Monday, June 11, 2012
Anyhow, it is worth sharing a little more about myself before I launch into how I think we use language to exert and maintain power relationships, and how our very language of English hands us the loaded gun and we don't often realise we are firing off continuous salvos at all and sundry, especially those we love.
I am a 53 year old Caucasian male currently working as an academic in Geelong, a provincial city in Victoria, Australia. As such I believe I would be perceived as coming from a dominant gender, racial group and professional group. I am married to a female general practitioner and we have two children. As such I represent a dominant social group (the family) which has been defined as the norm, and as a self defined heterosexual I come from another dominant group which has oppressed and excluded non-heterosexuals. As an Australian of European extraction, I represent Western culture and its lifestyle, a dominant culture with a history of colonisation and displacement or extinguishment of other cultures and their practices.
A statement of my intentions. I hope that by writing i might encourage others to consider possible power practices they might unwittingly be exerting and that in some small way this will lead to a general reduction in the prevalence of abusive use of power.
Significant stimulation to write came years ago after I read "The verbally abusive relationship" by Patricia Evans and from discussions relating to the politics of power in a narrative therapy course. I also acknowledge Michael White as the source for me of numerous ideas espoused here. I have had several opportunities to discuss these ideas with women, individually or in groups, many of whom were "my" patients. I developed an interest in male experience and have had several prolonged interactions with men separating, or separated from their spouses. Thus much of the descriptions relate to gender relationships. My discussions with people who would identify as gay have profoundly educated me about many cultural prejudices we perpetuate. Some of my ideas have doubtless been influenced by working in a Western Desert aboriginal community for 6 months in 1986
Ok.. Enough about me for now.. More later when I feel a little braver about revealing my own frailties (hypocrisy is a big one)..
Back to power words... Let's start with a list. I will elaborate in forthcoming blogs.
I believe the following words are potentially oppressive, and at worst are dangerous and mental illness generating
1. Words that privilege one reality. Eg: "Actually", "really", "in fact", "in reality" and even "realise"
2. Words which define another's reality (generally following "you" Eg: "you deliberately....". "You think"
3. Words which attribute responsibility rather than share it. "You misunderstood me"
4. Words which measure others comparatively: "Too". "over-....." or "under-.. Eg: "You're over-reacting" "Enough" " inappropriate" "extreme", "inadequate".
5. Diminishing or excusing words "Only", "just" "All". As in "all you were doing was..."
6. Words which devalue non reason-related responses: "unreasonable" "emotional" "over involved" "enmeshed" "irrational" "That's nonsense", "..ridiculous", "..preposterous" "..idiotic", "..senseless" etc.
7. Words used to prevail over others. "But "
8. Threatening words. "If" "or else" .
9. Coercive words. "Should" "Ought to" "got to" or "must".
10. Words which spoil identity. They also often are preceded by "You are"
11. Words which disable. "can't"
12. Words used to assume agency. "To". The simple exclamation mark, while not a word can be abusive when used as a command without seeking consent.
13. Words which denigrate protest. For example. "nagging" "whingeing" "complaining" "squawking" "carrying on" "squealing" "whining" and so on.
14. Totalising words. "always" "absolutely"
15. Implications, insinuations. These are the words that are not said. .....More to come... Stay tuned
Saturday, June 9, 2012
The meme here is "if I train them to be tough then they will be better prepared for the tough world out there". Furthermore "better for them to learn it from me.. At least I have their best interests at heart" This meme isn't far off the justification used by sexual abusers. We recognize it as inappropriate in this context... But why not elsewhere?
Is not the difference in degrees of abuse and in the nihilistic belief that we can't change the way we treat others in our society?
Why would we put our efforts into toughening people up rather than behaving in a more gentle way with each other? Why would we put a victim of bullying through resilience training (even if we did counsel the so called "bully")?
Is the answer perhaps embedded in our history? Could we have fought, killed and invaded our way to dominance over other cultures if we didn't believe that strength was good and gentleness is associated with weakness? Could we continue to send our youth to war? Could we continue to label our traumatized returned soldiers as "sick" rather than deceived and abused?
A recent study of doctors revealed that three quarters believe that bullying is common in medicine, including nearly one fifth who believe it is part of being a doctor. This doesn't surprise me. Bullying, to me, seems to love an environment of privilege, exclusive knowledge, entitlement and self attributed benevolence. Medicine therefore provides the ideal culture medium.. A petri dish that I found petrifying.
