Thursday, 24 June 2010

Why Improve Ourselves? (2)

Let`s just look at the way "proper behaviour" reigns in religious communities...I find this a helpful examination because a closed social system magnifies and intensifies what happens in our looser, less cohesive social groups. Extremes of "rightfulness" versus concealment of "wrongfulness".

I have lived in an Ultra-Orthodox Jewish Community and took a lot of time and thought, then and since, to consider how the group functioned, why leaders had the power they had, why women were segregated (in terms of group function) and the ins-and-outs of basing one`s life on such moral tenets. I don`t intend to make this blog a debate about Jewish belief or such issues as "literal Torah", or anything like that(!), I want to use this to example what can happen, for good or ill, when we aspire to behave well according to a set of rules. (I may come back to specific Jewish issues at a later date !!!!)

Ok., so if you impose a mode of "correct behaviour" on people there will inevitably be a large number of people who will rebel. I suppose one might term this as "an inability to maintain standards ", but, whatever the euphemism, no society is going to take everybody along with group demands, not wholly. So what happens in a religious community to the people who can`t or wont adhere to imposed standards of conduct?

Well, it depends on how great the pressure is to comply and the consequent extent to which a person might conceal their behaviour, but generally the higher the perceived level of "moral crime", the more concealment. It may well be....and I am not foisting definitives on you here !!!........ it may well be that for those who do not conform to expected moral standards, the extent to which they then have to conceal their aberrations increases their guilt load and thereby their tendency to widen their moral divergence from the group as a whole. Whatever is the case, what we see in religious communities is often a concentration of bad behaviour beneath the facade of "rightfulness". As I have mentioned before, the one actually is symbiotic to the other, "wrongfulness", apparent in some, enabling the majority to thrive and prosper(see * below).

So how does a religious community hang together? Well, groups have to have leaders in order to sustain ideologies and there have to be others who follow the prescription from those leaders. The leaders have to have power to make everybody conform otherwise the whole thing would fall apart. In a religious group the core power comes usually from a religious text, just as in the mainstream world it comes from a book of law or such. Leaders will use a "text from G`d" to demand correct behaviour and make people guilty if they don`t adhere to it. In such groups everybody has their place and most people, in an unconscious way usually, maintain the structure`s hierarchy. If people don`t keep their place in the hierarchy the power of the leaders would be undermined and the group would be under threat.
Women have their place too and to allow them greater freedoms would upset the belief system that rabbis need to hold the group together and maintain their grip on power. To this end is also the group's need to raise up the image of rabbis to the point of saintliness and sustain them with an ever-fueled ego-feed. I`ll call it pedestalisation ! Joking aside, the pedestalisation of leaders in these communities is absolutely critical to their survival because the more power (and the saintlier the better !) the rabbis have, the stronger will be their hold on people to prevent defection. Essentially, one has to observe that there is at least a very fine line between the pursuit of a lifestyle for the sake of G`d or the Torah and the use of Torah to support the power of rabbis.

And as usual the folks on the bottom order, those who don`t conform with the group, find that they are disadvantaged (what a big surprise!), somehow marginalised.Like anywhere else in society, the lower order folks lose out, but they play their part in larger group survival by virtue of their inferiority: that`s their contribution. How else do the top dogs reinforce their position than by demonstrating that nonconformity doesn`t pay?

So holding people together as a group is self-serving, but what does it do for individuals? Well, you get the feel-good-factor if you comply, security that you are part of something and that you fit in, and bonuses we all get from being in a clique of any sort. The more "good " you are, the greater are the rewards, both in terms of personal well-being and prospects within the hierarchy. Sounds familiar?

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Why Improve Ourselves?

Hello Everyone !!!

I hope you are feeling great!

This is just an intro to my next blog.. I expect that there will be many on this subject because it covers a lot of issues.

