Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Vol #2, Col #2: Just How “Rational” Are You? The Importance of Personal Agency & Saying “No” to Negative Influences

Vol2_Col3_countering-media-influenceAmanda Todd. Canadian. 15 years old. Dead. Another bullied, angst-ridden, self-abusing depressed teen to add to the list of those whose lives were cut too short. In a word: tragic.

Upon release of the news, discourse from concerned parents relating to the risks of social media use and the increasing need for “internet policing” abounded. While these concerns are most surely valid, Todd’s suicide is not merely an indication that bullying in the 2000s has escalated to a new level that we, as a society, have yet to come to grips with. Greater than this, is what lies at the deeper root of the problem: the motivations behind the very actions of Todd that served as the impetus to her “cyber-bullying” conundrum.

“Why”, we should be asking ourselves, “would anyone go to such an extent to seek validation from a complete stranger in regard to their physicality?” What does this say about what we’re teaching our youth? More importantly, what does this say about our societal standards for appearances and sexuality and the high value we seemingly place on both?

While a debate on consumerism and its mandate to make us all feel inadequate so that we buy more and more items to fulfill the very voids it leads us to believe we possess would prove illustrative, again I’d like to delve deeper to get at the origin of why “industry” seems to have such a hold on us…well at least some of us, that is.

Now I’m sure all of you are at least superficially familiar with the pervasive “nature vs. nurture” debate. Further, I’m sure you’ve all heard that the current consensus in social science academic circles is that both elements are said to influence us relatively equally throughout our initial stages of socialization. In other words, it’s not simply WHAT we’re born with (ie: our DNA/inherited genes) nor WHERE/HOW we’re raised (ie: our environments). But instead, it’s how these two factors work together symbiotically that make us into the individuals we become. Allow me to explain more in-depth:

Let’s say there was a child who was born with an above average IQ “potential” (ie: nature). Due to unfortunate financial circumstances however, he was raised in a ghettoized neighbourhood where he attended primary and secondary schools that lacked guidance counsellors, extra-curricular activities and additional support resources.

His parents both worked multiple jobs that just barely allowed them to cover the household expenses; accordingly, they were frequently exhausted when they got home at the end of the day. As a consequence, the little boy was commonly alone without positive adult supervision. Moreover, even when his parents were physically present, he likely was not receiving the support, love and guidance he required from them.

While this child started life out with the “potential” (ie: nature) to achieve strong grades that could lead to a university education and an associated higher end career, because of his environmental upbringing (ie: nurture), he was never able to fully flourish.

At this point it is worth clarifying that the term “environment” as defined in the nature vs. nurture paradigm encompasses far more than just the tangible physical spaces one occupies throughout his/her life. As the above example demonstrates, one’s environment too consists of the people with whom we interact, the kinds of interactions that take place and the messages we receive. Whether our interactions are direct (ie: someone speaking with us in person), indirect (ie: receiving information from a tv commercial), one-way (ie: a lecture), reciprocal (ie: a conversation between friends), verbal (ie: someone saying they love you) or nonverbal (ie: someone giving you a hug after a bad day) is irrelevant – ALL of these modes of communication can and will influence you, if you allow them to. That my friends is the key: the concept of agency: the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices.

Now, as you reach adolescence, the impact of “nurture”, especially as it pertains to social and media influences, shifts into high gear. The cause? Quite simply the fact that this is the first time in your life you truly get a chance to establish your own sense of identity! Part and parcel to this process, of course, is a pressing desire to rebel from all sources of authority, particularly that of your parents and their belief systems (Ah we have so much to look forward to when we become parents ourselves!)

In other words, as you reach this age, you become psychologically “primed” to pay close(r) attention to messages that relate to concepts of “self-expression”, “self-discovery” and “self-fulfillment” given that these topics are particularly relevant to the pressures you are experiencing in regard to “making something of yourself” and/or “finding out who you are” and “what cliché you belong in.” Wouldn’t you know it? These are the VERY SAME concepts that so many advertisements and media images try to sell us!

In reference to females specifically, the media teaches our girls that being “beautiful”, “sexy”, “desirable”, “attractive”, “sexual” and so forth are the NUMBER ONE KEYS to success, independence and confidence (Don’t get me started on the equally disturbing and damaging messages that we indoctrinate onto our boys). With all of this in mind, what I’m getting at is that it’s easy to see why young adults oftentimes find themselves falling into the “wrong” crowds and/or participating in questionable popularity/validation-seeking behaviours that may come back to bite them in the ass as was the case with Todd. No disrespect intended.

