immediate danger, whilst retaining sufficient detachment from its own biases to stay free.  In other words, the biggest benefit of mastery over one's own pickiness, is that we can switch it off when appropriate.  This opens a way to peace; because if enough people learn to switch off their 'pickiness radars', then tolerance becomes the norm, and defensiveness isn''t needed.