Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Uncertain Procedure


Behavior is an image in motion. Remembering that Jung said, ”Image is psyche”, we can see how symptoms create an image that reflects what initiated the reaction. The things that cause us psychological pain are rooted in conditioned patterns created by past threats, and show the lingering expectation of more. I’ve found that one of the clearest indicators of the trouble a person has had is in the degree of their self-protection. The need to protect oneself shows a background requiring protection, of being conditioned to relate to a threat pattern with an adaptive response. When we think of a person’s behavior as defensive, we should keep in mind that the fortress was built to protect from attack. Slumped shoulders are not just about posture; they are about cowering. Anyone that was hurtfully punished and humiliated in childhood has been convinced they deserved it. And so they expect more of the same and create what they expect. Alice Miller, in her many books, emphasizes the crippling long-term effects on adults who were mistreated by their parents. The names of her books, “Banished Knowledge”, “For Your Own Good” etc. refer to the broad range of parenting styles that deny the child’s individual reality. Accepting the practice by refusing to see how one has been hurt, the wounded individual passes the behavior to the next generation, debilitating a large chunk of the population with defensive antagonism upon which the worst aspects of modern society build.
The cultural appetite for meanness, expressed in news reports of torture and bullying, media humiliation of celebrities, radio hosts that ridicule others, feeds on people who have suffered this treatment and now need to vent the distress on others. A scene in the old movie of the Charles Dickens book, “Nicholas Nickleby”, shows an obviously poor young boy in the school watching gleefully as another of the children is beaten harshly by the school master. The image of violence as a way to solve problems is retained by the body no matter how many layers of rationalization and denial shield it.
The disregard for cultures with different values is one result of the emotional blindness that allows these conditions to propagate. The need to release pent up feeling is satisfied by subduing those who don’t share a particular way of seeing with all of the righteousness of parent smacking a child into obedience. Unexpressed rage is channeled toward whatever is being demonized at the moment. Drawn into an accepted outlet, the hurt caused is invisible, blocked by the protective shell around the ability to feel.
The shell was constructed in reaction to assaults of the past. The culture reinforces it creating a perpetual aura of danger requiring our vigilance, and we layer on our personal defensive strategies, built in childhood, to counter the behavior of the adult(s) that made them necessary. The tension creates symptoms in our bodies. Pain and discomfort isolate us further. Instead of judging ourselves for our lack of self-worth and all the behaviors that go with it, we should look squarely at what molded those behaviors so we can release them. If we’re not in touch with our own pain, the Golden Rule doesn’t work, because when we don’t understand what hurts us we can’t use that as a marker for what not to do to others. Throughout the Bible and the I Ching as well as other religious texts are many statements to the effect that we teach best by example. Getting into power struggles with children about who is boss lays a foundation for adult struggles that extend into international politics. Using punitive measures teaches a child to do the same and creates a violent, intolerant world.
The wonderful work being done in the Harlem Children’s Zone shows what’s possible when the growth of children is approached the right way. What they call “Baby College” is an effort to give young mother’s help understanding their babies and what kinds of childrearing will stimulate healthy psychology and intelligence. In a Newsweek article, “What We Can Learn From The Harlem’s Children’s Zone”, Raina Kelley writes, “the HCZ is another kind of proof that the playing field can be leveled.” They rightly see that developing and supporting the child’s intellectual development is the best way to build a road out of poverty. Key to the philosophy is eliminating corporal punishment and humiliation, which diminish empathy, and developing skills that allow empathy to flourish.
All of the recent brain research supports the need to change the way children are raised. Putting the emphasis on love and understanding will enable the young to trust themselves and grow into their full potential. Only then will we see more understanding in global communication.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Poles Together

Contradictory Truth

I recently heard a man on the radio insist that where there are contradictions, one thing is wrong and the other is right. In his mind, to believe that there are things in common among different religions is, to use his words, “silly”. That contradictory things can be true is an issue of perspective. Pull back and everything has an oppositional state equally important to keeping the whole thing moving. Alan Watts wrote of the “familiar tension between law and grace, works and faith, discipline and spontaneity, technique and inspiration, a synthesis of which is of the utmost importance for the living of the moral and spiritual life.” The issue is balance. Favoring one side over the other is untenable. The views of different cultures can at first seem contradictory, but each expresses a truth of its own context. To impose a standard from another context invites disharmony and misunderstanding.
On the mental plane of right and wrong, the fear a being wrong inhibits creativity. After all, creativity is by its nature trying something new. How could that ever fit a pre-existing idea of right? Depending on how past instances of wrong were treated, this can be paralyzing. With satisfaction in life dependent on growth, the inability to grow curls one into separateness. Though every specific instance may have right and wrong choices, it’s something we know in our heart at the moment. The more general the categories of absolute right and wrong the less likely there will be justice and understanding.
I found it interesting that in the wonderful talk by Jill Bolte Taylor describing her stroke from the inside, she said she couldn’t find the edges of her arm. Since her left hemisphere was the one not working, this suggests that the whole motivation of absolute boundaries is part of the fabric of this analytical and symbolic, verbal and numerical side of our brain. The right is the hemisphere of full perception of wholes. As soon as the brain starts to delineate, the first stage of symbolization begins. Once we define an arm as an arm we’ve already begun to substitute our representation, the thing we think of as an arm, with the living, active arm that’s carrying out our purposes in the world. The right side recognizes that we are in the world and part of it, whereas the left side sees it as something observed from the outside and manipulated. The excesses of left-brain dominance and this tendency to see the symbol and not the reality, exacerbated by digital menu culture, may be part of a detachment that seems to be affecting so many people today. We locate, separate and label, and this offers an illusion of control.
The right side sees the arm in motion, participating in a dynamic universe that we don’t control but navigate. For the right hemisphere, building a bigger picture of the whole increases our overall perspective and ability to function within it.
The idea of pooling knowledge, going beyond simply acknowledging different views to actively seeking them out, allows us to enlarge our picture of the world, reorganizing our worldview at a higher, more comprehensive level. Organized properly the new image will regain simplicity offering an ease of understanding that includes the full range of ideas and their context of relevance.
More attention to imagery will help us build the neglected right side of our brains. Finding artists whose work strikes a chord, spending time in nature and looking at the world around us, exploring new places and looking carefully at a friend’s face as they talk, are just a few ways we can begin to balance our minds and develop our perceptual wisdom. The skill of seeing what’s important in the picture may diminish our anxieties about the world by building our capacity to respond from within the whole.