A City United

I often use this blog to talk about the importance of respecting differences between people, for we are all different, we cannot not be. Yet there is always more that unites us as human beings, common thoughts and feelings we all share.

Many people in the world have experienced terrorism. Terrorism is directly caused by division and forces that enforce that division. I’m British, the British government have been responsible for some of the worst divisional conflicts in the world: Northern Ireland, the formation of Israel-Palestine, Iraq and Syria and the partition of India. All of these conflicts have bred hate, division and terrorism.

This week I’ve been the closest I’ve ever been to an act of terrorism, the explosion at a pop concert in Manchester. I used to live in Manchester, I attended concerts at the city’s arena where the tragic events took place and i support one of the city’s football teams. I was concerned about my friends who still live in Manchester and their families. After the shock and concern there was a feeling of anger, of frustrations about the inability to get anything done about terrorism. However, the news then turned to the aftermath, such as the Manchester taxi drivers who offered people lifts to safety for free, the people who  helped parents find their children. Even the offer of Manchester United fans to dedicate their UEFA cup win to all of Manchester (I’m a Manchester City supporter myself) was a move towards unity. The sense of the majority of a community coming together in a spirit of unity, that the city would not be broken into division and hate.

Of course, not everyone shared that feeling of unity. There were calls by some to further ostracise the Muslim community, to rally the anger into an increased mistrust of Muslims. Such calls create division and are exactly what causes terrorism in the first place. If you are different and bullied for being so, you can find some solace in groups such as ISIS, to give into anger and share it with others with a similar story. Conflict becomes a vicious spiral where recriminations build and thinks deteriorate into more violence and death.

I can almost hear the criticism of these words by some conservatives of the thoughts of a liberal: That reaching out to people is not the way to resolve these problems. It all comes down to why I really don’t get right wing thinking. To me, the idea that there is one way to be, that one size fits all, just simply doesn’t work.

In Manchester, we like there being two big football clubs because you can find the club that suits you as an individual, but we share a love of Manchester football. I really don’t get why people would support United, but I appreciate that their supporters feel the same way about our lot. When I first starting going to Maine Road, I got a buzz from being accepted by the community of fellow City supporters and singing together about our love of the football club. In particular the feeling of inclusion and solidarity of attending away games in the boisterous away end.As a younger man, there were times I did feel a hatred towards Manchester United. Then I was guided through an acceptance that Manchester United weren’t so different from us after all, that we shared much in common. Indeed both clubs proudly sing versions of the same song ‘Oh Manchester is wonderful!’

In Wales, we seek an economy that allows Wales to grow and flourish, for Welsh culture to thrive  and the one size fits all policies of the government in London simply don’t work. At times I have experienced negative feelings towards England and the English for the history of oppression of Wales and the Welsh. Yet I have learnt that it was never intentional, it was simply an effect of the roundabouts of English politics, Yet I love England and the British Isles as neighbours and fell we shoudl eb working together not against each other. I desire for Welsh autonomy does not have a desire for separation as its motivation.

In Christianity, we all go to different churches because we have found the churches we like that help us be closer to God, yet we appreciate that other people find different paths in different religions, with other styles of worship and spirituality. In churches we also find communities to be a part of and that gives us a strength that can be used to work together to help others.

A one size fits all system, forces people to conform to ideas that don’t quite fit. Encouraging  diversity allows people to find a place of strength which enables them to reach out to understand and respect the different ways of others better. One size fits nobody well.

The real tragedy of Manchester this week is that is was predominantly young people going to a concert by an artist, Ariana Grande, that they found they could relate to, who helped them find a sense of themselves and then experience the joy of celebrating the artist with other like-minded young people, just like a football match or a religious service. Yet, many of them lost their lives that night, due to the actions of a man, who hadn’t found his place in the world and people to share with, who was unable to then reach out to understand and help others, a person who could only find solace in a community of division, separating themselves off from the world, so lost that he took on their creed of vengeance on the world that had shut him out.

This was also the week of the death of Ian Brady, the Moors murderer. A man from Manchester who also murdered young people. It is also possible to view this troubled man as finding some kind of relief for his personal problems in killing and burying his victims on the Moors. As a society we should not exclude people or leave people behind.

Yes, it is sometimes a challenge to realise that those who make things harder for you or your community or indeed kill innocent children are not acting out of hatred to your kind, but are dealing with their own problems and you are the unfortunate victim. We are all victims sometimes of unfairness. The bully is never truly evil, but someone expressing rage about not finding their place the world, someone to take their own frustrations out on. The difficult part is realising how you are different and then finding ways to live at peace and friendship with those different from you. The task is to prevent people getting so lost and confused in the first place and not attacking them for where they have ended up, having failed to provide an inclusive society. A society that doesn’t divide it’s people but one that returns us to a culture where people are not ignored, where you will be picked up if you fall down. It isn’t always easy, as a species we still have a lot to do.

