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Christmas to New Year with stress…

Lots of people talk about the joy of being with family over the Christmas break, and if you have a lovely, warm, loving family, who you see eye to eye with, I’m sure that can be true. But let’s be honest, there is tension in most people’s families, and some families seem to see Christmas as an opportunity for outright war.

If your family isn’t at peace with itself, the extra stress of expectations can be tinder to any potential argument. Those expectations don’t even have to be unrealistic, they just have to not mesh perfectly with what actually happens.

We also have a culture that is obsessed with blame rather than understanding. Blame is a destructive thing, self awareness, as well as taking responsibility for one’s own actions and the consequences of those actions are the positive way of approaching things when they go wrong. Being able to say “it was me and I apologise” is just about the healthiest and most grown up thing you can do, if it’s true.

Being aware that none of us is perfect is a really good starting point I find, especially when spending time with other people who you are not going to be able to escape from for a while.

We tend not to have to spend extended time with other people, so we have lost many of the skills our forebears developed through communal living. I can remember days before central heating and computers, when we spent most of our winters in the living room together trying not to fall out. It was there that we learnt the skill of keeping our mouths shut.

So, if your family is one of those dreadful toxic experiences, give yourself permission to avoid them. Christmas alone can be a joyous, peaceful, fun experience. If you work at making it that way. And many people who have families will envy you the opportunity to be peaceful.

Also bear in mind that whilst you may enjoy the hurly burly of your family interactions not every member of your family will necessarily agree with you. It may seem like gentle teasing from where you are, but the person being teased may find it to be far more challenging and unpleasant than that.

Be gentle to those around you when you know they are under pressure. They may lash out, but it probably has nothing to do with you. Lots happens in other peoples lives that we will never know about, these things are often in their minds when they are unhappy or under pressure.

Christmas and the new year put us under huge pressure, we need the people who care about us to be just a bit more understanding of our difficulties.

The End Of My Nose…

The end of my nose isn’t too far from me. I’m quite pleased about that. However, I do try and look beyond it pretty much all the time (I go cross-eyed if I don’t). It worries me that so many people, especially people in positions of authority, seem not to even try.

That which is obvious to me may not even be visible to you, because my life has furnished me with different experiences to yours. This is good. It would be the most terribly dull world if we were all exactly the same. But to live in a world where we are all different means that we all need to try and see things from a perspective other than that of looking down our own noses and stopping at the end of them.

I don’t want to walk a mile in your boots, I do want to be able to imagine what it would be like to do so. Even if I did walk a mile in your boots my experience would be different from yours because I am not you. But I have a good imagination, I would probably do a better job of imagining than I would of fitting into your boots.

What is needed are empathy and understanding, to put ourselves in the position of someone other than who we wake up to be every day. It isn’t always easy. I struggle to understand people who lack empathy, and to be brutally honest, it’s hard to see why I should empathise with them, but I try. I think I achieve a limited success. I can see they are damaged individuals, and to a certain extent I feel sorry for them, but not very because of all the pain they cause other people as they trample on feelings and manipulate and abuse their way through their lives.

The other problem with not looking beyond the end of your nose is that you can’t see the bigger picture. For some people this must seem wonderful, they can focus on one little detail and build their world around that. These kinds of people seem to delude themselves into thinking that this makes them feel safe. I can’t see that it does, because lurking in the background of their consciousness is the awareness that they are ignoring most of the world. I would expect this to make them feel very scared and insecure.

Then there are all the people who think they see the bigger picture when they don’t. They are looking from a particular perspective that means that much of what happens is blocked from their view. People like these will often try and belittle you and influence you to compromise your morals, because they believe the bigger picture is more important than you. This is not true.

The bigger picture is stitched together from all of us, all of our behaviour, all of our lives. Each one of us makes a unique and important contribution to the bigger picture. This is where Gandhi’s saying that “you have to be the change you want to see” makes perfect sense.

