Mistakes

“Mistakes were made (but not by me)” by Tavris and Aronson is a punchy 240 pages about a fundamental driver of our human identity: cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is the state of discomfort that occurs when we have two opposing ideas operating in our mind. For example, I think I am a good person, good people don’t yell at their neighbours, I yelled at my neighbours: so, either I am not a good person or there must be something about my neighbours that justifies a good person to yell at them. And thus also determines the way to war.

Cognitive dissonance seems to sit at the interface between our higher mind and our baser mind. The higher mind is a great space for virtuous idea and creativity. The base mind is all our instincts for survival. Both of these minds interact through our language centres and therein become our thought and our being. However, our baser mind provides hard wired outputs so that we can survive. Our higher mind requires educational sources, nurturing. So our baser mind can express in action almost quicker than we can think about what we are doing ie putting it into language eg be angry when feeling threatened. When an action from our baser mind expresses itself, we will most likely find ourselves at odds with our own higher mind. We experience a terrible discomfort, perhaps a deep guilt. This is cognitive dissonance. However, because we don’t like the feeling, we get rid of it by justifying our behaviour.

Self justification is behind good people doing even more terrible things. A man embezzles a million dollars from his company to pay his gambling debt. He starts by just a small amount which he pays back. But as he gambles, he takes more, and he can’t pay it back. Yet, he justifies, I will win big and all will be restored and I am a good person and I will give up gambling. But he never wins and eventually he is discovered. The small mistake, when justified, will lead to a greater and greater misdeed. Tavris and Aronson’s straightforward unfolding of the elements of Watergate, provide a strong lesson for all of us.

Tavris and Aronson identify several ways to deal with cognitive dissonance.

  1. Don’t be too ready to resolve it. Have sleepless nights. Turn your discomfort over and over. Where might you be self justifying, being right, making someone wrong. Where might you need to make a hard decision that is ethically the right one.
  2. If you have made a mistake, own up to it as soon as possible. If the mistake made a mess, you have to clean it up. You have to take the consequences. But the early mistake and consequences will be mild compared to an escalation of mistake and consequence through self justifying.
  3. Learn from the mistake. In fact live for the mistakes you make, the people who can alert you to them, and what you can learn. This will ensure that you become a great learner, a successful person, and avoid making very big mistakes with big consequences.
  4. I would add, encourage others for the effort they put into trying things, making mistakes, and particular, learning from them. Help others see mistakes, not to be right, but that they can try again, even if they fail again. This is accountability, this is empowerment. This is the place in which there is no failure, just (paraphrasing Edison) a million discoveries of what didn’t work so well, and, in looking at each one clearly, finding a great opening of possibility.

Remember, says Tavris and Aronson, you are a smart, capable person who made a mistake. You remain a smart, capable person. The mistake remains a mistake.

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Punishment Doesn’t Work

On 8th March 2018, the Australian national broadcaster (ABC) ran this story of a father punishing his son for bullying by making him run to school. I am actually appreciative that this dad took a video of him driving behind the child and posting it, so that we can learn from it.
It and the supportive responses for it, does show the failure of most of society to understand the idea of consequence. This failure is not only why our child raising has created bullies and addicts but why prisons are overflowing with recidivists. Below is my take on it.