When we become adults, the hope is that we’ve grown past this stage and have a fairly strongly established sense of personal agency. For those of us born with more “follower-oriented” personality types, do not fear, agency and self-assertiveness can be taught and developed. There will, of course, always be “structures” to contend with in life that will limit our choices to a certain extent (ie: social class, religion, ethnicity, legislation, gender etc.) HOWEVER, in NO logical way that I can consider do said structures play a role in whether you allow yourself to buy into much of the advertised b.s. messages that are out there. Moreover, these structures also do NOT in any way prevent you from ditching people in your life that really only bring you down. The only thing that prevents either is an UNWILLINGNESS to practise introspection and “rational choice”. YOU are empowered with the choice to select when it’s worth your while to “tune in” and when you should quite frankly just “tune out.”

Rational (albeit mature) people, when presented with new information/messages, make the decision whether to incorporate or discard said information/messages based on a cost/benefit analysis. With this in mind, the next time you find yourself in a situation pondering whether you should allow yourself to be influenced (because remember it is a CHOICE), you need to ask yourself the following:

1) How can this information/influence help me in regard to my life, my goals, my dreams?

2) How can this information/influence hinder me in regard to my life, my goals, my dreams?

3) How would those significant in my life (ie: parents, friends, peers, teachers, spiritual advisors etc.) feel about this information/influence? Why do you think they’d feel that way?

4) Would my life be missing something valuable if I chose not to accept this information/influence?

5) Is this information/influence something I’d be comfortable passing onto others? If not, why?

Unfortunately in Todd’s tragic case, the life has already been lost. In your own and those of your future children however, you can make a difference. Teaching “(social) media savvy” isn’t enough. Negative influences can and will impact your life through a variety of sources. What needs to be taught more importantly is how to recognize these influences for what they are and how to make the “rational choice” not to allow oneself to get sucked in.

Monday, 30 January 2017

Vol #2, Col #1: Are You Really “All Grown Up?”

As we age physically, our psychological perceptions too drastically change. In our youth, it begins subtly: as Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development notes, over approximately the first ten years of our life on this planet, we transform from infants whose actions and reactions are by and large determined by intrinsic reflexes to prepubescent children capable of abstract thinking and inferential reasoning (ie: the ability to think about things which have not literally been experienced and to draw conclusions from said contemplations). To this, Kohlberg adds that in conjunction with our acquisition of knowledge and logic, also comes a change in how one interprets what’s right/good and what’s wrong/evil.

As kids, we obey the rules that are dictated to us purely out of fear of repercussion and/or desire for reward; a typical example of operant conditioning. From here, through the indoctrination of social norms, we begin to understand how being a “good citizen” will personally serve us well. As we grow older still, ideally we reach the final stop in Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development in which we not only internalize a personal moral compass that we willingly (key word) abide by, but further embrace an ethical point of view in respect to our treatment of all others. 

Beyond intellectual and moral growth, our views in reference to the self, others (family, friends, business acquaintances and even enemies), our life goals, our desires/dreams and how we define our place in society (and the world at large) also shift. An embarrassing anecdote from my childhood proves illustrative: 

Apparently, I once told my mom that my career ambitions were as follows: to be a Dicky D ice cream salesperson in the summer and a T-bar ski lift attendant in the winter. Beyond its simple amusement, this chronicle offers some interesting insight into my childhood perceptions and values: it demonstrates that I understood seasonal work and the necessity of being employed all year around, as well as recognized that these two services were important among families. It also proves my initial point: that we change DRASTICALLY.

There is a caveat to that last statement however. While my current vocational goals far exceed those of the 5 or so year old Rose, I am still a very service-oriented individual. Major personality traits, such as whether one is introverted or extroverted, for example, are typically resilient throughout the course of one’s life.    

So how does all of this relate to you in your present state of affairs (ie: attending college in your late teens/early 20s)? The cognitive changes we’ve discussed thus far are more or less part and parcel to “physically” growing up. In contrast, when you reach the life stage you’re at now, change and self-growth largely become a choice determined by experiential factors. In other words, we ALL regularly find ourselves entwined with varying bouts of human drama and tragedy. BUT we do not all deal with said situations the same way. The stark differences in “coping” behaviours that can be observed among so-called “adult” humans ultimately result from one of two self-contemplations (whether you’re conscious of it or not):

1)  The Psychologically Mature Approach: Will I allow this situation to be a source of personal growth? If so, what can I learn from it? How can I analyze each point of view objectively so that I can ascertain a thorough understanding of all parties involved? 