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Awakenings

Waking up to a new day, a new start, a whole day of possibilities is a very wonderful thing. However, it often doesn’t feel like it, often we are worried about all sorts of things or just feel like we can’t face it this morning. So, when we go to bed there is a sense of not knowing what things will be like in the morning. For those who suffer from anxiety or depression this sense of the unknown is not a neutral thing, it grinds us down with excessive worrying.

Waking up in a broader figurative sense, with a full realisation that much of your own worries are unnecessary, turns those rare happy bouncy days into somethign more regular, more likely. When there is a bad day, there is a real reason for it, such as bad news. This is what waking up from or recovering from anxiety is like, the troubles come from the world rather than from inside ourselves.

Perhaps the greatest thing about not being anxious anymore is being able to feel with other people, to be on the same track as other people some of the time, to share success together or even endure bad times together on the same emotional wavelength. This enables a real sense of connection with other people, enabling you to be open with people and it not to be terribly inappropriate and enabling you to empathise with what others are communicating to you.

To be anxious is to be living with a big shield around you, it’s stops people getting in and stops you getting out. It’s a pointless shield, cutting yourself off from your own emotions and those of people you care about. Of course you need to protect yourself from chaos, but some trust in the world and other people is necessary, you have to go an journey and trust that it will be all-right, that there aren’t monsters lurking around the corner. I think that in the modern world to increase trust in the world at the very time the world is becoming less trustworthy as our sense of community is under attack

This is what recovery from anxiety gives you. The first flush of super positivity and energy from getting there is amazing. Once you get used to it you realise some quite important things.

Firstly that modern society has got it so wrong, we are all increasingly living in our own worlds, we are not communities that bond together and share the ups and downs, we are on our own rides, much like the person suffering anxiety or depression.

Secondly, a sense that we post-anxiety people are always going to be on this different ride, simply because all those years we have suffered anxiety and cut ourselves off from the world we have learned social skills in a much different way to other people. We have learnt social rules in an academic way, through trial and error, to find ways of getting by and causing the least damage to ourselves and to other people. Whereas the non-anxious learn more ‘naturally’ with their feelings bouncing off others feelings and finding what works well, rather than what limits damage.

The difficulty with getting older is that we have more responsibilities and less time to play, less time to learn, so there is a sense of knowing that we will never really catch up with these abilities, the shadow of anxiety will always remain with us. This is compounded by the fact that other people do find it odd that as a more mature person you are acting like someone much younger and you just have to blot that out to keep learning and not drift back to anxiety.

It’s unlike learning a second language, where you can put the time and effort in to catch up on the language skills. Yet, second language learners know they will never quite gain that true fluency that comes from learning a first language. It’s like second language speakers miss out on being a child in that second language. Even though we can play like a child in the language we will never be children in the language. I think it’s a different thing with learning Welsh and being Welsh because many of us are learning a language that we wish we had been brought up in, rather than learning a foreign language to better explore a different culture somewhere else in the world. There is a sense of it being bizarre to learn a ‘native’ language later in life. Yet it isn’t!

It isn’t because it’s the same thing as overcoming anxiety, it’s learning a set of skills that we should have learnt when we were much younger. But, you can’t be young again, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still learn and make your own life better.

Anyway, I’m off to live in a closed community for a week, an immersion week of Welsh only, no English, no other languages, just Welsh, kind of trying to experience growing up in Welsh! I’m really looking forward to it, it’s such a rare thing outside of families and when grown up and so very special.

Oh, and the UK is suddenly having a General Election. I have so much to say about that. It seems to be about a battle for Britain and those of us who feel a part of Britain, whether Welsh, Scots, Cornish, Northumbrian or even just English, of those for Britain and those against. Those who seek to divide and those who seek unity. Those against Britain are miles ahead in the polls, it’s very disturbing, so I feel that I should do whatever I can for the dear people of these isles. Anyway, but that’ll be for when I’m back here at this keyboard and knocking on people’s doors. If you are in the UK and thinking about voting Tory or UKIP, please please please please think very hard about whether that choice is really the best for Britain.

Hwyl fawr tan tro nesaf / Goodbye until next time

Privileged Ignorance & Harrassment

I am a privileged white male. As such I haven’t ever really suffered from discrimination or harassment. I have never been racially abused or been sexually discriminated against. I have on occasion suffered a little homophobia from men who presumed I was gay.

Yet, in spite of this privilege, I have suffered from anxiety. I have been hyper-sensitive to discrimination that never really came my way, it was all in my own head. Having overcome this anxiety I ran into a new problem, that people were still behaving peculiarly around me, notably women and something seemed to be triggering it. This issue vexed me greatly and had me going around in circles trying to work it out for years, wondering if I had overcome anxiety after all.

