Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Some hidden memings to try out!

In school we are taught, that, as much, 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 these out for size. I am about to make a series of assertions that challenge Western cultural beliefs. None of them are "wrong" (even the idea that there is intrinsic "rightness" or "wrongness" is a meme that can be questioned)

Assertion 1. It is good to be weak.
Assertion 2. It is important to be inconsistent with children
Assertion 3. Praise can be as destructive as criticism.
Assertion 4. Depression is an essential human emotion
Assertion 5. Telling someone a secret is often an abusive act
Assertion 6. Emotional people are more trustworthy than rational people.
Assertion 7. 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. 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 gender based “project of misunderstanding” which is leading to an ever increasing rate of failed partnerships. I believe we need to learn to “think different”. A professor of English, Peter Elbow 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. To do this process effectively is incredibly difficult. When I try it myself I often find myself getting carried away with my own passionate belief in my own way of doing things and I become distracted from the point of view and experience of the other person.

To keep their own reality alive, side by side with mine is a challenge indeed, but if successfully done, very rewarding and can actually be an antidote to conflict and generate surprisingly creative outcomes that could not have been anticipated before the process was conducted.

(Interestingly a blogger has come up with an interesting technique to separate negative thoughts from behaviours by deliberately lying to himself, but seeing through the self trickery- a "counter" believing game.
How strange we are!)

Narrative therapist Michael White created a listening exercise in the 1980s which had similar elements and he devised a way of listening to another person's experience with the sole purpose of empathising. This was designed predominantly for men who used abusive practices, without falling into the traps of blaming, trivialising, reassuring, rationalising or problem solving when their partner's were describing their experience. I think we could all benefit from the exercise though. It's one of the most powerful tools when you use it.. to be heard in this way is so unusual for people that they can be blown away by the experience.

He encouraged the almost exclusive use of "tell me more about that" and "is there anything else you want to say about that?". How hard would this be when you want to explain, rationalise, interpret, solve, show you care, and so on? Enough for now...

Oh, about my beliefs above.. I will elaborate later.. so much to say, so little time!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Big fat memes, sugar sweet lies

Some of you might have seen David Gillespie's book "Big fat lies" in which this Australian "recovering corporate lawyer" as described by Penguin Books, exposes the myths and lies that have contributed to our modern epidemic of obesity and metabolic syndrome in the name of "health advice", sadly also dispensed by us doctors who were trusted to be informed. We were misinformed, and my point here is that the meme is a powerful thing once it catches on, even if it's false.

Some false memes are below.

"Fat makes you fat"  (false)

"Cholesterol is bad for your heart" (false)

"Sugar is pretty harmless" (false)

"Polyunsaturated fat is better than saturated fat" (probably false.. I certainly believe so) Update 2017. This is far more complex than I thought in 2012 (even then I thought I had a handle on it) I'm now less interested in macronutrient truths than dietary pattern truths, and this statement may be more true than false.. more on this if I get around to it. In the meantime.. stick to "eat real food, not too much, mainly plants" as per Michael Pollan.

"Fruit juice is good for you" (probably true if you limit it to a couple of mls- but false in any substantial quantities"

"If it's natural it must be good" (a gross oversimplification)

And for those with deeper medical interest....

"Cholesterol levels are a pretty good indicator of cardiovascular risk" (false)

"high HDL cholesterol levels are good for you" (false- it's HDL particle count that matters, HDL cholesterol levels can be seriously misleading)

"high LDL cholesterol levels are bad for you" (false- it's LDL particle count that matters- high LDL cholesterol levels can be seriously misleading)

So what went wrong? Are we such simple souls that simple explanations which are easily repeated are very attractive to us, to the point that it matters little if they are wrong? Obviously the policy makers, advertisers, politicians, media spokespeople, and your overpressured health professionals don't have the time to research properly what they are told, or to spend the time explaining something complicated to you!

At some stage I will follow this up with a more detailed exposition of what diet is probably healthy, but people have done this much better than I could ever do so...

Check out the following to start your research trail (I wouldn't recommend these if I hadn't checked out many of their assertions by going to the original studies)

David Gillespie's Sweet Poison and Raisin Hell websites. David has done an enormous amount of research and has applied his critical legal mind to everything he learns

What happens when cardiac surgeons (Dwight Lundell and Dr Miller) go searching for the reason we are sicker now after 20 years or more of sound preventive health care advice

Jimmy Moore's podcasts are fantastic. Another passionate inquisitive, intelligent person in search of answers in a very obfuscated field with politics, spin, profits and personal agendas at each turn.

Refined carbohydrates especially sugar and High fructose corn syrup- check out Paediatric Endocrinologist Robert Lustig's video.. contains a good primer on biochemistry when he discusses the metabolic load from a can of "soda" (lemonade to us)- interesting that it's as bad as a can of beer!

Long live the simple meme... even if by propagating it we don't live long ourselves!