What surprises me is that a number of doctors responded that they thought bullying was rare in medicine. How could that be? Medicine is pervaded by ideas that long hours must be endured, hard decisions must be made, people are responsible for their own plight, rationality must prevail over emotionality (do I hear the word "professional"?). "Some people are beyond help". The idea that a superior must be obeyed is as strong in medicine as it is in the military. The other idea is that medical training has prepared you to "carry the can" and this justifies giving young (and not so young) doctors an impossible workload in under resourced systems then blaming them for the mistakes that inevitably occur. If that's not bullying, I don't know what is. I certainly couldn't cope well with the demands and spent a lot of my doctoring life feeling anxious.. Don\'t get me wrong though..the privilege of collaborating with wonderful "patients" and feeling like my involvement was valuable and valued far outweighed the negatives.
Nevertheless, I would rather see our efforts and funds directed towards supporting our patients and health care providers so that they felt more supported,valued and less victimized by their health care system. We don\'t need more "resilience" or "time management" training. We just need more resources directed to human care and to let it trickle down to where it is needed.. Maybe some vulnerability training would help. My experience has always been better when I have said "I am struggling" compared with when I say "I can cope".
Maybe that's why I have so much hope and faith invested in the Australian Institute of Patient and Family Centred Care. ( one of my dear friends is heavily involved) Now there's a group of people who "get it"
Thursday, June 7, 2012
Tuesday, June 5, 2012
A narrative approach has also helped me define some core beliefs which keep me sane. I share them here because they may be really unpalatable. This will give you a chance to see them and perhaps never read this blog again!
Here are some of my beliefs, starting with a bit about education.
Sunday, June 3, 2012
- Our natural state is not to be distressed
- Deviation from the natural state is a disease (pathology)
- Disease is predominantly caused by internal factors (genes, predisposition, biochemical disturbance)
- Although depression can be precipitated, the development of the disease reflects some internal deficiency or lack of coping skills.
- The deficiency can, to some extent, be treated with medication' and the coping skills can, to some extent be leamt
- The best way of learning coping skills is through intellectual processes (cognitive behavioural therapy)
On a personal note, I had this really negative reaction to finding someone else had publicised "doppression" as it was "my word". How crazy is that?. but it made me think about how effective is the conditioning that our self worth depends on our ownership, authorship, and entitlement to use, dispense or permit usage of memes. I'll get over it... like I did with "Obecalp"... more about that another time too. Thanks Drew for bringing it to the www.
Saturday, June 2, 2012
It's been the theme of my week. I wasn't going to blog about it because I think I now take it for granted that acknowledgement is part of our lifeblood, and if it is denied it can be so painful. I believe if withheld for long enough it can be crazy-making (a term I learnt from Patricia Evans... Or was it from an old article called "Charm Syndrome Man" by Sandra Horley?)
Anyhow, what prompted me to write about it was the last of three "acknowledgement events" in six days.
This last event was listening to a program on Radio National Australia about the Pinjarra Massacre of the Nyoongar people in Western Australia in which mounted troops slaughtered 21 indigenes in a raid. The offensive fact is that this massacre was written into history as a "battle", implying equally matched opposing parties. If anyone doubts the abusive power of words, this is a moving example. The program ends with a Nyoongar descendant talking about a forthcoming joint ceremony with the WA police "its a real big deal that they are going to acknowledge it....first acknowledgement really"
The other "events"?
1. A young person I know who has been bullied in the workplace who said "I don't want the other person to suffer. I just want acknowledgement and an apology"
2. Reluctance by a friend to acknowledge an inconvenience unwittingly imposed on others because there was no intention to inconvenience ( more about intentions and excuses in a future blog). Furthermore, the unforeseen hassles imposed didn't qualify as an 'error' therefore no apology was warranted. Further justification was that these sort of things happen all the time.. We shouldn't lead people to expect an apology because the real world out there is harsh so we do no favors to people by not preparing them for this.
This just doesn't cut it for me and surely one could argue that this is the very reason we should model something different. Definitions of the word acknowledge predominantly describe "verbal recognition".
To acknowledge someone or something is far less demanding on the "empathy scale of difficulty" than appreciation, or even agreement.
How many times a week (or a day) are we invited (made?) to feel unacknowledged? What's up with that? What might be the effect of this?
Do you think that "low self esteem" or doppression might feed off the self questioning memes
"why wasn't that acknowledged?" "did I just imagine that?"
How much of a leap is it from there to "am I mad?" and even "do I exist?"
Maybe we need to start dispensing more acknowledgement and less Prozac?