Let me say at the outset that I have no intention of moralising at you !!!! I just want to try to think about what it means to improve oneself, what does it does for us or our societies, and "why should we bother?"

I want to take a look at marriage,for example, whether one should get married and what it might do for us, and lots of questions about moral behaviour across the board, from relationships and personal behaviour right through to the way we eat, our use of bad language, manners and anti-social behaviour.

So here goes:

Why get married? Why resist using bad language? Why dress decently when going out of the house? Why are manners worth anything at all, and why worry about personal conduct ?

These are wide ranging issues, yet they are all related. I think, though I am going to try to explore this a bit, that even seemingly trivial things count for us or against us, that we should strive to raise our personal standards, not least for ourselves, but, of course, because the better everyone behaves, the better our society is for everybody.

There are a whole range of behaviours, though, some deemed important by the majority, some not: on the plus end of the scale, having impeccable manners and exemplary personal conduct, following an exacting code of ethics, doesn`t mean that a person will be whiter than white in all areas !!! Assuming a code of behaviour such as its most extreme form in religious communities, is often a recipe for concealing the expression of our real selves. So, what I`m saying is that the wish to raise one`s own personal standards, better comes from within, exampled, yes, and ingested, certainly, but not something we have to do solely to comply with our social group. In other words, adding together a few social niceties, eliminating a bit of bad language, isn`t something that scores points towards "becoming a good person", it`s a complex thing that changes according to perspective or whichever society we live in. For example, someone who commits adultery may give time and money to a charity or work all their life in service to their employer, or whatever the case may be, ....and it might be worth considering in this blog whether "good" and "bad" balance against each other. We can`t write people off because they slide in one area, neither raise them up because of behaviour in another.

Please see my next blog.........

Saturday, 12 June 2010

What on Earth has Happened to The Samaritans (4)?

The rigidity of the Samaritan relationship to a caller leads one to question,why? I want to look at this in this blog, along with my usual examination of group psychology.

OK., so we can see that Samaritan volunteers need some sort of training and that inevitably training will carry definite prescriptions. The problem is that for many years Sams have been taught to be strict with callers according to a one-track formula. Whilst the minority of Sams with a more person-centred approach apply training loosely and intelligently, the majority of Sams do not.

Unfortunately, for most people, training is something that has to be adhered to precisely, not wisely. This applies to us all in all walks of life. We are brought up in an educational system that requires conformity to succeed, a system that does not reward individuality or initiative. We are therefore frightened to break rules.

The Samaritan structure, like any group organism, coheres around the acceptance of a particular method, in other words, a belief system. All groups function around mind-sets that everyone is expected to conform to, those who do not will find their place in the group under threat, not least because their non-conformity represents a threat to the group itself. This is true of the Samaritans as of any other group. Here, a belief that callers must be directed and controlled in a parent-child style, that all callers want and need silence, or whatever the notion we care to example, leads to a cold, clinical, robotic mode of relation where, paradoxically, a caller is expected to talk about their feelings in an environment that is bereft of human warmth !!

But as we see in other situations where rigid control is upheld, the more control there is, the more control is needed. What I mean is, if we take the example of unwanted child behaviour and set the threshold too high, we end up having a constant battle to maintain our stance. We become more anxious about our self-made rules than we do about the child we seek to control ! Broadly, we feel more and more threatened the more we lose control over the person we are trying to control and this leads us to employ greater and greater measures to hold our position. This is what commonly happens between a Samaritan and his or her caller. The primary focus is not helping the caller, but rather applying training with a rule book that inhibits both the Samaritan and the caller.

With the Samaritan`s level of expectation upon a caller set so high, he puts himself in a position of a parent who must maintain discipline at all costs.Let me reiterate that: At all costs. And this is what happens, inevitably: a caller, unwittingly, has to measure up to a whole list of criteria (which are to do with the needs of the Samaritan), and like a child confronted with zero tolerance, is treading on a mine field.The Sam, like an insecure parent, uses all manner of discipline to prevent chat and, frankly, get their own way, with the ultimate penalty of absolute power, ending the call. (A reminder that we are talking about a genuine, non-offensive caller here.)