I eventually worked out that the reason for the shift in the behaviour by these women, was that they had decided that I was seeking a relationship with them. The thing is, i wasn’t seeking a relationship, well no more than I do with everyone. I mean I wasn’t trying to force a closer or indeed a sexual relationship. Yet once they had ‘decided’ this, their behaviour towards me changed completely. In itself this isn’t a problem, the problem was that it bugged me for not knowing why the behaviour had changed and made me anxious again.

However, most of us are attracted to other people and it is a ego boost, a positive thing when we discover that other people are attracted to us. However the reaction to me seemed something much stronger, much darker and more sinister.

The answer dawned on me one evening in London. I was following a man and a woman down the street, they seemed to be having an argument. This seemed quite a normal occurrence until the man stopped and walked the other way, he seemed almost instantly calm as if he didn’t know the woman. It then dawned on me that perhaps he didn’t know this women, who was striding purposefully on, looking straight ahead, you would at least think about looking around to a friend or partner who had left an argument. I then realised that he may have been simply harassing her, or giving unwanted attention to this woman and quite possibly sexual harrassment.

This may well have been an everyday incident on a city street. However it was new to me and I began wondering how much abuse has been taking place in front of my eyes, yet somehow I had been blissfully ignorant of it.

If you are lucky never to have really been abused, you do not know what it is like, or what it looks like. If you live within a privileged bubble, such events are not on your radar. Being a reasonably educated person, I tend to socialise with other educated people, so this world of discrimination and abuse must happen elsewhere outside this bubble. So safely enconsed in this privileged bubble we don’t even notice such abuses when they may be right in front of us.

The thing is, I’ve been an anxious person and am highly sensitive, why hadn’t I noticed all this going on before. If I hadn’t noticed it, then surely it must be even harder to spot for more conventional white males whom are more central in the white male privilege bubble.

This revelation opened up this horrid tawdry world of abuse that exists everywhere. In particular, it made me realise the shit that women have to put up with, probably on an almost daily basis. If you are regularly harassed you are going to develop strategies to protect yourself.

Hence, I had stumbled upon the reason why these women were behaving strangely towards me. They were detecting cues and clues for potentially abusive behaviour from me and raised their guard. This was such an amazing relief for me to uncover, there wasn’t anything wrong with me, I really didn’t need to be anxious! There was no reason, or anything about me as a person that was being  guarded against, but simply a manifestation of how awfully too many of my ‘fellow’ white males behave.

The great thing about this, is I can now detect it. So, when I start seeing a lady being uncomfortable with me, I am able to recognise it and back off and fortunately this doesn’t mean  I end up in uncomfortable situations anymore or lose friendships because of it anymore. I am aware of my own privilege, though I view it as a curse, it has clouded from me truths about the world. I am always welcoming people who are not members of this odd group of people called ‘white males’ into my circles and am always amazed now by how happy  people are to accept white males into their circles despite the potential increased risk of abuse.

I want my country back

This phrase has been heard numerous times over the course of the UK EU referendum. I have wondered what exactly it means to the people who utter it. Most accounts of this phenomena describe it as a  nostalgia for a society from the past, for simpler times and a desire for some of those elements to make a return. This is a sentiment to which anyone over over a certain age can relate to at some point.

For some it is a desire for a monocultural monoethnic conformist world where everyone thinks and behaves the same way. Quite why anyone would want that is beyond me, I grew up in such a world and hated it, I couldn’t wait to get away and explore the world. This view betrays a fear of the different, a fear of our fellow human beings. We are all different, so such a view just seems nasty.

However, often this nostalgia is for positive things. A friend and I of similar age were talking about growing up when we just went off exploring with our friends, climbing trees, building elaborate dam systems in local streams, making complex underground maze systems in barns full of straw bales, generally getting very muddy indeed. As long as we made it to someone’s house in time for tea or not home before it got dark, we were not reprimanded  (well only about getting muddy and we sensed our parents didn’t really mind, that the criticism was for forms sake). This is a world that can be longed for. a world where children are not stuck inside, lacking socialising with their peers, exploring themselves and the world around them. Longed for because it was a healthier childhood.

This EU referendum has highlighted this desire for better things from the past, such as affordable housing, education, secure employment or food. however it seems that instead of looking for the fundamental reasons why, much of British society is now worse, people are instead looking for someone else to blame, in this case immigrants (whoever they are, as we are all immigrants). There was a video on YouTube of a man being shouted at in Bristol to be told to ‘Go back where you came from?’, to which he replied ‘Do you mean Cardiff? [where he was from!]’. I don’t understand why anyone would blame people for things, or specifically people who are in some way different, for the problems. It is systems, governmental policy, not thinking things through, that are the problem.

A hatred of people, creates it’s own destructive downward spiral. Once you start blaming ‘other people’, you disconnect yourself from other people. This is highly dangerous and antagonistic. This is the force that creates terrorist groups such as ISIS, who hate everyone who is not a member of their group. So, people then hate ISIS, which leads to hatred of the people in ISIS, then fuzzy thinking and group-think take hold and suddenly it is all Muslims who are to blame, then all Arabs, then one day you have a referendum on membership of the EU where the debate becomes about immigration. Culminating in today, where a MP (member of the UK parliament) was shot by a gunman because he apparently disagreed with his locally elected MPs views.