2) The Juvenile Approach: Will I externalize all blame and get defensive if someone dare point their finger toward my actions as potentially contributing to the situation? Will I find every means possible to rationalize myself as the “blameless victim” and/or “rightfully justified party” even when logic that clearly suggests otherwise is thrown in my face? Will I grow bitter as others flourish around me and I never seemed to be given any “chances”?

It goes without saying that neither choice can peacefully be made nor accepted until one is less clouded by their emotions. What I need to strongly emphasize here though is the fact that option two is a CHOICE. Just like a positive happy demeanor is determined by an individual’s willingness and desire to be grateful and to focus on the good things in their life, juvenility is an accepted choice resulting from a disinterest in being introspective and/or accepting personal responsibility. Perhaps here would be a good time for another real life account.

I have this friend who truly is a textbook example of everything NOT to do. He’s what I call a “runner” in that every time sometime goes awry in his life, instead of confronting the issue(s), he convinces himself that he’ll be able to start fresh by relocating to another city. The problem of course is that it’s not the scenery that is the dilemma, but rather the repeated poor decisions he continues to make. It always goes the same way; accordingly, it’s getting increasingly difficult to have any sense of empathy toward him.

Initially, he’s happy as a clam. He finds a nice new neighbourhood, gets himself a decent job and things are seemingly looking up. He couldn’t be happier – moving was the right choice. Then (wait for it), he inevitably gets involved with a less than classy dame whose sexual history you’re probably better off not knowing. Within a week (sometimes less), he’s already thinking about moving in with her and getting hitched. He’s in love, but it’s surely not a healthy love.

He becomes possessive bordering on obsessive toward the gal, who made it clear from the get-go that frankly she’s not really the “marriageable” type. He either begins to suspect she’s cheating on him or hiding a pregnancy or both, they erupt into WWIII and once again, his life is “over”. He loses all sense of personal composure and his job too in the meantime. He mopes around for a couple of weeks and then “Eureka!” The solution to solving all of his problems appears: skipping town...yet again.

Now, I’m sure you’re all familiar with Einstein’s apt definition of insanity: the repetition of the same behaviour(s) over and over again with the expectation that the results will be different. I’d like to suggest that this definition can equally apply to those who opt for the aforementioned choice when facing adversity.

Instead of analyzing his actions which have led him to this same spot time and time again, my friend adopts the “poor me syndrome” (ie: the belief that the world is out to get you and you are an innocent victim being targeted for some random reason). Consequently, he never accepts responsibility for his own contributing behaviours and thereby NEVER ultimately grows as a person. And that my friends, for many, is the irony of aging!

In a nutshell, this month’s lesson is as follows: Acknowledge the choices embedded within your actions and reactions. If you’re unhappy with the end results, look to YOURSELF to improve the situation.

Friday, 30 December 2016

Vol #1, Finale: A Few Questions that You NEED to Know

Finale_AttitudeOne of the greatest and most longstanding scientific debates revolves around human socialization and how much we can attribute to nature versus nurture. In other words, are we born with pre-existing dispositions to certain kinds of behaviours, attitudes and actions based on our genetic code/evolutionary past? OR are we purely determined by the environment(s) in which we’re raised? If a combination of both, what role do one’s peers, parents and other social influences, such as the media, play in terms of bringing out or repressing certain hardwired traits? Interestingly, the very same questions can be asked when it comes to the realm of psychological maturity.

Are some inherently born with characteristics more in line with psychological maturity? OR does everyone come to the table with the same capacity for developing psychological maturity but one’s experiences (and how one learns from and copes with them) determine if/when said attitude is embraced? Further, how much should one allow him/herself to be influenced by factors outside of the self (ie: externalization) versus listening to one’s brains (ie: remember there’s one in your head AND one in your gut)?

I’m afraid there are no easy answers to any of the above queries and in fact part of your journey to establishing (and maintaining) a psychologically mature perspective may just consist of you attempting to find solutions ;) The point in doing so however would NOT be to come up with definitive “end results”, but instead to evaluate and analyze the process that took you there.

Yes, once again, my friends, it all comes back to introspection: asking yourself what makes you tick and understanding why/how it all comes together. As I said in my very first column, if any of your self-contemplations result in superficial because “you’ve been told to” or “that’s just how it’s always been” types of answers, you’re NOT digging deep enough. EVERYTHING, no matter how seemingly mundane, has meaning and motive behind it. Don’t forget that. Equally important to remember is the fact that no one enters your life unscathed or without baggage of some sort trailing behind. So, if you find yourself feeling threatened by another, instead of lashing out, ask yourself why – it’ll serve you much better and help you become a much more considerate, empathetic individual; something I think we all should strive to be.

