Monday, April 6, 2020

Rumours and the Virus


A lie can run around the world before the truth has got its boots on” - Terry Pratchett
The art of knowing is to know what to ignore” – Rumi
  
Distasteful and unethical
Rumour and gossip are universally condemned by just about every religion or ethical institution over the years. Buddha taught skilful or right speech, Greek philosopher Socrates contends that “Strong minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, weak minds discuss people”, Hindu guru Sathya Sain Baba is plain and clear that “Loud talk, long talk, wild talk, talk full of anger and hate – all these affect the health of man. They breed anger and hate in others; they wound, they excite, they enrage, they estrange”. The Christian new testament exhorts us to keep a tight rein on our tongues and not be the spark who starts the fire nor the one who fans the flames to spread it. And way, way back, Confucius said “To engage in gossip and spreading of rumours is to abandon virtue”.

Yet part of everyday living
It is inevitable that rumour and gossip will persist. Especially in times of crisis. Eric Foster, a doctor in social psychology and market research, and psychologist Ralph Rosnow have shared a wonderful article on rumour and gossip research. 
They point out that research into rumour-mongering and gossip waxes and wanes, but certain events and situations trigger interest. For example, during World War II there was a great outburst of interest in the psychology of rumour and also rumour control - in order to maintain motivation and morale and prevent either over-pessimistic or over-optimistic expectations. 




They are careful to make a clear distinction between gossip and rumour. The same situation now prevails and both rumour and gossip abound as we fight the coronavirus.  China is blamed by the US president. Rumours about lock-down extensions or new regulations pop up frequently. One spin on their occurrence is the argument that gossip is an unconscious way of making comparisons and advancing our social lives and norms, and that rumours are a way “of making sense to help us cope with our anxieties and uncertainties”. (Rosnow R. and Foster, E. 2005) 
There is no doubt in my mind that gossip hurts and harms (people, reputation, pride, broken trust) and that rumour-mongering is a sort of virus.

Why do we do it?
We humans have a predilection for being anxious, unduly concerned, and worrying about what may happen.  This seems to be a part of our evolved “new brain-mind troubles” so well described by UK psychologist Paul Gilbert. (Gilbert, P. 2010)

And so we rush to seek out information to help us make sense of what is happening to us and bring clarity. We might panic if the news is disturbing. And if ‘good’ and our concerns are alleviated, we quickly pass that on. Thus we are vulnerable and prone to accepting fake news, and prone to passing on whatever information we deem to be important. Sometimes with the best of intentions. Sometimes maliciously.  Assumed, although false, knowledge can be self-serving power for some, and when shared can feed into and reinforce the recipients’ unconscious bias. 
Whatever our intention, ‘information’ that is devoid of truth is extremely dangerous, and spreads at an alarming rate via social media . Recall the early days of the HIV/AIDS ongoing pandemic, the naming and blaming (of homosexual men for example) and rumours about how it was contracted,

What attitude should we adopt?
It’s quite simple really.

Always ask of any new information from any source: 
  • Who says? (Does this person or source have credibility, a track record of conveying accurate, helpful information?)
  • Does this ring true? (What does my intuition and reason tell me? What trusted person or source can I check this out with?) 
  • So what?  What will be the consequences if I pass this on? (So even if, hypothetically, China deliberately spread the virus what will we gain out of naming and blaming – and should our focus not be on what is helpful, and what we do to combat the spread of coronavirus?)

Remember, as Gregg Krech of the TODo Institute reminds us, that "the future is not happening now"!  So don't allow unnecessary and anxious thinking about a possible reality (most likely unfounded) cause your imagination to run riot and disturb your present moment contentedness.  (www.todoinstitute.orgThe more afraid we are of the future the more our present moment is disturbed.  (Just how afraid we are and stressed we become are partly a function of our past conditioning and experience - but more so a function of how we perceive the immediacy of the threat - how close, how soon, how big). One antidote is to deliberately bring yourself to pause and become present. Another is to do something for someone else. (Even an encouraging email to someone else will show them you care and shift your own focus) 

Refrain from any hint of gossip and spreading of rumour. “If you must slander someone don't speak it - but write it - write it in the sand, near the water's edge!” – Napoleon Hill (American author)

And it goes without saying that we should refute gossip and rumour-mongering and stop them in their tracks once we cotton on to any falseness or wrong intent. 
Someone once complained to Nasrudin that his wife was addicted to gossip. He refused to accept the complaint, saying “Well, she has never once come to me with gossip. So what you say cannot be true”. 