For me, the country I want back is one of respect and tolerance. Where you behave as you see fit, without fear that some maniac isn’t going to shoot you, where children will return home at the end of the day.  A world where extremism, such as Nazi Germany was something we read about in history books.

This modern curse of extremism affects all of us, whoever we are, wherever in the world we might be. Last week another gunman killed around fifty people in a nightclub in Orlando, USA. Once we got over the shock that another fifty lives had been lost to this extremist disease, we realised that this was an attack on the LGBT community. I am not a member of the LGBT community and being a white, male heterosexual I haven’t encountered or really able to empathise with such discrimination. Anyway the attack was in a LGBT nightclub. LGBT nightclubs are safe spaces, places where members of the LGBT community can be themselves, with less fear. If you are not discriminated against you don’t know what it is like. I’m only really getting my head around this myself.

Last year I was in Germany. I was walking down the street and a guy shoulder charged into me and ran off. I turned to my friend (my host in Germany) to ask what had happened. He said “Well if you are going to walk around in a floral shirt, this sort of thing happens”. I was wearing a floral shirt and it was pointed out to me that almost all the German men wore striped shirts. It wasn’t for being Welsh, or foreign that I was charged at, but because my attacker assumed that I was LGBT. This incident didn’t affect me, I continued to enjoy my holiday. However if such things were a regular occurrence, an everyday thing, I would feel more and more excluded and perhaps seek out safe spaces where all the other non-stripey shirted people went.

So it seems that extremism enforces sub-cultures, which is the opposite of this nice simple world everybody really wants. So to get out of extremism perhaps requires strange things to happen.

And then there’s me. I have written about how I used to be an extremely anxious person. Someone who tried to exist in the shadows, not stand out, not say what I really thought. I tried to say and do what I thought people expected me to do, but I couldn’t, I failed at this, it is just easier to be myself. I was behaving as if I was being discriminated against, when I wasn’t at all, so I was really happy to realise that I am able to be myself, to do such things as cry when Wales loses to England at the football as I did today. However I have since learned how much of this awful discrimination there really is. It’s not just race, it’s gender, sexuality, age, nationality and many other things. There is this ‘expectation’ that we are supposed to be able to conform to, but no-one can say what this conformity actually is, or what it is for? Traditional values? like living in mudhuts, scraping a living off the land with no modern tools? Following one interpretation of a contradictory religious text, written thousands of years ago, when most people did live in mudhuts?

It’s quite simple, there is nothing wrong with respecting other people. Jesus taught that we should respect other people, why do so many ‘Christians’ act contrary to Jesus? Respect has to be learned. We do all get angry. Anger wells up for all sorts of reasons: when we hear people whistling when our national anthem is sung or when a gunman shoots a hard working woman with two young children. We all get angry.

Anger does not have to lead to hatred, we should all learn to control our anger. Like as children climbing a tree when the branch starts to break because of our weight, after getting to safety our first instinct was to blame the tree! We learn the folly of anger. When our football team loses, we don’t hate the winners, we learn to walk away knowing that our day will be some another day, when a gunman goes on a gun rampage in Florida, we do not blame the non-LGBT community, we feel sorrow for those with lost loved ones. When a politician is killed, though we do really get angry at politicians a lot of the time, we appreciate that they are a human being too and that the gunman is a flawed human being too, just like the rest of us.

So, lets stop blaming the tree. Lets go back to a world where we listen to each other with respect, where we exclude no-one, where our mothers would scold us if we ignored the new kid, where we don’t have problem with people being different as we are all different.

 

 

 

Curing Masculinism

You do occasional here about so called ‘masculinism’ these days as a ‘response’ to feminism, from people who don’t appear to understand feminism in the slightest. As a male myself, collectively men seem so far behind women in getting over trying to be something expected of us by our birth gender role. Both men and women are swamped by images of how what our gender should dress like, behave, enjoy etc. and if you don’t quite fit within this definition or at least play along with it, tough, you’re an outcast. Not only is this limiting and destructive, it is so boring and limiting. For example the idea that I grew up with that ‘Boys don’t cry’, beautifully parodied by my favourite band ‘The Cure’. It took me years before I regained the ability to cry when I was upset. How is it great and ‘manly’ to not feel sad about sad things because we are ‘tough’ that we are don’t want to be affected by anything or have to actually deal with it. So many men, never get over this restriction.

Children very quickly pick up these gender stereotypes and very quickly conform to them. There is evidence to suggest that this conformity is the child demonstrating that they have understood. Society does indeed seem to encourage the development of ‘masculine’ traits for boys and ‘feminine’ ones for girls. However in Western culture particularly we have started to question these gender roles. Really, back in ‘cavemen’ times [or should it be cavepeople? oh wait they didn’t actually live in caves (sic)] it helped society together than the generally larger stronger sex went out hunting. However in an increasingly urban world, there is no need to encourage hunting skills, so why does society have this tendency to stick with these traditions?

