This book is a Get Out of Jail Free card and a passport back into the playground.

The aim of this book is to set you free. But free from what? Free from neurosis. Free from the feeling that you have to obey authority. Free from emotional intimidation. Free from addiction. Free from inhibition.

The key to happiness, mental health and being the most that we can be is absolute and unconditional self-acceptance. The paradox is that many of our problems are caused by trying to improve ourselves, censor our thinking, make up for past misdeeds and struggling with our negative feelings whether of depression or aggression.

But if we consider ourselves in our entirety in this very moment, we know these things :

1. Anything we have done is in the past and cannot be changed, thus it is pointless to do anything else but accept it. No regrets or guilt.

2. While our actions can harm others, our thoughts and emotions, in and of themselves, never can. So we should accept them and allow them to be and go where they will. While emotions sometimes drive actions, those who completely accept their emotions and allow themselves to feel them fully, have more choice over how they act in the light of them.

Self-criticism never made anyone a better person. Anyone who does a “good deed” under pressure from their conscience or to gain the approval of others takes out the frustration involved in some other way. The basis for loving behaviour towards others is the ability to love ourselves. And loving ourselves unconditionally, means loving ourselves exactly as we are at this moment.

This might seem to be complacency, but in fact the natural activity of the individual is healthy growth, and what holds us back from it is fighting with those things we can’t change and the free thought and emotional experience which is the very substance of that growth.

How to Be Free is available as a free ebook from Smashwords, iBooks in some countries, Kobo and Barnes & Noble

It is also available in paperback from Lulu or Amazon for $10 US, plus postage.

The ebook version currently has received 593 ***** out of ***** ratings on U.S. iBooks.

Friday, 26 February 2016

BOOK REVIEW : How to Be an Imperfectionist by Stephen Guise

In my book How to Be Free I said that “the love of perfection is the root of all evil” and that “the key to happiness, mental health and being the most that we can be is absolute and unconditional self-acceptance.” That’s all well and good, but what practical steps can we take to break the hold that perfectionism may have on us and to become more self-accepting? When I was asked this I couldn’t come up with much in the way of practical exercises, but had to acknowledge that that is one of the things people quite reasonably look for in a self-help book. So imagine how excited I was when someone alerted me to the existence of this book which promises a “new way to self-acceptance, fearless living, and freedom from perfectionism.”

Stephen Guise’s book is what a self-help book should be - short, illuminating and practical. It is full of observations which seemed so obvious after he said them that I wondered why I hadn't thought of them before.

Some of us may not view ourselves as perfectionists, but on close examination some of our problems - shyness, procrastination, depression, addiction, rumination - may arise from perfectionistic thinking, from having unhelpfully high expectations of ourselves, of others or of situations or events. Shyness can arise from a feeling that we mustn’t make mistakes in our social interactions with others. Procrastination can come from wanting to hang onto a vision of perfect action rather than discover the imperfections involved in actually carrying it out, or it can arise from over-estimating the effort that may be required in the doing of something or the negative results which might result from it, an unhelpfully high negative expectation. Depression can be increased by fighting against negative thoughts, being intolerant of our deviations from positivity. The “never enough” feeling of psychological addiction is also a form of perfectionism, as is the intolerance towards our past mistakes which takes the form of ruminating over them.

The practical exercises suggested in the book are based around the idea of forming mini-habits - very small daily tasks (so small that there is no excuse not to do them) the purpose of which is to establish the groundwork for larger habits. The example Guise uses most often is his exercise plan of doing one push-up a day. This gradually led to full workouts five days a week. His earlier book on this topic - Mini-Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results - is apparently a best-seller. (I haven’t read it.)

Guise’s approach is not about building up motivation. It’s about removing barriers. We are unlikely to be very good at anything the first time we try it, so becoming skilled and confident in any area of life means removing the barrier of high expectations. One way he suggests we can do that is to adopt a binary view of success. For instance, if we want to give a speech in front of an audience, we can forget about the issue of how well we do it, but count doing it, even incredibly badly, as a success. The only failure is to not give it a go. This isn’t just a trick. It’s being realistic, because the only way we become confident and skilled at public speaking is by being willing to do it badly until we learn to do it well. So doing it badly really is a success, because it gets us far closer to doing it well then not attempting it will.