So, be proud of the end of your nose, it is an important place… and then look beyond it. 🙂

Priorities…

I was talking with one of my friends the other day about priorities. We think that Western society has lost it’s way, at least partially because our governments prioritise economics (money) over people. This is a serious mistake for a whole load of reasons, the main one being that money is a tool. It gets used as both a weapon and a god, but only by people who don’t understand it.

Many people have no understanding of economics at all. They think it is incontrovertible, they don’t realise that it is every bit as theoretical as any form of philosophy. It is the philosophy of how financial systems work. It is a science in as far as any analysis of real world behaviour is a science. It is as flawed (if not more so) as any other science of human behaviour.

What economists predict is based on a hypothetical view of the world. Their view is built out of all sorts of assumptions to do with the importance of money and it’s supremacy in every decision making process.

This is not helpful in a world where people starve through no fault of their own and even though there is plenty of food. This is what Looby Macnamara would call scarcity thinking. But we live in an abundant world, which could be even more abundant if people didn’t feel so embattled. If people felt safe and secure they would not need to stock pile so much in the way of material possessions.

We need a serious paradigm shift away from scarcity thinking and economics, to the various approaches that Looby talks so coherently about: Abundance thinking; Solutions thinking; Systems thinking; Thinking like nature; Co-operative thinking; and Thinking for the future.

When we think differently we act differently, some times it works the other way around, but mostly it works best if we change our way of thinking first. The big thing that most people struggle to grasp is that we are part of nature.

We cannot be separated from it in a healthy way any more than any part of our bodies can be separated from us and still survive. Nature, the world, is the big healthy system, we are the malfunctioning kidneys, the dodgy knee, that dreadful headache. Not vice versa.

Yes, I meant that. The world would be fine without us. We would not be fine without the world. We don’t need to save the world. The world will save itself, maybe by getting rid of those pesky humans. If we want a world that continues to nurture and feed humans then we need to look at things a different way, we need to see that we are the guests and a little respect and gratitude would go a long, long way.

Further Reading:

Looby Macnamara – 7 Ways To Think Differently

available from http://www.spiralsofabundance.com/index.php?id_product=469&controller=product

The Real Meaning Of Christmas

Now, I’m not a Christian, so I don’t celebrate the birth of Christ. I’m not a religious person at all, I’m an Atheist. I spent years and years trying to believe and failing, so I hedged my bets and called myself Agnostic, then I thought, I have to come out of the closet and declare myself what I know I am. I am an Atheist.

I’ve had conversations with people who think that if you don’t have God (whatever that means to you) in your life then you can have no moral standards. I have to say that my moral beliefs have been with me pretty much through out my life. I also have to admit that I haven’t always managed to maintain my own standards and I have spent some considerable time beating myself up because of it.

Eventually I learned to forgive myself in the same way as I would have forgiven someone else. It took a lot of doing, and there are one or two things I still struggle with.

So for me Christmas is not a religious experience. Neither is it a consumerist experience. I never have had much money, and I never have bought into buying people’s love. I don’t want anyone whose love can be bought, and anyway I don’t believe “real” love can be bought.

My pleasure comes from seeing my friends and family enjoying themselves, I certainly don’t enjoy stress and rows. So for me the Yuletide celebrations are about people being happy and relaxed. I’m very fortunate in not having to cook a Christmas dinner, so I’m spared that stress. I’m very fortunate in having a family that has realistic expectations both of presents and behaviour.

There is no one I have to spend time with who is an belligerent drunk. No one who expects the world to revolve around them and then gets stroppy because it doesn’t. No one who thinks they should have a better present than…

You get the picture. I’m a very lucky person. I love Christmas (whatever name you choose to give it). It’s warm and cosy and pleasant, just a bit too much food, a little too much drink, quite a lot of laughter, and lots of love.

What more could you ask for for Christmas?

Balance, ah, balance

Gandhi said that we should be the change that we want to see. It’s a wonderful sentiment. I love Gandhi for his strength and his gentleness. But it asks a lot of a person to live up to his pronouncements. He is not offering any of us an easy life, and maybe that is part of his attraction. We know we aren’t really meant for an easy life. It makes us nervous and uncomfortable when that’s what we choose.