It`s all about what THEY want.
Let`s look at what the typical Samaritan wants from a caller: firstly, the Samaritan expects that the caller has to be happy with silence,then comes the need for the Samaritan to have a call from a "genuine caller" who exhibits a level of distress that the Sam can relate to. We then have the Sam needing to not be caught chatting (whatever that means!) and to ensure the fulfilment of this overwhelming rule the Sam decides that they must not make comments as the caller relays his plight. The result is, of course, a caller who is expected to talk about their feelings, yet no emotional support is forthcoming from the other end of the phone. In effect, the stricture of training has stripped the call of anything that would be called human, caring and supportive. I think that the Samaritan`s need not to chat....and to deliver silence for the caller to fill, causes them to be detached, non-involved with the call, and this created distance bleeds the call of humanity. In fact, a Samaritan in this functional mode has little or no manifest caring for the caller simply because they do not engage with them. With no two-way contact the Sam`s posture is perfunctory and compassionless.

We have to emphasise here that individual Sams are not to blame, they are merely doing what they are told do. They believe what they are told to believe. Where they are told that callers want silence in which to talk, they think that this is universally true. In order to become a Samaritan one has to believe what one is told and use it upon callers. Training also teaches the fear that NOT to follow the instructed method will be detrimental to callers and so there is a fear/guilt devise that makes Sams conform.

There has to be a better way.
So what would be a better model for helping callers? Well, I think for starters, the ethos would have to change, revert back to the humanity of Chad Varah. The Nanny State-ism would have to go, to be replaced by respect for the caller and HIS needs. I think that, too, the caller would have to be treated with a presumption of genuineness, along with adopting a truly non-judgmental stance that does not discriminate between callers upon grounds of the subjective measure of distress. I think that with a refocus on the callers needs a more humanistic approach would follow, where a Sam would engage in a human way with the caller.

But in all of this we must not forget our Samaritan`s wishes to help people.. We must not forget that Sams themselves are victim to a training regime that not only disrespects callers, but disrespects them, too. So I think that to train Sams to be responsive to the needs of callers, to be adaptable, to have confidence in their OWN ability to relate to people would empower THEM to do what it is that they volunteer to do, for it is not just that callers are under the thumb of an all powerful rule book, Samaritans are too. Both Samaritans and callers are treading on egg shells.

I hope to come back in a bit to round this up. It`ll be a shorter blog (!)
that looks at the benefits of a more humanistic approach..... Hope to see you soon !

Best advice: remember the Sams operate on the basis that YOU are there for THEM. In other words, you are there to comply with what the Sams want from you.
If you need to phone many times over a period of time, don`t phone the same part of the country and don`t use the same name each time you call. If you phone many times information may be gathered about you (from the calls) because the Sams decide that they want to restrict your access, for whatever reason they see fit. This info is passed around branches.N.B.You may be in genuine distress over a period of time, but this is irrelevant to the Sam's decision. They decide what is best for you, whether you agree or not... and there is nothing you can do about it.

N.B. If you complain about one Samaritan at one branch, there is a high chance that other Sams at that branch or in that area will be unkind to you and may bully you.(Information will have been gathered about you so that they all will be able to identify you when you call.) This is typical of group behaviour so it`s no surprise!
Further,if you are badly treated by more than one Sam (this is very common so don`t think that it`s you personally!)and feel you should make another complaint, please remember that several complaints will likely get you labled as a "complainer". If this happens, it demonstrates the groups need to shift their guilt onto YOU. It is, as we have discussed many times, a typical strategy to protect themselves by making you look like the problem.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Animals, Why Should We Care?

So, back to the killing and eating animals topic.......