Even those of you who’ve been practising the principles I’ve discussed this past year for a long time including: minimizing defensive reactions and focussing on long-term gratification, among others, I’m sure, still find yourselves in situations with individuals who are “difficult” to say the least. You’ll come to realize that the biggest dilemma you’ll ultimately face in life is the fact that just because you’re reasonable and willing to deal with situations in an “adult” manner, doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone else is singing from the same songbook…if you get my drift. Not to quote myself unnecessarily but the truth of the matter is that “some people are just content being assholes;” this obviously proves particularly contentious when said individuals are a necessary evil in your life (ie: stepparents and/or monsters-in-law). Of course, this brings me to the topic of stress; something else we’ve thoroughly discussed.

While some stress can be helpful and motivating, too much can lead to emotional overload and/or self-implosion. Life is all about balance and honestly acknowledging your limitations. There’s no cowardice or shame in admitting when you need help or a break. Confidence and a “can do” attitude will get you far, but too much pride is just another issue waiting to bite you in the ass.

As we revealed in our dissections of many pathological “personality types” such as: the “people pleaser”, “egoist”, “pessimist” and “hypocrite”, insecurity as well as a lack of gratitude appear to be two common root causes. Considering we live in one of the most privileged areas of the globe, it’s hard to think as to why the latter would be the case at all. Priorities people! As for the former? Well no two people’s situations are alike, but it seems to me that bullying (by BOTH authority figures and peers) along with the promotion of unattainable social ideals of what define “happiness”, “success” and “beauty” are a serious part of the problem.

In the end, everything comes down to one simple, hard and fast question: Are YOU happy? If you are, take stock of all of the wonderful reasons why, never take such things for granted and be sure to acknowledge all of those who’ve/who continue to contribute joy to your existence. If you’re conflicted, dissatisfied, stressed, sad or angry more often than you think you SHOULD be/more than you WANT to be, it’s time to seriously start asking yourself some deep questions: Who am I? Why am I this kind of individual? Who do I want to be? What do I want in life? What do I need to get there? What drives me? What discourages me? Who/what supports me? Who/what stands in my way? Only YOU can ask and only YOU can answer.

I’m sorry to say there are no magical solutions or 10-step instructional manuals outlining how one can obtain a life in which they’re “living” rather than simply “existing”. While many individuals will enter and exit your life as your journey unravels (for the better and sometimes for the worse), remember it’s ultimately YOUR life - you need to look out for YOURSELF first and foremost – and that YOU have the power to lead the kind of life you desire. It’s all about your ATTITUDE, so, in closing, get out your wrenches and start adjusting.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Vol #1, Col #25: Discriminating Taste

gratitude-thoughts-02I think it goes without saying that ALL of us come to the table with various chips on our shoulders. While someone’s situation may appear “picture perfect” on the outside, ultimately you don’t know the trials and tribulations they may have faced/continue to undergo. Likewise, things are often not as bad as they may seem. It’s really all a matter of attitude AND gratitude. Given this, it’s important to reserve judgment toward others.  

On the other side of the equation, it’s equally important not to allow one’s battle wounds to permeate every aspect of one’s life. While one’s past largely informs one’s present and reflecting upon past experiences (both successes and mistakes) can be a fantastic means of learning about oneself and the world at large, you’ll ultimately never get to where you want to go in life if your perspective remains stagnant. The example of Thomas Edison’s perseverant quest into the 1000s to establish a reliable, long-lasting, electric lightbulb speaks for itself. The point I’m trying to make? Don’t allow yourself to be stifled and/or suffocated by your own emotional baggage – no one else wants to!

With that introduction, instead of getting heavy into my regular “psychoanalytics” this week, I’d simply like to relay to you two stories in hopes that you’ll reflect on your own attitude toward yourself, others and life, in general:

A few years ago when I was working at the London Musicians’ Association (LMA), I met a man who had the misfortune of being afflicted with a lifelong disability that affected his motor skills. Despite this, he was passionate about pursuing a career in music. Initial judgment would lead one to believe he was making the best out of a bad situation – that he possessed a rather admirable disposition. But the more I continued to speak with him, the more his positioning of what sociological-dramaturgist Goffman refers to as one’s “front stage self” (ie: the way in which you WANT others to perceive you) broke down.

His reason for contacting me was because he was intent on performing at a variety of local festivals. He claimed he had a massive fanbase, his music had wide appeal and that he was being discriminated against by the organizers of these events due to his physical ailment. At the same time however, he also made it clear that he was not a member of our association and in fact didn’t see much point in becoming one…yet expected our services to be granted to him?