Another idea I really like is that of replacing the phrase “I should have done…” with “I could have done…” It’s such a simple cognitive technique, but it turns us away from regrets about the past and towards a practical strategy for the future.

Need for approval from others can also be an area of unhelpfully high demands. Guise recommends ways we can break past this barrier and thus gain confidence to be more authentically ourselves. I’m not sure that singing at the supermarket is one of the suggestions of his that I will take up. (I don’t think that my authentic self is sadistic enough to inflict such suffering on others.) The principle is a good one though that, where fear stands as a barrier, liberation can come through the process of desensitisation. The more we do something potentially embarrassing or anxiety-provoking, the more those feelings will decrease.

As Guise points out, this is the problem with so many motivational books. We can build up a high level of motivation, but it too may tend to decrease over time. The beauty of his mini-habit idea is that it requires minimal motivation at the start. The habit, once established, then provides a framework within which motivation can grow, if the habit turns out to be a rewarding one. If you do one push-up a day for a few months, you may find you are curious to see if you can do a few more on your more energetic days. Eventually you are doing enough to feel stronger and more confident, and that is the motivation to join a gym, or whatever. If you write two sentences a day for six months, you may find that a really good idea for a novel is starting to emerge. Then the excitement of discovery is the motivation to keep going. But if you pumped yourself up with motivation, did as many push-ups as you could do before collapsing and said “I’m not going to do that again for awhile” or if you pumped yourself up with dreams of being the next J.K. Rowling and sat down to begin on your first novel and found you couldn’t think of a plot, you might give up before you’d had a chance to really begin. Think of Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams. Build the habit and the motivation will come.

Guise isn’t one of these self-help gurus who hands down his wisdom from on high. He’s the kind of self-help author who tells you about the embarrassing thing he accidentally said to the hot woman at the gym. He practices what he preaches not just in life but in the manner of his writing. He doesn’t try to avoid embarrassment. And that makes me feel all the more comfortable in listening to his advice.

I’d recommend this book to anyone. I don’t think there is anyone so perfect in their imperfectionism that they can’t learn something from it. Any book which can give us methods to increase our chances of success in any endeavour we choose to pursue, and provides us with strategies to avoid being hard on ourselves even if we fail at all of them, is definitely worth the short amount of time it takes to read.

Beyond self-help, though, there are ideas in this book which, if they were to take hold, could make all the difference to our chances of survival as a species. Our ecological and economic crises both rest upon our “‘never enough’ bias” (pg. 58). Our apathy arises from our inability to “focus on the process” (pg. 61). The breakdown in community (and thus the cooperative skills we need to work together on solving our social problems) arises from our “need for approval” (pg. 85). Chaos theory shows that small changes in a system can gradually lead to a complete change of that system. Who knows what could be unleashed by an imperfectionist revolution? When you consider how hampered so many of us have been by perfectionism in its many forms, that is an awful lot of potential energy and talent of which we have been deprived throughout the whole of our history (has there been a time not blighted by perfectionism?).

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Why Do We Quarrel? : (The Example of the Religious Person and The Atheist)

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Sometimes something someone else says gets under our skin. We feel compelled to express our contrary view.

This is not a sign that we have confidence in our ideas. Quite the contrary. Confidence in an idea gives an individual the viewpoint which Jesus expressed in the parable of the mustard seed. A valid idea will bring forth a good harvest when it falls on fertile soil, so the best strategy is to spread it as widely as possible and waste no time on cursing the rocks who are immune to it or the barren soil incapable of giving it sustenance.

If we feel the need to enter into a quarrel it is because there is a threat to the security of our beliefs from within.

