In search of a culture shift

I’m following on from a review I’ve posted today about a Book called Overcoming Depression.

When I was a kid, people thought it was no big deal to drink and drive. Awareness of the consequences has led to a culture shift and it’s now sufficiently shameful that people do it less, and are less likely to claim a right to do it. It used to be culturally fine for smokers to subject non-smokers to smoke, and not culturally ok to object to this. The police would not, until relatively recently, come out for a wife beating, much less seek to prosecute. We used to beat children, we used to bait bears. Cultures change when the people in them reject a behaviour, or a way of being.

Here’s the culture shift I want: That mental cruelty and abuse should be seen as just as damaging, unnecessary and despicable as physical abuse. If someone takes a hammer to me and breaks my bones, they will go to prison. If someone takes words to me and causes me to have a nervous breakdown, destroying my mind, there will be no consequences for them. The bones would heal. The mind often doesn’t. We need to treat psychological violence as a serious issue.

One of the things I noticed reading the Overcoming Depression book, is the number of case histories where the sufferer had been the victim of psychological abuse – often in childhood, but also in the workplace and at the hands of lovers. While we find destructive criticism socially acceptable, while it’s fine to put down, harass, demoralise, nit pick, devalue, publicly humiliate, patronise, and so forth, this is not going to change. Depression, it should be noted, is widespread and on the increase. Do we want a culture of people who are so miserable and messed up that all we do is wound each other, or do we want to fix it? We have the knowledge in our culture about how good relationship works, how to build self esteem, how to increase happiness. We just aren’t using it.

We have ideas like might is right. Survival of the fittest. If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen. Keep em lean, keep em keen. Being nice or polite is just political correctness and worthless. Revenge is a good thing. Winning is everything. Law of the jungle. Do unto others before they do unto you. And many, many more. All of these thought forms are basically about justifying greed, aggression, and acting like a total shit. They are denials of social responsibility and they tell us that if we can get away with it, then it’s fine, and if we didn’t someone else would, or they’d do it to us. NONE OF THIS IS NECESSARY OR INEVITABLE.

And in that law of the jungle world view, you never get to relax, or draw breath. You’ve always got to watch out for the faster, smarter predator who is going to take you down. You can’t enjoy anything. You can’t trust anyone. You know it’s all conditional on what you earn, on status, power. When you lose, they’ll cut you to shreds. This is not conducive to happiness. It is about as far as you can get from being happy without having a painful and terminal disease, at a guess. With the game set up this way, nobody wins. Remind me about the intelligent ape bit again. This is intelligent?

Criticism is good. Pointing out the flaws is good. You can’t learn if you cannot make mistakes and recognise them. Success is not much of a teacher. However ‘you are rubbish’ is not teaching anyone. “You will never get anything right” is of no use. Broad, negative statements designed to denigrate, are just forms of attack. They need treating as such, and the people who dish them out need treating as aggressive and antisocial. In terms of jungle law, abusive people need identifying as social dinosaurs. And we know what happened to dinosaurs. Time to consider some evolution.

People did not get to current civilized status by trying to dominate each other. Most real progress owes more to co-operation than competition. We do most, and best, and happiest when we play as a team. We need to stop socially reinforcing the people who trade on insults and criticism. We need to stop seeing anything clever or macho about aggression and tyrannical behaviour. Culture shifts all start somewhere. Or probably, they all start a lot of places in small ways and gradually converge. Racism used to be a fact of life. Sexism used to be entirely institutionalised and on the statute books. Mistreating LGBT folk used to be considered normal, if not a legal requirement. We’ve come a long way. We’ve still got a lot of work to do. We need to recognise that psychological violence destroys lives, and we need to stop pretending that this is somehow less of an issue than hitting people about the head with blunt objects.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

5 responses to “In search of a culture shift

  • Wendy Stokes

    It is especially damaging when a person commits an act of generosity, caring or patience and finds that others are seethingly resentful of their actions – why? It seems anyone who is not aggressively self-serving comes in for the bitterest kind of criticism They are seen as soft and stupid. We are told that all actions have a payoff and that kind people are kind because they get a payoff. Richard Dawkins Selfish Gene prevents anyone from being altruistic, from risking their own life by rushing into a burning building to giving a tramp on the street some money. Sometimes there is a direct payoff, to do something for a friend who returns the kindness, but for those who work to create a better world for everyone, they usually do this altruistically, for no benefit for themselves. If this makes selfish people feel guilty and bad, it is because everyone should be pulling in the same direction, not against each other. To fight for justice, we fight not only for ourselves but for those who cannot fight for themselves, and this might be us one day. The New Age is especially tough on moral thinking and we must not forget that psychopaths think entirely about gain for themselves, are risk takers who have no feelings of guilt about the harm they cause to others. Any reflection on learning is about how they can gain more regardless of the cost to others.

  • Alison Waldie

    I wish that there was more importance placed on emotional literacy in our schools. You cannot perform academically when you are feeling messed up but as with nutrition and health the obvious links seem to be overlooked.
    It would not only help the kids dealing with issues but teach all students how to recognize the many forms of abuse. It would also land some real skills for communicating in their hands and stop the perpetuation of these behaviors.
    I am in a serious battle with our school board to have one counselor placed in our high school. People in my small town have stopped speaking with me because of my request. I am not tired yet though.
    Articles like this help a lot. Thanks,
    Alison Waldie

  • Fallingleaf

    “If someone takes a hammer to me and breaks my bones, they will go to prison. If someone takes words to me and causes me to have a nervous breakdown, destroying my mind, there will be no consequences for them.”

    I agree with much that’s in this post, but would add a caution that before we consider sending psychological abusers and predators off to prison (or some other form of social retribution), it might be wise to start a cultural shift in the prisons, where mental illness runs rampant. Otherwise, we’re simply perpetuating the abuse, and what does that make us?

    • Wendy

      When I was growing up, the worst insult you could pay to someone would be to describe them as ‘selfish’, and if someone bullied someone, they would be shunned and have no friends. This natural condemnation reduced the incidence of hurtful behaviour.
      Today, someone is praised for being self-serving and if someone is kind and generous, they are ridiculed! If someone is a bully, they are ‘wicked’!
      We must return to shaming and condemnation for behaviour that is antisocial and not community minded, otherwise its everyone for themselves, which is fine for the fittest, but for those who are unwell, elderly, young, etc., vulnerability is seen as something to exploit!

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