I regretfully explained that unless he was willing to consider membership, there wasn’t much we’d be able to do as our limited resources are reserved for those who maintain regular dues payments. With that said however, as one of the LMA’s services is to investigate “unfair treatment claims” issued by musicians against event organizers, I was happy to look into the case for him.

I simply began by asking him to describe exactly what happened. It didn’t take long for his rather harsh accusations to lose speed.

As he explained to me, he applied to perform at a festival and received a generic rejection letter back, advising him that his music did not fall into the genre categories they were seeking. At this point, I reviewed the letter, the genre categories of the festival and asked him to send me a sample of his music. Wouldn’t you know it? The rejection letter couldn’t be any more to the point.

When I attempted to explain that I, myself along with many other musicians, have faced similar rejections and that I did not see any indication he was being “unfairly” treated, he immediately jumped down my throat and ACCUSED ME TOO of being prejudice against those with disabilities…but it didn’t just end there. When I returned home from work, I found a series of “bitch-out” letters from him in my personal email inbox; he had decided to look up my official website to obtain my contact information to continue this “cyber war.”

While I initially empathized with the fact he obviously underwent many struggles in his life due to his disability and commended him for his musical efforts irrespective of his condition, the revelation of his “backstage self” (ie: who he really is) proved that it was his ATTITUDE NOT his limited physicality that was holding him back in life. Like a spoiled brat, if he didn’t get what he wanted, he’d consistently lash out and label the world as prejudice. Moreover he EXPECTED special treatment – as though the world should revolve around his every wish and command. Sad, but true.

In contrast, a few months ago I came across a “Late Night Show” interview with an amazing teenager named Joanne O’Riordan from Ireland who was born with Total Amelia syndrome: a birth defect that afflicts only SEVEN people in the entire world in which the sufferer has not just limited mobility, but literally NO limbs to speak of. Throughout the broadcast, O’Riordan spoke humbly of the “normal” life she lives and her positive, self-sufficient attitude was more than evident as she drank a beverage without assistance.

She admitted to hating being called an “inspiration” and intends on never allowing her condition to become an “excuse”. Equally however, she explained she is happy to engage others when they ask about her physicality. She aspires to become either a journalist or politician, and with her academic prowess and “can do” attitude, I believe there’s no doubt she will get to where she wants to go. She’s already successfully campaigned against a local MP who was attempting to cut funding toward families who support disabled children.

I welcome you to check you the interview here for yourself: http://www.viduba.com/video:QVFbXRleO5mUxoURVtmUo1UMZdXW31TP

Like all of you, I’ve had many experiences in life where I thought I was beaten down on the ground for good, but somehow I mustered the strength to get back up for another round. The saying is true: “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” BUT there’s an important caveat missing from that expression: “it’ll only make you stronger IF you let it.”

It’s okay to grieve, it’s okay to get upset, it’s even okay to scream at the tops of your lungs if you need to get negativity out of your system. It’s not okay (nor mature) however to allow yourself to be victimized or to become an “excuse” king or queen simply because you don’t always get your way.

To quote a rock musician who upon occasion has something insightful to say, “you don’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might just find you’ll get what you need.”

In conclusion, have an “attitude of gratitude” my friends – you do after all live in one of the most privileged parts of the world.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Vol #1, Col #24: The Best Laid Plans

Col24_BestLaidPlansWhen it comes to developing (and maintaining) psychological maturity, a key ingredient to success is cultivating a sunny disposition. As the words to the theme of Monty Python’s The Life of Brian so smartly prescribe, one should always strive to “look on the bright side of life.” With that said however, equally important is establishing a realistic perception: both of the external world, AND when it comes to yourself and your own capabilities. In other words, don’t bite off more than you can chew and know your limitations.

While this sounds like commonsense advice that wouldn’t require much brain power to follow, if you start to take a tally of your own experiences, you may be surprised by just how many times you’ve succumbed to what social psychologists term, “the planning fallacy.”