Then there is a form of sexism that some men have of expecting women to behave in a ‘feminine’ way, which I don’t get at all. The logic seems to be well I have chosen to conform to a definition of masculinity, so I expect everyone else to conform this way too, even the other gender.Or is it more than this, there is this idea to teach people to conform as the idea as doing this will make your life easier, you will fit in and not stand out. However, it seems that these days success is achieved by the people who do stand out, who do take a different direction.

Often other men ask me “But don’t you like women wearing pretty dresses?” because what I find attractive in women, doesn’t fit the algorithm for how it seems most mean assess or a woman’s attractiveness.

Well I do like women wearing pretty dresses, wearing make up and having done something with their hair, but, only if I have seen them wearing normal clothes first. I like to see the change, the difference. Because most of the time the most attractive thing to me a lady can wear is jeans and a woolly jumper.

As a biologist I have spent some time working in jungles. Working in a jungle is hot and damp and in order to protect the ecosystem we don’t wash clothes in ‘modern’ detergents and th eonly way of gettign them dry is for them to get very smoky drying by a fire. So our clothes are always stained, and holey (from brushing past spiky plants regularly). This did not prevent me from finding some of my female companions attractive. When the project was over and everyone returns to a city, there is often a final social get together in a restaurant before everyone goes home. There is an opportunity to wash properly, wear clean clothes and often the women put on make-up. For me these are special times, to be able to see women I’ve been working for for several weeks in a completely new light. They are not more attractive than they were before, it’s just nice to see them having done something with their appearance. However I gather from other men that they suddenly notice how attractive these women are, I don’t get this at all.

I visited Germany last year. In a sense it was wonderful as the women in Germany dress normally (dress down?) most of the time and usually only have a few dresses for dressing up once in a while. I did indeed think that this was a place I would like to live, a society where my preferences were less different. Having said that a guy shoulder charged me for wearing a floral shirt, anyway German men dress appallingly, stripes everywhere) However some people complain that such Northern European women are somehow ‘less feminine’. They are just as feminine as women anywhere else, what perhaps they mean is that such women do not conform to some traditional view of femininity as in other places.

There are some obvious avenues to explore to explain this. Firstly Northern Europe is densely populated and industrialised a long time ago, so there is a bigger gap to a world where hunting was possible, the culture has had time to develop in new post-industrial ways. Secondly there is language. I’m been learning Welsh recently. Welsh like many other Indo-European languages assigns nouns a gender, masculine and feminine. So the language itself encourages speakers to view things in a gendered way. It is interesting that each language assigns these slightly differently, but there is a broadish conformity with traditional ideas of gender. However, in the Germanic languages of English and I believe the Scandinavian languages, this focus on gender has been lost or is rapidly disappearing. For example we now use ‘they’ for a person of unknown gender, or when the gender is not important (even in Welsh nowadays), whereas in Spanish, such a ‘they’ is masculine, unless the group only consists of females (‘ninos’ (male or mixed group of children) and ‘ninas’ (female only group of children).

How gender is dealt with is hugely complicated. We still live in a world where there are gender expectations. If for whatever reason you don’t fit the traditional roles, you have to find a way to deal with the stereotyping. Personally I have got myself into difficulties with women  who have misinterpreted my attention as seeking a relationship with them. I don’t know whether it is always a mistake to let women know that you find them attractive and then quickly ascertain that they are not interested in exploring a relationship with myself or not. However I often find that some women continue to believe I am seeking a relationship when continuing a non-sexual relationship. It is difficult, because I now see how much negative attention women get from men that is pursuing a relationship. It’s kind of like I had to come to terms with being different and to not be concerned that I was being treated in a seemingly strange way.

I think my conclusion that a traditional model of what masculinity and femininity is not wrong, or something that needs to be cured or got over, however not thinking about it at all can have negative consequences. If you happen to fit in, that is a wonderful gift, yet it is still worth understanding how much of that is really you, how much you are happy to conform and find out where you are different. What I would suggest though is that we do all need to discover who we are for ourselves and not blindly adopt roles. Even if you are an outsider, to function socially you require an understanding of the way the majority behave; which is perhaps why children learn gender roles at a young age. Essentially what I am saying that understanding is good and that we need to understand ourselves better and also find what grounds us, what roots us to ourselves and our communities, to realise that everyone else may be on such a journey too.  We should not criticise others for their choices in how they ground themselves, but we should be wary when others try and pressure people to behave to conform.

 

 

Coming Out

One of the main problems with being anxious is a fear of being misunderstood. This fear can be so pervasive that it prevents the anxious person from being themselves expressing how they really feel. so, the anxious person will hide their true feelings, act in a way removed from their real lives. The anxious person has created a wall between the world and themselves. The anxious are sensitive people who don’t like to cause upset to others.