I’m not saying we all should have difficult lives, too many people have to struggle to survive awful situations. I’m just suggesting that maybe, as a risk taking, problem solving, species, we need a taste of risk, a grain of difficulty, to keep us feeling right with the world.

If you look at children who are brought up in risk free, sanitised homes, what do we find? Are these kids well adjusted, happy, great examples for their peers? I suspect not. We need many different forms of experience and stimulation to make us well rounded human beings. These children are deprived of some essential opportunities.

To grub around in the mud is a wonderful play time and learning experience for any small child. To meet people from different backgrounds can give huge insight and humility. To be exposed to normal human interaction, in (nearly) all it’s glories, helps us realise what is important and what is not. But we need a safe place to retreat to to analyse and absorb these lessons.

Our home should be that place. It’s very sad that it frequently is not. Too many people have children because they had sex, rather than because they thought about the risks and rewards of parenthood. Too many people have children because… they want to… with no thought of the responsibilities of parenthood. Too many people repeat what their parents did with no thought of the effect it had on them and their siblings.

No child asks to be born. If you did not choose to be a parent, you need to think about why you allowed yourself to become one. If you have chosen to be a parent you need to think about why. To my mind it is a privilege and a responsibility to be a parent, and once you have become one I think you should put your child’s needs first.

That’s a lot more difficult and complicated than it sounds. Your children will not be learning what you think you are teaching them. They will be learning something you do rather than what you say, so it’s important to be a role model as well as a parent. It’s important to think about just what your behaviour toward your children is really teaching them.

Privileged children learn that many things can be bought, but they struggle to learn the real value of anything. Parents who spend huge amounts of money on gifts for their children without spending time with them are teaching their children a variety of things, firstly that they think money is more important than spending time with people, that spending time making money is more important than relationships… do you see what I’m driving at?

It is our responsibility to give our children what they need, not what they want, not even what we think they want. What they need is our unconditional love, but NOT our unconditional indulgence. They need to be respected as individual human beings, but they also need to learn that we deserve some of that respect as well. It’s all about balance.

Life is all about balance, give and take, win and lose, being centred and happy with who we are without being self-satisfied and self-serving.

Ah, balance.

Unique

Each one of us is a unique individual. This is incontrovertibly true and totally misleading. We are the sum of our genetics, our environment, and our experiences. Our genetics give us predispositions to certain behaviours and attitudes.

More recently we have discovered that our environment and experiences can “switch on or off“ some of our genes, so even those predispositions can be altered by our environment and experiences.

Our environment is the “concrete” world outside of the filters of our own brain and experience. It is the air we breathe, the building we live in, the water we drink. The food we eat is a slightly different kettle of fish (if you like that kind of thing) we have more control over what we eat than the air we breathe. So it tends to be more influenced by our experiences and expectations than many aspects of our environment.

Our experiences are different even when we are twins in the same family. Timing, mood, other people’s expectations and attitudes all lead to different experiences of the same event. These experiences all help form who we are. It’s easy to look at these issues as being the only factors in making us each who we are. They are important, but we need to look at the wider scale as well.

There are biases out there in the wide world, such biases put us under a systematic (but often conflicting) pressure that shapes our experience in different ways to the micro experiences of home and family (though these external pressures are often also found at home and everywhere else).

When I was young there were two conflicting messages that I could not resolve. First was that I should be a “good girl”, do as I was told, look after other people, put men first, expect to always come second in every relationship and situation. The second was that I should always strive to do my best, be the best, never let anyone look down on me or talk down to me.

Both these messages came from wider society and from within my family. It was difficult to know when which was the most appropriate. I felt I could never relax and just be myself. Now if I found that difficult, how much more difficult must it be when you are on the receiving end of racism?

But part of what is going wrong with society at the moment is that there are so many conflicting messages, most of them being negative and unhealthy, that very few people feel comfortable in their own culture. Some people couldn’t even tell you what their own culture is.

This is not a criticism of immigration or emigration. It is a criticism of the way that we are encouraged to focus on differences and not similarities between us and other people. Instead of revelling in the richness and diversity of our cultural overlaps and interlinks, people feel insecure because they have been told time and time again that everything is “us versus them”, everyone else is a potential threat.