As Kahneman and Tversky explain in their 1979 journal article, Intuitive Predictions: Biases and Corrective Procedures, “the planning fallacy is the tendency of individuals to underestimate the duration that is needed to complete most tasks.” Its root causes?
  • The OVERestimation of one’s abilities

  • Focalism: the belief that one’s current task is unique; something that results in a failure to reflect upon past experiences of a similar nature in which there were negative outcomes

  • The failure to consider plausible complications and obstacles
And finally…The conceptualization of the task as one complete activity, rather than acknowledging finalization requires the completion of a series of necessary milestones

As I believe is fairly self-evident, all of the above factors can be attributed to egoism. Humans, because of our natural desire to confirm POSITIVE beliefs about ourselves and therefore maintain a positive self-image, are EXTREMELY biased when it comes to personal evaluation. When a new responsibility is attributed to us, the average mentally healthy individual will accept said task with the belief they will accomplish it easily and quickly, without facing any “jams in the machine”. If the task is associated with a sense of power and/or prestige, our perceptual bias will be even more pronounced because we all want to be able to see ourselves as possessing both characteristics as they make us more “valuable” from an “evolutionary fitness” stance.

On the same token then, it’s no surprise that also due to evolutionary impulses
(specifically to avoid danger), we judge the actions and abilities of others SEVERELY and have a tendency to focus on things that would confirm NEGATIVE beliefs about them. This is particularly true if we perceive an individual(s) as a threat to our security, romantic life or cultural belief system…ergo racism!

Like all things in life, the trick is finding balance. Being confident and holding positive beliefs about oneself and one’s abilities is a GOOD thing. Being cocky and unwilling to own up to your deficits however is NOT (ironically, cockiness is typically rooted in insecurity but that’s a whole nother can of worms). Assessing situations positively too is something we should strive for, but NOT to the extent that you become an eternal optimist/idealist who is unable to evaluate things realistically in terms of the “what if” scenarios.

If life has taught me anything, it’s that you can ultimately NEVER plan enough…or plan for the unexpected. In two words, shit happens.
While we cannot always control that which occurs around us, ongoing personal disappointment can be at least minimized if one is willing to practise introspection. Here, an example from my personal life yet again proves illustrative:

For the past couple of years, I’ve juggled multiple part-time employment schedules in order to earn enough
to both get by and be able to save up for the future. While this may sound like a nightmare scenario to many, believe it or not doing so has actually afforded me more free time to be able to devote to things I’m truly passionate about such as: fulfilling my creative impulses and “keeping house”.

I was recently offered and accepted (foolishly and regrettably) a full-time 9-to-5 type position. Within moments of doing so, I took ill and became overwhelmed not because of the difficulty of the job, but rather because getting up at 6 am meant I had to go to bed by 8:30 pm (at the latest) and going to bed at 8:30 pm meant I no longer had the time nor energy to exercise, cook nice dinners for myself and my spouse, or even clean my house. It didn’t help of course that I was devoting 35 hours a week to something that was sold to me as a “dream job/career opportunity” but turned out to be nothing more than monkey work…but we’ll leave that as a sidebar. Suffice it to say that while the position paid well, I was utterly miserable and felt as though any semblance of a life I previously had had gone by the wayside.

Obviously, this was a pretty major disappointment for me in all regards. It meant that I had given up one of my part-time roles that I truly enjoyed for nothing and it surely didn’t help that I got reamed out by the Head of HR for quitting. On a positive note however, this experience reaffirmed something important about myself: where my priorities truly lay and the kind of lifestyle that works best for me as a result.

Had I practise introspection and honestly evaluated everything prior to taking on the role, this whole song and dance could have been avoided, but my dears there’s no use in crying over spilled milk. The moral of the story? Even perfectionists, such as myself, have to be willing to admit defeat upon occasion.

Friday, 30 September 2016

Vol #1, Col #23: Lost in Translation

Col23_HypocrisyMeterAh, the art of conversation. If only it were as easy to navigate as it’s defined: simply, two or more individuals engaged in dialogue. The problem is that people don’t always express what they’re truly feeling; worse (and what seems to be an ongoing occurrence in my life), some seemingly deliberately attempt to mislead you. Allow me to explain:

A number of months ago, I found myself in a very unfortunate conflict with an individual that is significant in my partner’s life. I dislike being in arguments with anyone, but it adds a whole nother realm of complication to the mix when your partner feels like they’re being torn between two people they really care for.

For obvious reasons, I’d rather refrain from getting into the nitty gritty of our falling out. What I’d like to focus on instead is everything that unfolded after our initial disagreement which only proved to escalate the situation to ridiculous proportions.

To reiterate, I sincerely dislike fighting in ALL capacities. However, I am a very confrontational person by nature. That may sound like a contradiction to you, but what I mean is that I don’t like pussyfooting around situations. I believe in being honest, upfront and trying to solve things as soon as possible, as I know from experience that the longer you leave things unattended, the more they simmer and have the potential to lead to clouded resentment-filled bitchfests.