A person secure in their own religious faith may try to spread it, but will not feel the need to argue with members of other faiths or with atheists. However, for some, religion is a way of trying to maintain discipline over what is perceived as sinfulness. This is an insecure position, and in the extreme, if reason appears to threaten the structure of restraint, then reason itself must be denied and argued against. (Religion need not be like this. Some religious people do not feel at all threatened by the contrary views of others. And some of the great contributors to the progress of reason have been religious.)

Once again, when we come to atheists, there are some who are secure and some who are insecure. Reason has two main roles - 1. As a strategy for pursing understanding of ourselves and the world which gives us greater capacity to manage both. 2. As a defence against the irrational aspects of the human psyche. Emotions are not rational, and rational arguments have a limited ability to quell them.

If an atheist and a religious person are quarrelling, then each is also shadow boxing with his denied self.

If the denied self of the quarrelsome religious person is doubt in the reality of his system of belief or in its effectiveness to maintain his state of self-discipline, then what might the nature of the denied self of the quarrelsome atheist be?

Here are a couple of arguments made by atheists against religion :

1. It is irrational.

Someone using the discipline of reason to try to quell irrational feelings of fear or guilt, may see in the religious person an ally for such feelings, especially since attempting to inspire fear or guilt is a major strategy of the insecure religious individual.

2. It falsely claims moral superiority.

None of us are really morally superior, but it may be very important to our conditional self-acceptance to convince ourselves that we are. Deep down we know that it is a sham in ourselves and this is why we would rather attack what is, to us, the more obvious sham of another.

A religious individual may believe that an atheist is mad. An atheist may believe that the religious individual is mad. Believe me, as a person who has actually been clinically insane, you do no good arguing against insanity, because it is a defensive mechanism the purpose of which is to protect the individual from reality.

What lies at the heart of insecure individuals, be they atheistic or religious? Fear and guilt. Fear is sometimes useful to alert us to real dangers and motivate us to take action against them. But when the danger is not real, fear may paralyse us or drive us to counter-productive action. And guilt is useless. It pretends to be a corrective, but all it does is cause us pointless suffering and thus make us more selfish.

Unconditional self-acceptance is the solution to such feelings of guilt or fear. Freed of them, the believer can be a more appreciative servant of their God and the atheist can be immune to the compulsion to argue with the rocks who refuse his seed.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

A Public Service Announcement to the Dark Side

If you could beam a message telepathically into the minds of everyone on earth who was contemplating a destructive act, what would you say?

Here is what I would say :

“There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to harm someone - wanting to kill them, rape them, torture them… Fantasise about it as much as you like. But if you do it, you will lose more than you gain. No matter how much momentary satisfaction it gives you, that satisfaction will be fleeting and will be outweighed by the negative effects on your life of the consequences, even if you don’t get caught and punished.”

Why would I take this particular approach?

Our feelings, thoughts and desires arise from the interaction between our current psychological structure and our environment. We chose neither. It is no good chastising someone for something over which they have no control. The sensible thing is to help them to understand what they can do about it.

Hostile feelings are essentially defensive. They arise from deep-seated feelings of insecurity. A hostile individual is like a dog who has experienced many beatings. He doesn’t feel safe, so his impulse is to bite first. Now if we show acceptance of his situation and give him plenty of room to run around and bark and growl, he may gradually realise that we don’t mean to kick him. But if we back him into a corner, he may be unable to do anything but bite us. This is why expressing acceptance of the hostile feelings makes us less likely to be a victim of them.

In my message, I wouldn’t mention morality. I wouldn’t try to appeal to their better nature. I wouldn’t ask them to have compassion for their prospective victim. If any of these arguments would work, they would have worked already. Everybody has heard them before. And each of them is an implied criticism, an expression of an implied lack of acceptance. This kind of approach tends to back the savage dog further into the corner.

Throughout the history of the human race we have had many organised systems for preaching morality. We’ve had the Ten Commandments for thousands of years, but they don’t seem to have done anything to curb our propensity for murder, theft or lying. Perhaps we need to try a new approach. Perhaps we need to begin preaching unconditional self-acceptance and enlightened self-interest.

Love Is...