I was just talking about the similarities between the way we abuse our fellow humans and the way we abuse animals. I concluded that there is little or no difference between the two. I also said that we don`t get away with our assumed right to kill and eat animals because on some level we know we are doing wrong.

I can hear some of you protesting that you certainly don`t feel any guilt whatsoever !!!!! Hmmmmmmm....So what do I mean then, if people are eating meat and feeling quite comfortable with doing it?

I think that the issue is not whether any one person feels guilt or not, consciously or not, I think the point is that the guilt is buried deep inside us and that all of us carry the guilt of us all, for us all. In the same way that we all carry some guilt for the holocaust, for example, where of course we are none of us directly responsible, but because somewhere within us we know that we have all held prejudices, grudges, hatereds for people, we know that our darker impulses are part of the Nazi murder of Jews. This similitude is embedded deep within our psyche, we have all felt these feelings, maybe acted upon them, certainly we`ve watched others get bullied and done nothing. Of course, we don`t all take these urges to hurt to ultimate animal conclusions, but we often have difficulty resisting our need to hurt others.

We have discussed in other blogs how groups ask us to support them at the expense of outsiders, and often against our better judgment. They ask us to be accomplices and absolve us as reward for our loyalty. Where there is a group, such as the extreme example of the Nazis, evil is compartmentalised, and all member's defuse guilt for each other by convincing each other that their behaviour is acceptable. Where most Nazi soldiers were not guilty of murdering Jews, they were all complicit as part of the Nazi machine. Underlings may not have choices in regard to whom they hurt, but they are all part of the guilt nonetheless. A group is an organism, it supplies all needs for itself within itself and little people who don`t want to be caught up in evil when required to, invariably do so to at least some extent.

In the same way that the entire German nation was complicit, actively or passively, in the murder of Jews, all groups are capable of doing harm to others with a diminished conscience because of the dissipation of guilt within the whole. We talked about the Catholic church a while back and that even priests who are innocent of involvement in child-abuse are complicit as part of the group that has child-abuse within it. They too carry guilt for their guilty colleagues; it plays a part in their behaviour, their relationship to church goers and ultimately in religious practice and religious doctrine (I want to come back to this point in a future blog). Though we tend to separate(need to)the guilty from the not-guilty, the two are linked symbiotically as part of the same body.

Where we see in our societies higher moral values, spiritual pursuits, sensitive attunement to the more "feminine side", we see represented our capacity to turn away from the more animalistic drives that inhabit our human selves. Personally, I would tend to define a schism between our higher nature... let`s be controversial and call it our divine soul(!)... and our existential/animal selves, our animal soul. I use these terms not because I adhere to any religious values at all, but simply because this distinction has always helped me to understand the force of one of our drives against the other. The concept has also enabled me to see the game play of the divine soul versus the animal soul; how we are the servants of one, on one level, and how we have higher needs on the other. I have seen, too, how our intelligence as a species can quest us towards fulfilment in our "divine" aspect, yet also how our intelligence can be hijacked by our animal soul in order to furnish its needs.

So, given that our cruelty towards animals and people are part of the same instinct, I think that, just as our social groups carry collective guilt for all these deeds, so they do for eating animals, animal cruelty and experimentation. It is precisely that our guilt is carried and diffused by the group that we are able to abuse animals. As a higher impulse, the more sensitive amongst us will see injustice, cruelty and unfairness manifoldly in our societies and will attempt to move the rest of us to behave according to higher values, but often we don`t like to hear about our guilt and we run from it. In the end though, I am certain, inhumanity towards our fellow humans cannot cease until we stop hurting, and yes, eating, animals. The reason for this painful conclusion is that our ability to compartmentalise our guilt, hide it from ourselves as individuals, and the large-scale version of this where we dilute it by hiding it in our larger social groups, means that there is always some guilt or other creating a guilt -avoidance action. In other words, one thing enables the other.

I will be back onto this topic very sooooon........