With all of that said, as soon as the proverbial shit hit the fan between me and this individual, I immediately tried to diffuse things. I explained my side of the story as I felt my intentions had been misinterpreted and I tried to display empathy toward the other person’s case. Despite being told directly by the party in question that everything would be resolved if I’d just “be myself” and “be honest”, I was accused of using “psychobabble”, being condescending as well as disrespectful.

The first thought that crossed my mind of course, was well I do have a Hons. degree in psychology so I kinda have a natural inclination to analyze situations and people’s motives in order to gain a better understanding of this crazy mixed up world we live in… but I digress. Beyond that, I couldn’t help but feel both offended and extremely confused. I mean in my mind, I gave this individual EXACTLY what they asked for, AND YET somehow doing so made the situation worse?!

Now this is classic passive aggressive behaviour: seemingly playing nice only to pull out the claws when you least expect it, and honest people who take others at face value, such as myself, fall for it EVERY single time. Passive aggressiveness commonly develops in childhood in reaction to overbearing/controlling parenting and is ultimately rooted in feelings of EXTREME insecurity.

Three key behavioural characteristics displayed by those who have taken on this form of maladaptive coping are:

1) Victimization (ie: the belief that one is constantly being unfairly attacked by others and is always innocent in the equation)

2) Blaming (ie: the inability to acknowledge responsibility for one’s own actions/consider the perspective of others) and

3) Hypocrisy (ie: inconsistency between one’s expressed thoughts/views/attitudes and one’s actions). It is the latter of these qualities that is of our interest today.

According to Dr. Michael J. Hurd, psychotherapist and personal life coach, “hypocrisy is a symptom of intellectual dishonesty.” In other words, hypocrisy is rooted (surprise, surprise!) in the inability and/or unwillingness to practise introspection. Hurd goes on to elaborate, “an intellectually honest person, confronted with a gap between what he thinks/preaches and practices, will immediately hold a meeting with himself: ‘What's wrong here? Is there some mistake in my idea? Or am I simply not walking the talk, even though I can?’” Given this interpretation of hypocrisy, it’s not surprising that pathological lying (both to others and oneself) is frequently another symptom of passive aggressiveness.

Moral psychologist, Dr. Robert Kurzban, in his article, “A Mind Designed for Hypocrisy” takes the argument one step further. In his view “our minds are designed to identify and even point out other people's moral failings while, at the same time, pursuing our own interests even if doing so means violating the very same rules we want to punish others for violating.” Hypocrisy therefore is “just one way that we [as humans] try to gain strategic advantage in the social world; pursuing our own interests while at the same time trying to stop others from pursuing theirs.”

So perhaps it all comes down thinly-veiled insecurity in the form of “power plays” and bullying yet again? In support of this hypothesis is the fact that it has been noted by many that there is a distinct parallel between holding feelings of superiority/authority and displays of hypocrisy, in that the higher up you are/you perceived yourself to be on the feeding chain, the higher likelihood there is you will engage in hypocritical behaviour.

Kinda makes you wonder whether honesty is truly valued as an admirable quality or rather we just “say” it is? Maybe this calls for a social experiment. The next time you find yourself in one of those daily, “hello, how are you?” interchanges, answer the question unabashedly. You’ll know by the other person’s reaction whether said query was purely propositioned out of obligation to honour what society prescribes as “polite conduct” OR worse if they only asked you so they could be asked in return and have the opportunity to proceed in bragging/ranting about their own current affairs.

In other words, this week’s lesson: psychological maturity is neither selfish nor self-serving. Say what you mean. Mean what you say. And don’t initiate a dialogue if you’re really only interested in listening to the sound of your own voice.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Vol #1, Col #22: Power Tripping

Col22_PowerTripMy whole life I’ve been told, upon first impression, I’m rather intimidating. My whole life, I’ve found this phenomenon rather curious. No, I’m not looking for a good ego-stroking here. Rather, I guess you could say I just find it difficult to come to grips with the notion of being intimidated by another person, in general. We all are after all “the same underneath our skin.”

Given this view, I’m sure you can appreciate I’ve found myself in conflict with authority figures on more than one occasion. But again don’t get me wrong, my feelings do not derive even slightly from a lack of respect toward others. Call me crazy (or perhaps a communist), but I simply feel everyone, irrespective of their station in life, should be treated as you would want to be treated yourself. Further, it is of my humble opinion that a person’s character is not defined simply by the work they do or the position(s) they hold, but instead the kind of life they choose to lead.