A message for Valentine's Day

Friday, 12 February 2016

Thoughts on the Male Feminist

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I want to sketch out some rough ideas which have arisen from contemplating the behaviour of some men who support feminism. There are risks involved in speculating about what goes on inside people’s heads. But it is also dangerous to leave ideas unformed and unexamined in our minds. Laying them out on the table and assessing them seems the way to go.

When trying to understand a phenomena, sometimes the best place to begin is with its most exaggerated manifestation. If we can see meaning in the bold shape of the extreme, then it may enable us to see the same pattern, but with softer edges, elsewhere.

I’ve noticed that there are some men who, having adopted the cause of feminism, become almost rabidly savage in their condemnation of any signs of sexism they find in the speech or behaviour of other men. This is the relatively rare extreme. That someone with a generosity of spirit and ethical integrity should decide that equality between the sexes is a goal worth pursuing enthusiastically is understandable enough, but where declared support for that aim takes a form in which generosity of spirit to one’s own gender seems seriously compromised the behaviour makes less immediate sense.

I have misogynistic thoughts and feelings. I have racist thoughts and feelings. I have homophobic thoughts and feelings. None of this is much of a problem for me, because I accept these thoughts and feelings when they arise, and so they quickly depart.

Life and our interactions with other people involve a degree of frustration. When we feel frustrated, the process of interacting with someone of a different mindset or culture than our own may be a little more difficult and low level hostile feelings may be generated. If we accept them, they will quickly dissipate, but if we feel ashamed or guilty about them they may become a fixation and grow.

Misogynistic feelings, from the fleeting to the ingrained, have clearly been common in men from the beginnings of civilisation down to the present day. When we men have oppressed and mistreated women it has been an expression of such feelings.

Now if a man takes  up the cause of feminism, doesn’t it make sense that he would take this approach in interacting with other men :

“Look, guys, I know you have these feelings of frustration with women. It may have got to the stage were you feel embittered and hateful towards them. I understand. I’ve had those feelings too, maybe not as strongly as you do, but I know. The thing is, though, that allowing those feelings to determine how we interact with women isn’t doing us any favours. I’m not talking morality. Stuff that. I’m talking about our own self interest. We share this planet with women. The happier they are, the happier we’ll be. Happy women are generous women. And no amount of power or wealth is more valuable than being surrounded by people who are fond and supportive of you in a way which comes from the heart.”

There may be some men who take that very approach to promoting the cause of female equality. But what of the guy who is screaming at his fellow men about what sexist pigs they are?

Let’s skip to another cultural phenomenon in which someone becomes very angry and contemptuous in support of a cause. I was watching a video recently of a man who considers himself a Christian. He was strutting around a stage, spittle flying from his lips, as he condemned homosexuality and called for the state to execute all gay people. Why the extreme hostility? Does it not seem likely that he is caught in a negative feedback loop arising from the anti-homosexual beliefs he has either adopted or been indoctrinated into? It seems likely that most non-gay men have at least passing homosexual urges from time to time. Some may indulge them, others will let them slip away and go back to lusting after women. But if you believe that homosexuality is an abomination, you don’t have the luxury of taking twinges of this kind so lightly. There may be a moment of horror when you face the possibility that you yourself may be the abomination, then you shove that thought deep down into your subconscious, and you begin to build a wall to keep the horror contained. You can’t accept this part of yourself, and thus you fixate on it, but because you can’t even bare to face the fact that it is a part of you, you split from it and become deeply paranoid, going to battle in the world around you with anything which resonates with the monster within. You would slay all the gay people in the world if you could, but it could never satisfy you, because that monster within would not have been slain. The irony is that all that it takes to make the monster go away is to own it. It is denial which feeds such monsters, and acceptance which slays them.

Is it not possible that the angry male feminist is in the same position as the gay-hating preacher? He has gone to war against the misogyny of his fellow males (something which, unlike homosexuality, is genuinely a problem) as a way of maintaining his denial of his own repressed misogynistic feelings.