We are humans trying to live together, it is not helpful or healthy to constantly focus of differences. There should be no war of the sexes, no racial division, no separating because of class or creed. We really are all in this together, because there is only one world and there is no planet B.

This divide and conquer is a repeating cycle. It is a cycle of stupidity. It is a cycle we need to get off of.

Everything is Political

Some times going shopping is very difficult. Not because of lack of money, though we are a long way short of well off, but because we are increasingly aware of the fact that every financial decision is a political decision.

I am a great fan of orang-utans. I am aware that their habitat is being destroyed in order to grown more palms to process to make palm oil. Therefore I do not want to eat anything with palm oil or palm fat in it. This means that almost any processed food is out. That’s not so bad, processed food is seriously lacking in nutritional value.

But what about tea or coffee? As a confirmed caffeine addict I can’t do without it, but how fair is Fairtrade? I know Fairtrade insists that local people get paid a reasonable amount for their work, but what about other issues like, is this a crop that should be grown in this area or not? Do the farmers embrace sustainable farming practices? Do they treat their animals and other human beings well? What is their dependence on oil? And should we really be importing goods from countries that would benefit far more from feeding their own people than from gaining western currency so that they can import food from other places that probably need it even more than they do?

I hope you read that previous paragraph very carefully, because I don’t want to be accused of being unfair to Fairtrade. I’m just using them as an example to help illustrate how complex the whole nonsense of buying has become.

Additionally there is the problem of which corporations do you really want to give your money too? Nestlé is mining water from various drought stricken states in America. Then selling the water back in bottles.

Very often even when you think you have made a good decision in spending your money you will discover that the company you trusted has been bought by one of the mega-corporations, sometimes directly, other times through one of their subsidiaries that most people don’t realise has any links with the mega-corporations.

But even on a small local scale, what about having your hair cut? Do you go to your local hairdresser? Is it part of a national chain? Which companies do they get their supplies from? Are these companies you want to support? Do you really want to support the “beauty” industry (I think it should be called the “insecurity” industry, it exploits peoples feelings of insecurity about their appearance).

And so it goes on… nothing is without links to other things. Making choices is very difficult today. You could spend hours each day researching whether a company is one you want to support or not. Or you could do what most people do, ignore where your money is going and buy what you think you want. Both are still political decisions. One is exhausting and potentially very frustrating (though I guess sometimes you might find a real winner), the other is an abdication of responsibility that actually supports the status quo.

When I talk about the status quo (not the band), I do not mean a system that will protect our lifestyles, I do not mean a system that will keep us safe and comfortable. I mean the system (or culture) that has gradually moved us away from the lives we knew as children, I mean the system that is changing increasingly quickly, and becoming more and more inequitable. It is both a political and a financial system, and it exploits anyone without the wealth to protect themselves.

The financial and political systems are interlinked to a frightening degree. In America the latest election was more or less bought by the party that had the wealthiest corporations backing them. In the UK the Conservative Party and UKIP are supported by huge financial injections from people who have a vested interest (they think) in keeping the poor poor and divided.

They are people who have very little understanding of just what they are supporting. They tend to see things in terms of right or wrong. They have never stood on their desk in the classroom to discover that your perspective changes both what you see and how you see it. Life is complex, everything is interlinked, every choice can either support the current system or help to ease things in a slightly different, and possibly better, direction.

Narcissism versus Authenticity

There are a lot of posts on facebook about “not caring” what other people think about you. Predominantly I see these posts as being supportive and healthy ( I will explain why a bit later), but someone made a comment which made me question my point of view. The comment was something along the lines of “isn’t this a bit narcissistic?” and I though “Hmm, interesting point”.

Now I’m not any kind of psychologist, I have studied psychology and counselling, but I would describe myself predominantly as a sociologist, so my understanding of narcissism is pretty much that of an amateur. As I understand it, a narcissist is a person who is vain and obsessed with themselves, they are cut off from other people and totally self indulgent. They really don’t care what other people think about them, in a totally unhealthy way.