This preface brings me to today’s topic at hand: that of power, its uses and abuses, and the psychology behind it. But first I’d like to share with you yet another wonderful anecdote of this melodrama I call my life:

A few months ago, I was doing some subcontracted work for a web/graphic design firm. Despite being computer savvy and having a strong background in both domains, I was relegated to solely handling their administrative paperwork and minor site updates, such as: blog writing (perhaps because I was the only female on the team). I didn’t complain however as I was relatively happy within the work environment and appreciated the supplementary income.

Right from the get-go though, my boss, who was considerably less qualified/educated than me, younger than me and quite evidently the coddled child of a well-off family, took every opportunity to attempt to shoot me down. Initially, I wasn’t sure if he was just kidding around, but I guess you could say I got my answer when I was relieved of my position for merely sticking up for myself.

In front of my fellow coworkers, my boss exclaimed outright that if I were to design a particular item, “no offense, but it would look like shit.” When I corrected him by stating “actually I’m trained in that software and regularly use it for other clients”, I was immediately pulled out into the hallway and told that this was my “final warning” for “having an arrogant attitude.”

I pointed out first and foremost that I had not been given any prior warnings so I found his statement rather confusing (which for certain only pissed him off more!). Secondly, I made it clear I didn’t feel defending myself when I’ve been called out and embarrassed in front of the rest of the staff constituted an “attitude problem.” His response and I quote was, “I said, ‘no offense’.”

Now in this particular instance, it’s difficult to conclude whether my boss had it in for me because
a) he was sexist
b) he was a spoiled brat who believed the world should revolve around him
c) he felt threatened by me or
d) perhaps a combination of all of the above.

Irrespective of this, one thing is for certain: his conduct toward me was unquestionably motivated by feelings of insecurity, inferiority and threat; something that is evident by the fact I was fired for failing to “buy into”/challenging his conception of himself as an authority/powerful figure (and what that power entailed).

In his defense however, perhaps his persuasion of what constitutes appropriate leadership was/is derived from modern society’s countless examples of corporate and political leaders who rely heavily on intimidation tactics/fear/bullying to win support from the general population and who constantly abuse their power, yet seem to face little to no consequences. Ironically, many studies on the subject have noted that “relatability” and “likeability” are key factors to gaining the initial support required to rise to power. Once that power is obtained however, as noted by The Economist, “corruption, a hypocritical tendency to hold others to higher standards of conduct than oneself and a sense of entitlement to abuse the systems in which one lives or works,” tend to reign supreme.

So why then do so many of us lust after it?

Evolutionary psychology would suggest that our desire for power stems from our natural instinct to protect and prolong our own kin. By seeking out and maintaining positions of power, we are in a better position to provide for our loved ones and therefore continue the “survival” of our “species”. As German philosopher Nietzsche explains, all life forms are constantly in battle to inflict their wills upon others, as doing so allows for growth, self-preservation, domination and upward mobility.

Power, in psychological terms, is defined as “the ability to enact your will or influence onto others.” According to Dr. Christopher Heffner, there are five types of power one can possess:
  • Coercive: the power to punish
  • Reward: the power to acknowledge/ recompense
  • Legitimate: power granted by some external authority
  • Expert: power that results from experience or education
  • Referent: power derived from respect or admiration; power attributed through idolization
While power was assigned to our primitive ancestors based on tangible attributes that would clearly benefit the group against external threats (ie: physical strength, size, speed, agility and aggression), in today’s world, power is oftentimes acquired through much more superficial demonstrations of charisma or attractiveness. For example, the US’ current President has proven that being a “good talker” can go a long way… which brings me to my next and final point: the power in words.

French social theorist Foucault alleged that power in society originates through discourse (ie: the discussion of knowledge) as words allow us to conceptualize ideas, which then become beliefs, and in turn lead to actions based on those beliefs. Therefore, power resides with those who ultimately control the public discourse (ie: the media, the educational system, politicians, stakeholders etc).  

The debate about power: who has it, who should have it, what it constitutes and more, could go on indefinitely. I’d like to leave it for today with two final comments:
  • Psychological maturity is knowing when to pick your battles and setting standards in terms of what you will and will not tolerate from others. Yes, I could’ve kept my mouth shut when my boss made that final dig at me, but is my integrity worth sacrificing for an hourly wage? I think not.
  • On the other side of the equation, psychological maturity is also acknowledging that ALL people (and ALL living things for that matter) deserve to be treated respectfully. Believing that you’re superior to others because you happen to be from a certain tax bracket or because you possess certain traits is extremely egocentric. Psychologically mature individuals recognize that each and every one of us has something unique to offer this world. Difference should never been defined in oppositional terms.