Generosity of spirit requires what we might call psychological room. If we are caught up with internal battles we have little room to really listen to others or accommodate their needs or desires.

I think that most of we men have a battle going on within us (often one of many) between our misogynistic feelings and our conscience which tells us that it is wrong to have these feelings and even worse to act upon them. If we could tell our conscience to back off a little, we might be able to simply accept the feelings and allow them to dissipate. The more our conscience crowds us, the less room we will have and the more likely we will be to accumulate further misogynistic feelings.

And the more insecure we feel because of the turmoil of this kind of battle, the more we need to cling to some kind of “proof” of our worth. We may try to “prove” ourselves by some kind of competitive activity or by accumulating material goods or whatever. One way that we may try to demonstrate our worth is by taking up a cause. At least with regard to this cause we are on the side of the angels, we tell ourselves.

Just as Saul of Tarsus, having been battling the Christians, renamed himself Paul and tried to leave his angry self behind by taking up their cause, so the man who feels guilty about his misogynistic feelings may decide to rise above them (i.e. repress them) and become a champion of women’s rights.

This can seem like a good idea. He doesn’t have to view himself as the bad guy. He may get superficial acceptance from feminist women (I say superficial because they are accepting only the front he is putting on and not the repressed misogyny which really needs the healing touch of acceptance). And he gets an outlet for some of his frustration, in the same way the preacher does, by expressing anger towards men who give outward expression to the feelings he is repressing in himself. But this won’t bring him healing. It won’t give him the room for generosity of spirit, even to women, let alone his fellow men.

If he could own his own dark side, then he could bring to other men the release that they need. He could show them how to make the monster inside go away. And so doing he could be a part of melting away the barriers to equality for women, rather than leaving women to have to break them down, as no doubt they do have the capacity to do.

Now you may be thinking “Hang on a minute. I know men who accept that they are misogynists and that misogyny hasn’t disappeared, rather they aggressively and unrepentantly act up on it.” This is bravado, not acceptance. Such aggressive, arrogant behaviour is defensive. An army is not needed when there is no insecurity to protect.

The Achilles heal of feminism has always been the tendency for its criticism, real or implicit, to make it harder for we men to learn to accept our misogynistic feelings and thus let them dissipate. Generosity of spirit is the natural state of the non-embattled human, but we, men and women, have been so embattled - so troubled by all the things we have found it next to impossible to accept about ourselves - that it has been easy for us to fall into conflict and drive each other deeper within those battlements.

We tend to view the concept of confession of sins that we find in the Christian religion as a form of reparation through the humbling of oneself before God. But I wonder if that is how it was originally intended. I have a different vision. I see a bunch of people sitting around in a circle. A woman says, “I’m pretty lustful you know. All I think about is sex.” Another says, “Wow! What a relief! I thought it was just me.” A man says, “I get so angry at my wife I just want to sock her in the face.” “I feel that way, too,” says another man. “And I want to kick my husband in the balls when won’t listen to what I’m saying,” says another woman. “You and me both, sister,” says another. No-one feels particularly repentant, but as they open up to each other in this way their self-consciousness, their selfishness, melts away. They laugh about their aggressive feelings and they don’t feel aggressive any more. And once their sexual feelings are expressed they no longer have the selfish, i.e. self-directed, quality which comes with hiding and repressing something. A key aspect of this is that nobody is judged or expelled because of their confession, because it is understood that the process is a healing one, if they are expelled because they admit to bad behaviour then they will most likely return to that bad behaviour, but if they are shown acceptance and remain within the community the acceptance they find there will heal the motivating force behind that behaviour.

Perhaps this is too simple, too naive, a fantasy for our troubled world, but sometimes things have to begin with unrealistic dreams.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Trying Too Hard to Be Good Made Us Capable of Evil

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There are two forces at war in the human breast - love and idealism. 

Love is the impulse to accept. To accept ourself. To accept others. To accept the world as it is. To accept life as it is.

Idealism places limits on our acceptance of ourselves, others, the world and/or life as it is. Idealism is a bottle of poison labelled “medicine”. It advertises itself as the road to Heaven, but is really the road to Hell.

