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!