References
Gilbert, Paul (2010) The Compassionate Mind: a new approach to life’s challenges   Constable, London
Rosnow, Ralph and Foster, Eric (2005) Rumor and Gossip Research American Psychological Association Psychological Science Agenda Science Briefs April 2005
Unknown author (unknown date) Careless talk costs lives. Mr Hitler wants to know File:INF3-238  jpg  Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Pura Vida 3: Values and Practices: Part 2 of 2

THE HIGHEST VALUES AND PRACTICES
Values and practices, behaviours go hand in hand, and we continue to look at these as we share the experience of lockdown because of the coronavirus crisis.
Social connection   
We humans are all conditioned by our acculturation, socialisation, upbringing and experiences, and represent an infinite number of differences, variations, diversity. But we share a primary need, an intrinsic motivation to connect and to belong.  
On Abraham Maslow’s famous needs hierarchy, being loved and belonging is followed by finding our self-esteem on the path to self-actualisation. Self-actualisation encompasses becoming prosocial and compassionate.
Published in 1845, Hans Christian Andersen’s Ugly Duckling is referred to by Jungian analyst and storyteller Clarissa Pinkola Estés as “a psychological and spiritual root story ... one that contains a truth so fundamental to human development that without integration of this fact, further progression is shaky ...”   



She illuminates, “… when an individual’s particular kind of soulfulness, which is both instinctual and a spiritual identity, is surrounded by psychic acknowledgement and acceptance, that person feels life and power as never before. Ascertaining one’s own psychic family brings a person vitality and belongingness”. (Estés, C. P. 2008)  
At this time of ‘social distancing’, the imperative of connecting to self, those relationships that have weakened over time, and to others – is very real.  A good practice to consider is that of non-violent communication (Live and on-line). Here the topic and focus is not about an issue, demand, judgement, or accusation. It is about the sharing of needs and requests, and being gentle – between people, or our internal conversation within different parts of ourselves.   



Perhaps we can be more mindful of how we see, sense, notice and feel things both positive and negative – 'hold' that without bypassing nor analysing (yet), accept, be honest in sharing with others, and at the same time practice soothing. (This is of course easier said than done, and those in a basic condition of contentedness will be better off, find it easier).  Part of mindful relating is attentive listening (which theologian and existential philosopher Paul Tillich referred to as ‘an act of love’.
Connected relational values such as civility, trust and respect, inclusivity are far harder to earn than to lose. We need to learn to see the wounded child and amazing potential in the other and in ourselves. (The Zulu greeting sawubona means “I see you”, and the answer, ngikhona, means “I am here”). 
Part of our connecting, for those lucky enough during this time of lock-down, may happen during the playing of games, building a puzzle together.