Love gives us the ability to cooperate. It gives us the ability to heal social divisions. It allows us to forgive. Love is the road to Heaven, but sometimes it is portrayed as the road to Hell. If we view life as a battle between Good and Evil, then to accept evil would appear to mean letting it win. But fighting against evil is what generates evil and always has. Accepting evil is what heals it. This is true of the evil within us as well as the evil of others. If we find a flaw in ourselves, it will grow only if we fixate on it, that is if we fight against it. And the evil behaviour of others is defensive. It arises from fear. The fear may not be of a threat to the body, but to the individual's ability to accept themselves. A guilty conscience is a major motivator of hostile behaviour. What all of us desire in our heart of hearts is to be accepted totally, so that we can give up our defensive battle. All of the atrocities which have been committed through the whole of human history have grown out of a lack of acceptance.

In the history of religion we can see the intertwining of these two elements. 

On the one hand, a religion is a repository of ideals, of high standards, and thus an eroder of self-acceptance. If we accept ourselves unconditionally, then we tend to be loving and cooperative naturally, because such behaviour makes us feel good. When we set high standards for ourselves and come to believe that anything less is unacceptable, we rob ourselves of the joy which would feed loving behaviour. If we beat ourselves up about being “sinful”, that will make us more “sinful”.

The unconditionally self-accepting individual - the individual who loves himself - has no resentment toward others. He has his bliss.

But those of us who strive to meet our ideals by an act of will unavoidably build up a well of resentment towards those how are not suffering as we are suffering.  We envy those who allow themselves to commit the “sins” we won’t allow ourselves to commit. And we resent the joyful existence of the innocent. The innocent also confront us with the falseness and misery of our own state.

From this arose the concept of the blood sacrifice. Unable to acknowledge that idealism itself was the source of all “sin”, religions often came to accept that resentment towards innocence needed some kind of outlet. Unable to see that what needed to die, if love were to rule the world, was idealism, they substituted the resented innocent. In some religions the sacrifice would be a lamb. In some a baby. In some a virgin woman.

Some interpretations of Christianity view Jesus the same way. They say that what frees the believer of sin is that the messenger was killed.

This isn’t just a religious thing. Men raping women or molesting children are acting on exactly the same impulse. Trying to find relief for the pain of their guilty conscience by inflicting suffering on those who are psychologically healthier and freer in spirit than themselves.

But the possibility of forgiveness and redemption and an admonition to love one another is also often present in religions. The problem is that this would always remain an unfulfilled potential until we came to realise that idealism and the idea that we need to strive through discipline to be better people, or that we need to insist that others do so, was the very thing which gave rise to our capacity for greed, murder, rape and domination.

Friday, 5 February 2016

The Oasis : A Parable

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There was once a people who lived happily at an oasis in the desert. There was plenty of food and water and the people were full of love for each other.

But one day a curse fell upon this tribe. It came with the wind which whispered in an ear here and an ear there a simple message : “You’re not good enough.”

No-one told anyone else about the voice that they heard. And each privately argued back against it. The more they fought this inner battle the less attention they had for each other, and so gradually the warmth of their love grew cold.

There seemed no local answer to their growing problem. And so, one by one, they were driven out into the desert in search of an answer. They were driven as a slave is driven with the crack of a whip across their back. And the name of that whip was You Are Not Good Enough.

Some lingered at the oasis, some set up camp at various distances from it, but those most cursed walked far out into the desert. Thirst, hunger and the blazing heat of the sun took their toll. Some grew weak, some went mad and some thrived by killing and stealing water and food.

Horror stories of life in the desert filtered back to the people at the oasis from those who had set up their tents along the way. Some of the tent dwellers would return to the oasis to replenish their supplies of food and water, but the further the tents were from the oasis, the shorter they would be of such supplies. So news would come often from the tents close by, but only occasionally would they hear from the outlying communities, and the stories were blood-curdling.

“We must help them,” the people of the oasis cried. So they gathered together supplies of food and water and maps of how to get back to the oasis. And they set out on an expedition to help those who needed these things the most.