Progress in overcoming anxiety is often hampered by genuine misunderstanding. Often the anxious person is different, is unconventional, so people may not understand them. This is often why being a social outsider is challenging because socially there isn’t often the time or opportunity to make it clear where you are coming from, what the back story behind how you are acting or what you are expressing stems from. Really, convention does hold everyone back, it stops people listening and humans often seem to be hard-wired to leap to a quick conclusion. Thus outsiders are generally at a social disadvantage, unless communicating with fellow outsiders, leading them into sub cultures of fellow outsiders.

Regardless of whether someone is an outsider or not, anxiety itself causes exactly the same problems,  the fear of being misunderstood holds the person back and they send out unclear unconventional signals.

When I was an anxious person, all I wanted to do was be myself, do what I wanted to do and express how I really felt. Essentially, the anxious person wants to ‘come out’ to make a statement to the world:

“I am going to be myself, express how I really feel, do what I want to do. I know that sometimes some of you will misunderstand me, I’m happy to explain, but the fact that you misunderstand me is actually your problem, it’s not mine anymore.”

Having taken this step, it is a very liberating step and there is a sense of release and for a while, you can be too open, seem over-excited by little things, because of this it seems that there is a greater misunderstanding of you. So, there is a temptation to ‘crawl back into your shell’. however it is important to push on, such a person is new at being themselves publicly, they are new to a whole different way of socialising, it takes practice to re-develop social skills in a new way, to learn when it is appropriate to talk about themselves and to learn when it isn’t necessary or important.

 

 

 

‘Starman’ 1947-2016 RIP

Let the children lose it

I was very sad to hear of the passing of David Bowie this morning, an artist I love whom has helped me understand this crazy world that little bit better. Listening to his music helps me feel that it okay to be perturbed by the world, that it is positive to let go and get angry at the world sometimes. Bowie was perhaps the most popular artist for all the outsiders of the world.

Let the children use it

I have also been heartened today by the outpourings of admiration and mourning of Bowie, by so many people. I simply wasn’t aware quite how many people’s lives Bowie has touched with his music. Bowie wasn’t a simple artist, he commented thoughtfully on so many aspects of life and he has helped lots of people use those reflections to make sense of their own lives. Bowie was, for an outsider, immensely popular, because the majority of people are outsiders in many various ways, so people used his music to help them understand that it was okay to be different and more importantly to openly express those differences. Really, it’s been a wonderful where all the fans and appreciate just how many of us there are of his music have been able to share their thoughts

Let all the children boogie

Of course, it wasn’t just the artistic expression of facets of life that made Bowie one of the true greats of rock music, it was the music itself. Bowie’s music whilst innovative still had great tunes, great bass lines and is music one can return to again and again and feel free to dance and fully embrace the music. Like how as people after reflection upon ourselves, confirming that we are ok as people, we can let those troubles go and have a good old boogie.

I was very lucky to see Bowie in concert in Seattle, USA, to dance to the music I grew up with on the other side of the world, in another country where their were many other people who shared in the Bowie magic.

 

Outside ‘One size fits all’

If this blog has a theme, it concerns the issues surrounding being an outsider; being a member of a minority in society. The world seems to be bound by the idea that ‘one size fits all’ as an efficient way of running society, but, what happens when the ‘one size doesn’t fit all’, what happens to the misfits. Often misfits struggle with not fitting in and as I used to do think that the problem lies within us as an individual. However, as I have learned, misfits can resolve the problem of being a misfit by accepting who they are, be comfortable of being in a minority, that if people have a problem with them then that is an issue for the other person, not themselves, that it is an issue that doesn’t need resolving. People can ‘not fit’ in many ways such as, physically, psychological type, sexuality or cultural background.

I have suggested that everyone is in a minority in some aspect of their lives. If an individual only has a small number of things that don’t fit, this is perhaps the state of the majority. It is fairly easy to compensate for for a small number of aspects by compromising or counterbalancing for the issues economically or by lifestyle choices. Then there are extreme cases where people struggle to fit in so much they fail to live happy productive lives.

It is important to note that being an outsider isn’t a choice, it is something one finds themselves saddled with. For example, I’m 6’2″ tall, I had no choice, but I have to live in a world of chairs and tables that are too low and too small, a clear example of how ‘one size fits all’ doesn’t work, perhaps it should  be ‘one size fits most people, sorry if you are in the minority who doesn’t fit’. If you are designing a bus, a train, a plane, a theatre, a workplace, then part of the brief will be to deliver to a budget, so one size of seating makes sense economically. However there should be means by which the short and the tall can resolve this. For example, one can obtain a taller bigger chair and put bricks under the desk to raise it’s height. such adaptations have a price and perhaps the misfit should shoulder the associated costs. This works and is fair if everyone else has to make similar costly adaptations elsewhere in their lives. however in a global world of increasing standardisation, more and more people are left dealing with a world that doesn’t fit for them. you can only compromise so much, until it gets to the point that the individual suffers too much and is overly burdened with the costs of fitting in.

