Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Some beliefs, and a bit about doing empathy

I've just been talking to my daughter.. she's in her early 20s and is quite a thinker. She's helped me to realise that I have cultivated a feeling of comfortableness with myself. It might be self deception, but it works for me most of the time. At other times I feel overwhelmed with self doubt, but I think that learning narrative therapy has helped me to talk myself around to a slightly more agreeable self view. (Thanks so much to Michael White, David Epston, Johnella Bird, Belinda, Linette, Robyn, Jacqui, Ron, Ron, Helen, Maggie Carey, Alison Morgan, Jill Freedman and Gene Coombs amongst others)

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.

In school we are taught, that we know. But what are we taught? Many people would answer that we are taught the basics: the 3 Rs, and on them we build our knowledge so that we are equipped for life’s challenges. This, I believe is to miss the main point. We are taught so much more than that, and so much less than what we need, because, put simply, school is not so much about learning knowledge as it is about learning not to question our culture.

Try some of these beliefs (these are a bit "random" and I am happy to explain my thinking about them in later blogs)

Assertion 1.  It is good to be weak.

Assertion 2. Many evils have been committed as an application of good intentions

Assertion 3. It is important to be inconsistent with children

Assertion 4. Praise can be as destructive as criticism. (this has received some recent press http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-05-30/excessive-praise-risks-turning-kids-into-bullies/4041198)

Assertion 5. Depression is an essential human emotion

Assertion 6. Telling someone a secret can often be an abusive act

Assertion 7. Emotional people are more trustworthy than rational people.

Assertion 8. An impartial approach to people in conflict is destructive to human relationships.

How are you going? How many of these are you prepared to support? Could you take any of these stances in a debate, or would you feel that you were betraying yourself to do so?

These are some of my beliefs, but I didn’t learn them in school. I learnt the opposite in school, because the above beliefs don’t help greatly in the current cultural pursuit of economic rationalism in which we are all workers and consumers. If these beliefs were not systematically discouraged in school then the fabric of Western society would tear beyond repair.

How would our society be different if these assertions were accepted as "true"?

It is my strong belief that what we don’t learn in school is how to discard our cherished beliefs when we need to empathise with someone else who thinks differently to ourselves. This has never been more painfully demonstrated than in the current “deprecation of understanding” which is leading to an ever increasing rate of failed partnerships or relationships. What I mean here is that I believe we make better workers if we become systemically deskilled in intimate relationships: we spend our educative years centred on other pursuits than the things we really need (knowledge of our bodies and the skills of intimacy). The outcome of this deskilling is lack of capacity to resolve conflict. Work becomes an attractive distraction from the impossibilities of home life.

I believe we need to learn to “think different”. A professor of English has written about this and calls it the “believing game”. He describes a process whereby when faced with a challenging belief or set of beliefs, the person actively decides to suspend their own beliefs and to assume, as an exercise, that the opposing or difficult beliefs were actually true, and to “step into” this belief for the purposes of exploration. His assertion is that by doing so, a person becomes more aware of different approaches to a situation that may be helpful. http://works.bepress.com/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1019&context=peter_elbow

This overlaps greatly with Michael White's 3D exercise for couples (1988), an exercise in listening for the express purpose of empathising with the speaker.. not solving, rationalising, reassuring, arguing, agreeing or anything else, just trying to step into their shoes. I believe that this way of engaging is either incredibly rare, or if it happens, incredibly brief.

... if only I/we could do it in a more sustained way....

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