Herodotus (The Histories) tells how the Lydians during a time of great scarcity and famine, occupied the people for 18 years with game play – inventing the ball, knucklebones, dice. (The casting of lots by Roman soldiers for Christ’s garments is preceded by many mentions in the Old Testament).  (Viewed against the Lydians' 18 years, we have a way to go yet!)
Jane McGonigal PhD, Director of Games Research and Development at the Institute of the Future, believes passionately that games can play a part in leading us to the reinvention of human civilisation. She says: “Collaborate, or perish, is perhaps the single most urgent rallying cry for our times”. (McGonigal, J. 2011)
Love and Compassion
Therese of Lisieux lived what she taught, that we may not be able to solve or control the bigger picture or what happens, but moment by moment we can do little things with great love, “What matters in life are not great deeds, but great love”.  “One word or a pleasing smile is often enough to raise up a saddened and wounded soul”. One of those "little" things that remain important during our current crisis, is listening. To the other person, our own bodies and sensing, across boundaries of all types ... one way of moving from 'me' to 'we'.
Professor Mia Leijssen (Experiential/Existential Psychotherapy at University of Leuven in Belgium), offers a self-assessment, an “experiential exercise to situate yourself in an ‘existential landscape of love’. It covers four realms (physical, social, personal, spiritual). If you wish to do the test, then I have her permission to provide you with it.  Contact centserv@iafrica.com
And here is something we can all reflect on at this time:
As a universal (not specifically Christian) reflection consider a Samaritan, who comes across a robbed, beaten-up man lying on the notorious ‘Way of Blood’ road from Jerusalem to Jericho, bleeding and dying.
The dying man is a member of a race that avoids and hates Samaritans.
But the Samaritan has compassion, doesn’t practice any social or physical distancing, perhaps risks catching a virus, goes to the man’s aid, pours expensive wine and oil on his wounds, bandages them. Puts the wounded man on his donkey, thus putting himself at risk of attack by robbers.
He takes the wounded man to an inn, looks after him, then leaves the next day, pays the inn keeper and gives instructions that the man be cared for until he, the Samaritan, returns, when he will (joyfully!) reimburse the innkeeper for any extra expenses incurred.
Nothing abstract nor especially rational in the Samaritan’s actions. But the living of the highest value.
When you reflect on this story, imagine that the Samaritan, and the man he comes across - are different parts of yourself, and imagine how you can show self-compassion to your hurt and bleeding part.  



 Vincent Willem van Gogh’s The Good Samaritan (In the Public Domain)
Kristin Neff helpfully advises that self-compassion may be applied in this way:  
Be non-judgemental of yourself, be kind to yourself
Be aware that everyone is in the same boat/ this is the human condition. You are not alone!
Simply accept painful thoughts mindfully without over-identifying with them
Self-compassion readies us to extend compassion to others.
References
Estés, Clarissa Pinkola (2008) Women Who Run with the Wolves: contacting the power of the wild woman Rider  
McGonigal, Jane (2011) Reality is Broken Jonathan Cape London



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Monday, March 30, 2020

PURA VIDA 2: VALUES AND PRACTICES: PART 1 of 2





PERSONAL VALUES

Values are what are important to us. What we value. 
Values and practices are a closed loop system. Stated values should be lived. Practices lead to the adoption of values. They go together like horse and cart.

In Blue Road to Atlantis, the old marlin steps in to take the hook in order to save another fish from the fisherman who had earlier caught the love of his life. As he slowly dies, and is pulled ever closer to the boat, his friends are with him. A parasitic remora (or marlin-sucker). And a Jamaican-speaking dolphin. 
With each ever-diminishing circle the old marlin is called to let go of a core life-value. At one point he asks:
Then tell me dolphin. How do I let go of life, truly let go?” 
“Just like you splash down after a jump, mon”. 
“But there’s no choice in that. Gravity pulls me down”. 
“Den let de sky pull you up”. (Nussbaum, J. 2002)


What are your 10 most important personal values? If you were called upon to discard your values one by one, then which few, or ultimately which one would you hang on to?


There are no right nor wrong answers. Each person develops and make choices about the values that are meaningful to them, and even when shared, we may each have our own very different definitions and behaviours that we relate to each value.
(You may share a love of learning with Leonardo da Vinci. Frantically and anxiously chase after and read every new business book that someone recommends. Attend live and on-line courses. Add to your information knowledge this way. Leonardo roamed the countryside with paper and pen to hand, observed and drew on nature for many of his ideas and inventions, was not that well educated in any formal sense. Yet his mindfulness and curiosity enabled stunning wisdom and innovation. And he loved it!)

And our values may alter as life happens.