Politically, the failure of ‘one size fits all’ can be a problem too on a much bigger scale. In the UK we have had right wing government for over 30 years. As a centrist, I have been perplexed by why people keep electing them, as the the number of people who benefit from their policies dwindles. The theory Ive adopted is that right wing and left wing people are fundamentally different types psychologically. Political parties formed to serve these two predominant types.

The right wing ideal is a state of competition, where people engage in a competition and strive to win, the rewards of winning being status and economic wealth. If someone isn’t in the top half, they should try harder and be helped to do better in the competition.

The left wing ideal is a state on cooperation, where people work together to achieve benefits for society rather than the individual, the benefits being a sense of usefulness in a  society where things improve. Those who try and take more than their share are shunned.

I have previously argued that neither of these doctrines is perfect and certainly not perfect for all. You end up with left wingers in competitions that spend all their effort helping other players and right wingers refusing to play as a team and seek individual glory; both doctrines require compromise for the good of the team. Or to put it another way lefties have improving society as their goal and if competition helps then that is fair enough, for righties competition is the goal and if society improves as a by-product then that is good.Then you have introverts and extroverts who operate in different ways and don’t understand each other. Such an analysis helps me understand why I am a left-leaning centrist or Social Democrat. Lefties, operate in a market driven world as a compromise and often work for social goals in their spare time as compensation.

Often when I consider political issues, I try and revert the situation to a pre-industrial rural village society. Genetically, this is how humans evolved and how natural communities operate. Each community has individual with a range of traits, the interaction between individuals contribute to the net benefit of the community as a whole. At such a scale being an outsider is usually less of a problem, The carpenter can make a larger or smaller chair. Individuals find their place in society and the rest of society knows that individual, their strengths and weaknesses, individual naturally drift to roles (jobs) that suit them and adapt the roles to suit there needs. There is time and space to listen and work with individual needs in close knit communities, to make things of more than one size. So, when you have a post-industrial society, the individual struggles to find their place, particularly if they are an outsider, larger societies are too big to adapt for them. Indeed how the economy works tends to suit such groups as the extroverts, the right-wingers, the urban populations, whichever groups become dominate by the artificiality of directions in human society. At such a level it is harder for the outsiders to be as economically valuable, the ‘one size’ fits fewer and fewer people and society fragments.

This direction of society towards conformity, to tryannies of an ever decreasing majority is arguably becoming less efficient. Biological communities survive when biodiversity is high, these enables the community to adapt, for minority traits to solve crises. A community with only one dominant trait can be wiped out, when the environment changes. In terms of human society, non-dominant solutions arising from diversity are perhaps becoming less able to implemented as dominant views become entrenched. Often instead of being listened too, minority views are considered ‘awkward squad’.

All this compromise of lifestyle by individuals makes them less efficient workers. As more people become less efficient, the whole economy becomes less efficient. This seems to be borne out by data suggesting that the productivity of UK workers is in decline. My point is that compromise is important but too much compromise causes less economic efficiency and prosperity.

Inside Out

Writing about personality types recently, the implication is that personality is fixed and doesn’t change. Personalities do change, some aspects of of personality are amplified and others reduced. Some of these changes may be short term or long term. Whilst personalities change, the person doesn’t. It isn’t the fundamental person that changes, just positions on various personality spectra may be shifted

A core of personality is probably genetic. The rest is formed through  experience. I identified myself as an intuitive thinker, one whose focus is internal, thought is dominantly channeled through the self, rather than externally. It is perhaps ironic that those who live internally are viewed as the outsiders.

Having identified a internal – external thought pattern spectrum, why do minds tend to select a dominant way of thinking? People choose what works empirically, a mode of thinking is preferred if it provides a more reliable way of solving problems. It is not efficient to spend all ones time on metacognition, so people accept general rules to govern their thinking, come to accept positions, because they work reasonably well.

In a sense a speciality is developed. Ecologically, in dense communities (such as humans) having a speciality is often useful and a part of sustaining communities. Nonetheless, having general skills to use when the speciality is unhelpful is always useful, it is important not to exclusively rely on one mode of operation.

Balance is important, sometimes these systems each mind works out for itself, break down, they fail to solve problems we encounter. Sometimes a radical shift in focus solves a problem. Personally, using more external thinking helped solve some major problems I was having, by looking at patterns in wider society. This is not to suggest that external thinking is superior as it works in  both directions.

Last night, I re-watched one of my favourite films, ‘Heathers‘. In this film the protagonist, Veronica Sawyer, is popular in high school, yet she is unhappy with adoption of the rules of this lifestyle as she has an internal mental life as well. She acquires a boyfriend who recruits her into killing the problematic popular people in her life. By presenting the murders as suicides the vapid popular people are presented as only acting out popular roles to hide their own inner turmoil. Underneath this are the rest of the school, those not at the top of the popularity ladder, with there own insecurities, who are faced with knowing that the ‘popularity’ they have aspired for is not the life of carefree happiness they were dreaming of, which would solve the problems produced by their insecurities.