But when they arrived at their destination, the desert dwellers - crazed by hunger and thirst and the blazing heat of the sun and embattled by constant fighting with each other - turned on their would be rescuers and killed and ate them.

“That didn’t go so well,” said those left at the oasis, when the news was relayed back to them by tent dwellers coming in for supplies. Then an idea occurred to one of them. “Why don’t some of you guys move back here. We can help you take out more supplies to those of you who decide to stay where you are. And then we can work together to get more supplies to the next lot of tents and maybe some of them would like to come back and help to get a steadier supply of food and water to those further out.

One day a man, not much more than a living skeleton, caked with blood, crawled up to an outlying tent. His plan was to steal some food and water, but he didn’t have the energy to do more than collapse. Hands reached out and picked him up and carried him into the shade. Cool water met his lips. The next day, when he opened his eyes, he knew that he must still be out in the heat of the sun, hallucinating as usual. Around him was a crowd of people, laughing and joking as they put up new tents and unpacked supplies. All of them were wearing garments emblazoned with the message “Everyone Is Good Enough”.

When his strength was restored, the desert dweller headed back out from whence he had come. He was carrying a message.

“It must have been a mirage,” they told him. But they couldn’t explain his state of health.

“They have enough food and water for us all,” he insisted. “And they can lead us back to the oasis.”

Some were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and came to the tent city. Others died in the desert. But soon the people of the oasis were as one once more and preparing a united effort to find more sources of food and water.

*     *     *

It’s easy to lose hope. I was reading recently about people who make anonymous threats over the internet to rape or kill people who happen to express a view contrary to their own. And then there are real murders and rapes and terrorism. And increasing incidence of suicide and chronic depression. All of these problems are expressions of deep psychological insecurity. If we are secure in ourselves - we have unconditional self-acceptance - then we want only good things for others as well as ourselves.

And so I came up with this story of people wandering away from an oasis. When we look at those who have been most damaged by life - those who are defeated or so embittered they live only to inflict suffering on others - the problem seems too big to be solvable. How can all of those people be helped when it can take many years for any one individual and even then they need to want to be helped.

I think that our hope lies in those things which can foster mental health in ourselves - unconditional self-acceptance - and a sense of fellowship in society - through encouraging a spirit of mutual acceptance. 

A major part of this is renouncing the idea of using mockery or shame or appeals to the conscience in order to try to persuade someone to do what we want. If we feel the need to make someone else feel bad in order to promote our interests or beliefs or to hold someone else up to distain then we haven’t yet realised what the roots of loving behaviour are. You can’t cure a dog of rabies by beating it. The violent and crazy behaviour of the desert dwellers comes from want. The need to respond with mockery, shame or guilt-tripping is an indication that we too are desperately in need of the sustenance that is love.

But love can be found. The voice that whispers “You are not good enough” can be silenced. Forgiveness is possible. We may not be able to offer love directly to those who need it too much, lest they suck us dry. But where open, honest, spontaneous and generous communication is possible, love can grow and travel to were it is needed  most.

The distance we travel away from the oasis isn’t a physical distance, but a distance which opens up between us as individuals. Community will form where it can.

Where do we want to be led? If we allow ourselves to get too caught up in the conflict which arises in and between the most insecure, then we will, unwittingly perhaps, take them as our leaders and follow them out into the desert. If we give them only the attention we must to protect ourselves, but remember that our own wholeness and the creative bonds we have with others are most important, then we can ourselves be leaders out of the desert and back to the oasis.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

A Free Society Can Only Grow From Psychologically Secure Individuals

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How often have you been in a situation where someone has said something which caused offence to someone else, and then that person criticised the first person, who responded defensively, and thus the fabric of the mini-community of which you were a part at that time was temporarily, or perhaps permanently, torn apart? Isn’t the world as a whole like that, with conflict all too easily arising and often becoming entrenched?

