This website has focused on the small and safe experiments each of us can do to make change in our lives.
The truth is there are larger issues that are beyond a personal experiment. Sometimes only whole communities can ‘experiment’. It would appear that 2016 was a year when both the US and the UK embarked on such an enterprise. We now have the ‘results’ from the Trump experiment and we are watching the outcome of Brexit as it is evolves.
Sometimes we need to step back and look at the large picture. To date (February 2021) I have not mentioned a factor that undermines the effectiveness of any personal experiment.
It can impact badly on our ability to build on a series of small victories.
It can foster small defeats.
This factor goes by the label – structural inequality: this means that each person does not have equal access to resources needed to solve their problems. Our communities are governed by unexamined ideologies that permit – indeed, encourage – those inequalities. Several theories that inform psychology ignore and disrespect the impact of social and material inequalities on the outcome of therapy. So evident was this problem, that some individuals made a big thing about it; consider the work of Szasz, Laing and the ‘anti-psychiatry’ movement. They are mentioned elsewhere – when I discuss “self-liberation” – even if it is given insufficient coverage.
Those resources we need to make change are not always personal – that is, ones related to our motivation, resilience, desire or sheer ability. Too often there is too little money and compassion to get by, and a large minority hang on to wealth that is not available to most people.
Here’s a wild statistic:
The 26 richest people on earth in 2018 had the same net worth as the poorest half of the world’s population, that is, some 3.8 billion people. This is a statistic from Oxfam. I suspect it is now worse, courtesy of the public health crisis of 2020-2021.
On a smaller scale, consider my own hourly rate, as a psychologist, when that is compared to some-one on the UK national minimum wage. Even though my awareness of the differences motivates me to by do ‘pro bono’ work, or offer free services and reduced fees, that still leaves me better off than many people here in the UK.
So how can we face up to such wild differences in wealth and power?
POLITICS, ECONOMICS and COMMUNITY
More the concern of sociology, you might say, structural inequalities are differences created by forces outside any one individual’s control. On occasions, I have hinted at the large influence our environment can have on the way our life evolves. Even so, most of this website focuses on making small differences in your life.
The theory is that a string of small differences will nudge you towards the success you want for yourself. A series of nudges will help you feel more at ease and help you to perform better in your home, at your work and in your community. The reality is that our lives continue to be shaped by forces larger than ourselves; the education system and the employment culture in which the UK is immersed.
Even our communities, often with benign intention, ‘ask’ us to behave in certain ways as we talk to neighbours, visit the shops and play our part in some local social event. Look what happened when our current public health crisis hit the globe.
This may sound gloomy; how can ‘small victories’ compete with the daily oppression that is imposed on the individual by these larger factors?
I want to think that all is not lost. It is possible to look oppression in the eye and, at least, name it. Like facing down the big bully, we might call its bluff. Occasionally, we can get hurt by it but our self-respect can still feel intact.
How might this be done?
- by remaining realistic about what is ‘do-able’ and respecting small changes and still having the wisdom to know when larger actions are needed by more people working together. What about other actions that can be put to one side for the present moment. See my comments on Crisis.
- by remaining alert to the cunning and subtle ways in which our understanding of ‘normal’ stops us noticing small differences or even allowing for the possibility of something different.
- by knowing when the ‘current normal’ needs to move to a ‘new normal’, and being willing to play our own part in making it so.
- by knowing that it is rather difficult to know the nature of the ‘real’ world. Some modesty in this matter may make it easier to understand the very different view of the next person. That is not a plea for multi-culturalism; sometimes, it is important to talk with the part of us that is racist, classist and sexist, rather than pursuing sophistication or ‘acting as if’ we are not. Note, here, I am criticising one of the small, safe experiments I propound in one form or another on this page. There is a time and a place for putting our cards on the table and practising the art of being different.
- by fostering an awareness of the present moment so we are not fighting our past and our future all at the same time.
This movement may help even though it is a current favourite in therapy circles. It combines some of the benefits of Western cognitive behavioural psychology, with the Eastern traditions of meditation.
This approach encourages a lot of safe experimenting, and places emphasis on ‘just noticing’, already mentioned a few times by me, you may want to do some of your own research. Take a look at:
NHS and Mindfulness: You could look out a Mindfulness course in a home area; I had fun with a raisin when I did my own!
In addition, you could visit the Centre for Mindfulness Research and Practice (CMRP), at Bangor University
To finish, I’d like to include some of my own observations on the connection between mindfulness and the safe experiment.
- mindfulness offers an effective way to observe our thoughts, feelings and sensations in your body. The Body Scan fosters a similar, if rather more active process.
- mindfulness can help us to develop an ability to observe our internal experiences with care and attention. One aim of mindfulness is to strengthen that `observing’ function by promoting an experience of ‘being in the here and now’, as well as an acceptance of `what is’. This outlook is mirrored in the Acceptance and Commitment (ACT) model of therapy, as is the compassion-focused approach.
- Mindfulness helps you to be aware of what is happening in the present, in a moment-by-moment basis. It helps us to become aware of our bodies and minds and the world about us, whilst not making judgments about the things we find. When two people are on the ‘same wave length’, good therapy can follow.
- Mindfulness accepts that feelings and high emotions are real and need to respect – but our perception of threat or danger may not be real, whatever ‘real’ is. There are neurological responses that can become unhelpful habits – and even physically damaging to our bodies.
- Mindfulness practice as a form of self-awareness training similar to meditation, is not dependent on any specific ideology. It can be beneficial to a number of people, and our emotional health. It does not have to be a religion, but be wary of those wanting to make it such.
- When our minds are constantly occupied, or when when our safely is threatened, we can feel disconnected from ourselves and our immediate environment. This ‘separation’ can block our attempts to alleviate our own distress. How? By separating ourselves from feelings and sensations that hurt. This might seem sensible in the short-term; it is not a long-term solution.
This website wants to offer ways to meet that hurt and not be intimidated by it. Perhaps this well-known exhortation from Max Ehrmann (1927) has something to offer:
GO PLACIDLY amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment, it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be.
And whatever your labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.
Strive to be happy.
I have some quarrels with this ‘rule book’:
- the dismissiveness of the “dull and ignorant”. Notice how easy it is to label others; be wary of the sophisticated labelling that goes on in the world of therapy. You’ll notice that I am doubtful about labels and categorisations.
- with the aim to ‘strive to be happy’. For my part, I only know ‘happy’ from times when I was not happy.
- Oh…… and ‘God’, but that’s another story!