In the ABC article, bully experts like Dr Hannah Thomas, a postdoctoral researcher at The University of Queensland, said “punitive strategies like making the boy run were an attempt to teach the child to be accountable for their actions, but they didn’t always work.”They use shame, humiliation and guilt to try to motivate change in future behaviour,” she said.”This generally never changes behaviour in the long-term. It gives the child very limited opportunity to learn and acquire new skills — i.e. ways to interact in more positive and social ways with their peers.”Dr Thomas said these kinds of strategies can also have flow-on effects.”Children who are humiliated or shamed can internalise negative feelings about themselves that hinder their healthy development,” she said.”Children misbehave as they learn and develop. They need parents to be supportive when they make mistakes and to take a practical role in teaching their children how to behave more respectfully.”
What I see is that it gets down to consequences. There are two things to know about consequences: Punishment is not a consequence of someone’s action; and all actions come with unintended consequences.
Punishment is an indirect consequence of an action, and in many cases, that ‘indirectness’ is confounded by a complexity of agendas and motivations, often to the extent that it is of no consequence at all. If anything, punishment is often a pathway to a whole complexity of unintended consequences, the least of which is that the punished get that they are responsible for other’s distress and that they can be a different type of person in the world.
In this case there was a direct consequence to the boy’s bullying, he was put off the bus. The boy would have understood the relationship.
A consequence of the complaint to the parent was that the parent went into bullying mode. It seems Dad doesn’t have a conversational relationship with his son, probably an authoritarian one. His son is learning that authoritarian method, the being a three year old for the whole of your life, that is, of course, it is signified by bullying anyone as a control mechanism, a fabulous way to teach the next generation how to be a bully.
The consequence of the bullying mode by this parent is the boy being forced to run to school.
I have no problem the boy running to school. Great thing!
However, attached to that running to school is a punishment, is a bad idea!
This is where we have to get better at thinking through about unintended consequences. If we have learnt anything by listening to each other about why we find ourselves poorly motivated around some things as adults, it gets back to the unintended consequences of, sometimes, the most trivial thing a parent has done that has been completely misunderstood by the child. The consequence of establishing for your 10 year old son that running is what you do for punishment, when you do something wrong, can be that, later on in life, you run a lot and you do nothing wrong (even though you are really an A-1 tyrant), OR you do nothing wrong (you’re a nice guy) and you don’t run (you are fat, have a chronic disease by your 40s). Ultimately this boy is on a path to being either a bully for life or a failure to take-off.

The real issue though is of parenting. Parents who are in conversation with children from the time they are in the womb, parents who are self reflective in that conversation and can acknowledge with children where they messed up as well as taking a firm and clear stand with their children, parents who are up to something bigger than themselves and their family, in life, have children who aren’t bullies and grow up to be contributors to society.

Sex and Power

The social philosophy program on the ABC Radio, THE MINEFIELD, tried to discuss the socio-political effect of the sexual abusiveness of powerful men, mostly in media, but some in politics. It was almost shocking to me to hear the striking inability of the guest on that program to deal with the biological imperative of sex, seeming to relegate sex to a social construct. My own 58 years on the planet and conversations with many men and women, suggest that trying to sideline the biological imperative of sex is most of the cause of our modern challenge around sex. If we are to understand ourselves and sex, at all, we need to take on the whole picture of human being-ness and history.

We must accept the biological nature of sexual urge, as in the same category of thirst and hunger. Unlike thirst and hunger, we will not actually die from not satisfying the sexual urge. However our brain’s biology is not set up for ‘actually’. It is set up for ‘as it will’. From the point of view of biology, to achieve an action, the brain is set up for the imperative ‘as it will”. Regarding sex, the human biology is set up as that ‘we will die’ without it. ‘Actually, it is our species that will die without it. Biology doesn’t account for this distinction.

Understanding the biological imperative, we can then begin an historical exploration  with a view of our pre-homo sapien sapien behaviour. Taking non-human primate behaviour as reflecting that history, we can conclude that the early human social group was dominated by the alpha male who bullied other males to their possible death, and strictly controlled his own access to females for sex. Females also, in the main, capitulate to this social formation as access to sex and other emotional rewards.

Through these alpha males, what we could now call, psychopathic, from about 100,000 years ago, the groups journeyed across the world, establishing new groups and new territories. This journeying is continuing today, and the European colonial movement that we get caught up with in many political expositions, today, is just the recent and largest, lead expeditions. Since then, the psychopath has lost a lot of power, although to understand today’s conundrum around sex is to understand the current imposition of the psychopathic male and his ability to draw sycophants, both men and women, around him.