The root cause of this propensity for conflict is compromised self-acceptance. If our self-acceptance is dependent on the words or actions of others, then we are in a very insecure position. Were this not the case we could laugh off any insult, feeling no resonance between it and some internalised sense of self-contempt. But we do tend to internalise the negative feelings of others towards us, and by carrying around this toxic sludge, we make ourselves vulnerable and thus prone to falling into conflict with others. As long as we see the problem as an external one and fight for a change in the behaviour of others, we will be disempowered. But if we make a conscious decision to learn unconditional self-acceptance, we can “hurt-proof” ourselves, and thus make of ourselves a still centre for the growth of a healthy society.

I discuss the concept of hurt-proofing in more detail in this essay :

If we don’t feel compelled by our own insecurity to react against the anti-social behaviour of others, then we can come to better understand how that anti-social behaviour is essentially defensive. Just as we were trying to protect our compromised self-acceptance, so is the person on the other side of the conflict. Our state of relative security will enable us to make no demands on others, and this can gradually drain away the defensive motivation for their anti-social behaviour.

There are two forces at war within the human psyche and the society to which it gives form. Let’s call them spirit and repression. The spirit is the outwardly motivating force of the individual. It has no morality. It can propel us toward generous acts or it can propel us towards violence. Repression consists of the forces of restraint imposed on the spirit, essentially by fear. To the extent that our conscience may restrain our behaviour it does so essentially through fear of incurring feelings of guilt. And we obey the laws of society, to the extent that they may contradict our personal desires, for fear of being ostracised or punished.

When in a state of freedom, enlightened self-interest leads us to loving cooperative interaction with others. To the extend that our behaviour deviates from this state of health, it does so because we lack the freedom which arises from unconditional self-acceptance. So, ironically, it is the force which would curb and control the spirit which, by restricting its freedom, drives it further into the tight corner that produces hostile behaviour.

When we try to curb the anti-social behaviour of others through criticism, we are trying to make their self-acceptance conditional on their behaving in the way we think they should. It is natural that, in our insecurity, we will attempt a control strategy of this kind, because we are simply externalising the strategy we use internally to keep our own anti-social behaviour repressed. But the net result will be a negative one. We may force good behaviour on someone, but only at the expense of engendering feelings of frustration which will come out in some other way. Sustainable good behaviour can only come from love and love can only come from unconditional self-acceptance.

To renounce control strategies in all situations where they are not unavoidable (as they sometimes are to restrain violent behaviour) requires being free in oneself.

From the perspective of the free individual, where does the problem lie and what can be done about it? There are anti-social feelings which must not be repressed and there is an insecurity at the heart of us all which responds poorly to criticism and may try to defend itself against such criticism through anti-social behaviour. Where insecurity is extreme, such criticism - or even implied criticism - may be experienced as a form of oppression so severe as to drive the individual towards extremely hostile forms of retaliation.

If we are to have a healthy culture it depends on two things :

1. Freedom to express our frustrations. If we have anti-social feelings we will never move beyond them by repressing them. We need a culture in which it is O.K. to be as “politically incorrect” as we want to be within the understanding that feelings are not fixed beliefs. Of course this may be hurtful to those about whom insulting things may be said, but that is why “hurt-proofing” is so important. The more sensitive we are to being hurt by what other people say, the more we will require a society based on repression, and thus the more insecure and incapable of freedom we will become in a dangerous negative feedback loop. This is something which has been happening recently with calls for universities to offer “trigger warnings” about works of literature which might be emotionally disturbing to insecure individuals.

2. When we are not blowing off steam in this way, but genuinely want to address ourselves to solving social problems, then an accepting non-reactive approach will often be the most effective. (Of course I’m not saying that we should be accepting of violent behaviour.) We need to avoid attempts to control others behaviour by shaming them or threatening them with ostracism. We need to accept that their anti-social tendencies arise from insecurity and that acceptance is the answer to that insecurity. What our “enemies” need most is love. If we really want to help someone then we need to recognise that they have legitimate needs and that their anti-social behaviour is simply an ineffective way of trying to meet those needs. In this way we can find our common ground.