Generally, the film presents the problem of overly internal thinking. When faced with a problem, the internal thinker, looks within themselves for the source of the problem, to fix it. So, when no problem is detected, the idea generated is that they are wrong in some fundamental way, but don’t know why. Creating a desire to escape from this internal fear to an external world that promises to be problem free (which of course it isn’t).

I was like this, once I realised that the problem was an external one and not an internal one, I felt fixed! Being able to turn off the internal monologue and connect more intensely with external data is liberating. Essentially this seems like an argument for never fixing ideas, ensuring space for other ways of thinking to be allowed to work on problems. Balance is really important.

Another spectra is the sexuality one. Technically, everyone is on a spectrum between heterosexuality and homosexuality, so we should all be pansexuals. The majority of people identify as either heterosexual or homosexual. Looking to my history, there was a period as a young teenager where there was some sexual attraction to boys in addition to a dominant preference for girls. however after a year or so this bisexuality seemed to disappear. I seemed to have decided on heterosexuality as this made things simpler for me, I had adopted it as a rule. This isn’t a case of denying my own sexuality, rather adopting a rule that works well.

Tribes

Human beings have always been tribal by nature. People exist as part of tribes that offer support and a sense of belonging. There has always been a balance between competition and cooperation between tribes. This phenomena exists in other animals, whilst there is some aggression between tribes, there is a respect, because  those in the neighbouring tribe are often cousins. For example males who go off to mate in a nearby tribe to avoid in-breeding. In modern society, we are still tribal, the system has developed so that often we are a member of many different tribes, from the family unit to ones that cross international boundaries.

I love team sports. Principally I love football and rugby. I enjoy being part of the team, when I play in a team I give everything I can to the team. I also support professional teams. Supporting professional teams provides two services to me as an individual. There is the tribal sense of belonging and desire for the team to do well. There is also the interest and awe of observing professionals demonstrate skills and tactics, beyond my own skill level.

Watching professional sport is also akin to attending music concerts. Again there is the sense of belonging to the tribe of people who venerate particular musicians and the shared joy of listening with like minded souls. The ability to be positive about a particular style without an overly critical response. Arguably this could also apply to religion, career paths or genres of books and films I particularly like.

People sometimes find it strange that I support three football clubs. I grew up in rural Wales, lacking professional football teams. There was no football tribe that I already belonged to, so I ended up supporting three different tribes. I am lucky in that all three of my teams play in blue and white. The three clubs are different sizes and play at different levels of the football pyramid, so each offers a different interest. In rugby, I am more conventional, i support my home town team and my national team. Being Welsh this is mandatory, unless you really dislike the sport. In this sense I was already part of the tribe before I understood the game of rugby.

Whilst fierce rivalries exist between my teams and others. The huge passions evoked during a match are quickly put aside to join the bigger tribe of people who appreciate rugby/ football.

What is perhaps interesting sociologically is that in football I chose the teams to support. I didn’t actively choose through some analysis of the game or the relevant merits of each team, the teams I chose happened somewhat passively, accidentally. However, I have written in this blog about my status as an outsider, yet I strongly identify with these team tribes. Perhaps because I used to have an unfulfilled need to feel a sense of belonging. It is also interesting in that the football teams I support, historically are the big underachievers, the sleeping giants, often overshadowed by bigger more successful local rivals. So, whilst I didn’t actively choose the football teams I support, something in my personality drew me to them, this sense of the outsider and the joy of being welcomed into a big tribe of outsiders.

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The Manchester City tribal home. “We all live in a sky blue stadium!”

The biggest football team I support, the one I have been the most passionate about is Manchester City. In recent years, something very odd has occurred. They became a rich and successful club, actually winning things like the FA cup and  English Premier league titles. To be honest, I find this a little strange and unworldly, yet am wonderfully pleased by the success. I remember being at a game and the bloke next to me was getting very stressed and vocal about the teams performance against a rival team for the Premier league title. A fellow fan quipped “Don’t worry mate, we’re still in the play-offs!” a reference to the clubs recent past struggling to get back into the higher divisions. To me finishing second for Manchester City still feels like a big achievement.

Supporting football and rugby teams, historically has been about community, specifically working class communities. Life was tough, though there was a sense of solidarity. The achievements of the communities representatives in the sporting arena, when the team won, would provide a sense of joy and pride that would fill the week with positivity until the next game. The success or failure of the team/tribe provides a roller-coaster ride of ups and downs quite separate from the individuals life. In everyone’s struggle to be positive and happy, it is sometimes very useful to have something outside the self to provide extended uplifts or short bursts of sorrow to help keep ones own moods in perspective.