During the current coronavirus lock-down we have an opportunity to revisit our personal values. Perhaps reframe some of them, see them in a different light.  As we mature we tend to move from the valuing of the extrinsic: position, possessions, power, (hedonistic) pleasure, perfection – to also straddling the intrinsic: (higher) purpose, people, planet, presence, personhood. 

Values and practices are about the whole person, overlapping the physical, intellectual, emotional, social and spiritual. Here are a few to mull over:


Adventure

After the first few days of lock-down, will we feel as if we’re under house arrest, and long for the freedom of wide open spaces, travel to foreign places, adventure and fun. Or will we begin to regain our capacity for simple joys?  As in the sentiments expressed in the Louis Armstrong hit of yesteryear:

I see trees of green, red roses too, I see ‘em bloom, for me and for you. And I think to myself, what a wonderful world. I see skies of blue, clouds of white. Bright blessed days, dark sacred nights. And I think to myself, what a wonderful world. The colors of a rainbow, so pretty in the sky, are also on the faces of people going by. I see friends shaking hands, sayin’ ‘how do you do’. They’re really sayin’ ‘I love you’. I hear babies cry. I watch them grow. They’ll learn much more than I’ll never know. And I think to myself, what a wonderful world”. (Thiele, B & Weiss, G. 1967)

Will we be able to find adventure in new happenings and experiences, being transported by a book, activating our imagination…?
Pioneering Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, founder of analytical psychology, Carl Jung, believed that adults should be involved in serious play. He practiced what he preached. One day in the grounds outside his home, he was playing in nature, busy constructing in miniature a bridge over a stream. A passer-by looked on in amazement and observed, “Is that not the world famous doctor? It doesn’t look like it”.



Movement/ Exercise 



The centre for physical movement in our brains is the same as for intellectual movement. That’s why it’s a good idea to take a walk to solve a problem. A quick look at human kinetics (from the Greek kinesis = movement) reveals the wonder of chemical, electrical and mechanical movement without which we cannot walk, shiver, swallow, process solids and liquids, blink, talk, track visually, hear, smell, breathe, pump blood, touch, create new neural pathways … or dance, or do yoga …

During lock-down, we can maintain our exercise practice without going outdoors. Perhaps spend 10 minutes each day doing the 5BX (five basic exercises) developed by Dr Bill Orban in the 1950s for Canadian pilots.  




Mindfulness



Our default setting is all too often MINDLESSNESS. We are frenetically busy, think a lot, get distracted, unfocused, strive, and become impatient with others, and resent what we consider to be chores. Contrary to these ‘normal’ behaviours we can learn to be habitually calm, present, have clarity, and be non-judgmental.  

A young girl approaches her father and asks, “Is it true that when we are asleep, we can wake up?” Her father assures her, “Of course it is true”. “Then”, says the girl, “it must also be true that when we are awake we can wake up more”. 


Being mindful is calmly observing, being aware, accepting non-judgmentally. We can wash dishes, mindful of the warmth of the water, the opportunity to do a task for others, be grateful for our faculties. After her left-brain stroke it took 3 years for neuroscientist Jill Bolte Taylor to be able to stack dishes after washing them – a “left brain” logical, mathematical task. (Bolte Taylor, J)

As we have evolved as humans we have developed what English psychologist Paul Gilbert refers to as “new brain-mind troubles”. We have the capacity to look ahead, anticipate, become anxious, worry. We can look back, regret, reflect on and relive mistakes Forget the present moment that we only live once – whether in lock-down or not. And forget the antidotes to these ‘troubles’; mindfulness and compassion. (Gilbert, P. 2010)

In Part 2 (Newsletter 3 in this Pura Vida series) we will think about social connection in a ‘socially distanced’ world (including the values and practices of trust and respect), and also think about the highest of all values, love (and compassion).



REFERENCES

Bolte Taylor, Jill (2009) My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey Penguin 
Gilbert, Paul (2010) The Compassionate Mind: a new approach to life’s challenges Constable, London  
Nussbaum, Jay (2002) Blue Road to Atlantis Bantam Books  
Thiele, Bob & Weiss, George, David (1967) What a Wonderful World