But, it is equally unhealthy for people to be totally dependent on other people for approval. As a child we are preprogrammed to seek our parent’s approval and love, it’s a survival trait, parents who don’t approve of, or love, us are going to make our childhood rotten. So we will make almost any compromise to get that approval. The trouble is that as children our understanding of the world and our parents is not very well developed, it can’t be, we don’t have any experience.

Some parents are so damaged themselves that they cannot approve and their understanding of “love” is a bitter and twisted thing. Someone who has never experienced unconditional love is always going to struggle to feel, and show, unconditional love for someone else. This is the root of many of these facebook posts. Trying to give people the strength to resist the pressures to seek approval from others because they never managed to get that approval from their parents.

We are all under enormous pressure to conform. What we are supposed to conform to is an interesting conundrum. What many people don’t realise is that we are pressured to conform to different expectations, in different circumstances, at different times. It’s a trick even a contortionist couldn’t manage.

Once we have realised that we cannot twist ourselves into knots just to please other people, we then have to try to work out who we “really” are. We have to find the authentic being.

This is something of a struggle, there are many theorists who believe that we wear different masks when dealing with different people and the authentic person is hidden behind those many masks. To paraphrase Shrek people are like onions they have many layers. This is true to a point, but is overly simplistic and misleading. There are certainly things that we will only reveal to people we trust, and different levels of trust mean different levels of self revelation.

But humans are much, much more complex than that. Imagine your personality is a ball of wool (I feel very woolly sometimes), the thread represents different aspects of your beliefs and behaviours. Got it? Now imagine that a kitten has played with that ball of wool. Yes? It’s a tangled mess, some bits have become knotted together, other bits have come lose and don’t look like they really are part of that ball at all. I think that is more like a personality.

I think we use different bits of that tangled mess when we need to, as we deem appropriate. We don’t wear masks, we don’t necessarily reveal everything, we couldn’t if we wanted to. We are seldom not ourselves, even when we are acting. We only understand other people’s behaviour through the lens of our own understanding and experience. Therefore, to a greater extent, we are authentic.

Authentic people are engaged, caring, involved with other people (not too many other people). When we do things that make us uncomfortable, that don’t sit right with us, we are still ourselves, we are just making bad choices and part of us knows that, it is that part of us that is trying to warn us against the choices that we are making. When we start making good choices sometimes they are so unfamiliar that we are afraid they may be bad choices too, but once we get past that fear and relax we can start to be comfortable with ourselves and feel less like a tangled mess and more like a unique work of art.

Taking Control of Our Lives – Part 1

In our British culture it is very easy to feel both powerless and isolated. These feelings are engendered in part by the divide and rule policies of the mainstream British media – exhibited par excellence by the press.

What many people don’t know, or understand, is that we do NOT have a “free press”, the vast majority of newspapers, as well as the “non-terrestrial” TV are owned by a very small number of very wealthy corporations.

These businesses believe that they have a vested interest in keeping things as they are. They, like the majority of corporations, are run to make as much money as possible for their shareholders. They have no other interest. They support their “friends”, that is people who may give them money, or people who may pass laws that will give them more money or protect that which they already have.

Their politics are actually that of their owners. They may appear to be working class (on the side of the working person) but it is a sham and manipulative empathy, designed to make sure that all the poor do not realise that they have infinitely more in common with each other (regardless of race, religion, gender or any other superficial and spurious difference that the media might focus on) and even the traditionally middle class, than they do with the selfish, self-serving media moguls and the politicians who dance to their tune.

They make it very difficult for ordinary people, like you and I, to realise where their true interests lie. This problem has been amplified in the last year or so through the surrender of the BBC to their political oppressors. No longer do they even attempt to provide unbiased and informative news. They have refused to report large scale protests, for example the 10s of thousands of people in the various Marches Against Austerity, and the under reporting of the March For the NHS… they will not stand up to the Ca-moron government of 2014.

The social media is our best hope for finding like minds and mutual support outside of our physical reach. We have to continue to take the power back from both the media and politicians.