It is important to understand that the key transformative mechanisms that allowed human society to move from those alpha dominated groups to today’s yearning for an egalitarian society, has been the development of religious concepts and structures. Religious structures, being often built parallel to pre-existing political structures, have created access for men and women to sex and social power in new ways. Somewhat like an adolescent primate, religion has maintained only just enough ‘cheekiness’ to be allowed by the alpha, while eventually building up challenging levels of power that become alpha, and taken over by alphas (psychopaths) who wield their power across both religious and political spheres. Periodically, a new religious view would emerge to support another, more egalitarian view.  Over millenia, the play between religions and social politics and, eventually empire building, while not over-powering the psychopath (because it would take a psychopath to over power a psychopath), created a greater and greater sense of egalitarianism. Today’s complaint against sexual abusiveness must be taken in the context of that as modern yearning being built over thousands of years.

In a certain way, the broad spread complaint against sexual abusiveness (a badly kept secret the whole of my life from Marilyn Monroe’s suicide and movies being part of my childhood; noticing that adolescent males I knew who had been exploited by older gay men and many of whom died of AIDs in the 1980s; to the litany of allegations from workplaces), is part of the final movements of the world of humanity towards an equality of men and women.

Fundamental to that equality are that the mainstream of human society transforms on three fronts: being clear about sex, sexuality, and that equality means independence of men and women agreeing on monogamous sexual relationships (in otherwords, marriage); transforming economic systems by striving for independence, removing support for slavers, and other sycophantic behaviours, and ensuring equitable resource distributions; transforming political systems by supporting participatory democracy, education, and powerless attitudes in unity.

Australia’s Fascist Attitudes

Keyvan Rahimian has just been released from 5 years gaol for teaching and organising an underground university because Baha’i youth are banned from University in Iran. His brother and sister-in-law were also imprisoned for the same ‘crime’. His wife died of cancer while he was imprisoned, leaving their daughter without her parents.

I recently read a post by a professor of health sciences, here, in Australia, suggesting that the Australian government should force religions to bring doctrines in line with ‘secular’ laws. I am constantly amazed by how supposedly well-educated people in the west are so ignorant of some of the basic reasons why secular democracy works:
1. the separation of state and religion (States should not make religions);
2 states that dictate everyone’s lives and organisational processes are no longer secular nor democratic but fascist or stalinist or maoist.
And yet these same people will parade their ‘professorialship’ to the public as if they are the expert on government, sociology, religion, democracy, and “what is for our own good”. The Iranian revolutionary Council certainly believes that their dictation is “for our own good”. There are some that believe that this attitude only lies with religious extremists. No, it belongs in the attitudes of ordinary scholars here in Australia. We could shrug it off by saying, “so lazy of that scholar” but that “laziness” has much of the current world without worthy leadership from the learned class, and our institutions in Australia fail people every day because of that.

The Big Me Dances

The universe, the world, is how it all occurs to me as a happening, an event, a contingency.

Recalling the words of Baha’u’llah as I would apply them to myself, “… the world is my unawareness of the Godhead and my absorption in aught else…” and that truth is founded in the primary spiritual attitude of the unfettered search: detachment from tradition; avoiding backbiting, boastful people, and evil-doers; cleansing the heart from love, hate, and pride; and living in prayer, patience, resignation, and forgiveness.

My experience gives me the sense that the Godhead operates for me through my declaration (to myself or others) in abandonment of all untrue considerations, for an enthusiasm, passion and joy.

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I believe that I am living in the world, a universe of elementary materials, from which has derived my organic construction as a capability for the flourishing of a metaphysical being. I am the root growing through the soil of human life, drawing sustenance for that budding fractal splicing and looping through all the dimensions beyond time and space, all the dimensions of eternity. I believe I am both contingent and eternal, always to be “unaware” and “absorbed by”, yet also to be a sense of Godhead through how I am in truth.

And so , I dance.