Tag Archives: aggression

Modelling Behaviour

Children copy what they experience – most especially what they see their adult primary carers doing. Patterns for behaviour, a sense of place in the world, ideas about self, family, community and life are absorbed unconsciously early on, and often taken in through that act of mimicry. However, there’s not an age at which this entirely goes away. We’re primates. Monkey see, monkey do.

Affirmation and a sense of belonging follows from doing the things we can see other people doing. It’s one of the reasons clothes fashions and counter culture clothing are so powerful – they identify us with our people. There’s no inherent reason why we see suits as smart and jeans as scruffy, that’s just a consensus to help us fit in with the company we’re keeping. If the convention was to wear jeans to the office and suits for lounging around in, we’d do it that way instead. Neither being that physically comfortable.

When people encounter expressions of anger, hatred, violence and prejudice, some will respond by wanting to repeat that behaviour. Obviously it has to tap into personal attitude, but the more visible it is, the more comfortable it feels to be part of it. When the majority are calm, pleasant, cooperative and friendly there’s real pressure on people who tend to hate to fit in with standard behaviour.

Many people aren’t comfortable with standing out from the crowd.

This is why, for those of us who can and will buck the trend, it’s important to keep modelling the kind of behaviour we want to see in the world. Be calm. Be reasonable. Avoid aggressive and abusive language. Avoid shouting back. Model something better. It has a real effect. On the other hand, if we’re lured into expressions of rage and violence, what we do is fuel the rage and violence that we were trying to oppose. There’s an allure in verbal and physical violence – it can make us feel powerful, it can allow us power over others, and if we feel self-righteous, knocking the ‘idiots’ down can feel exciting, and that’s a trap to avoid, because at that point, we’re just a bunch of people attacking each other and the values we thought we stood up for are likely lost in the mix.

Situations of self defence aside, the ‘fight’ here is first and foremost at a conceptual level, it’s about what kind of people we are and how we think people should be, and the best way to achieve this is to keep demonstrating it.

In search of a culture shift

I’m following on from a review I’ve posted today about a Book called Overcoming Depression. http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/390492284?fb_action_ids=394855587245705&fb_action_types=good_reads%3Awrite&fb_source=other_multiline&action_object_map=%7B%22394855587245705%22%3A10151158810115638%7D&action_type_map=%7B%22394855587245705%22%3A%22good_reads%3Awrite%22%7D&action_ref_map=%5B%5D

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.

In conflict we bemuse

I was deeply affected by a recent post on Cat Treadwell’s blog http://druidcat.wordpress.com/2012/08/02/thedarkpaths/ , where she talks about experiencing conflict scenarios with people who are aggressive towards her. Recognising the isolation, fear and other painful things that may underpin such behaviour, she pondered what to do in such scenarios. The more dedicated a person is to service, the harder it is to turn away from people whose negativity harms them and anyone who comes close enough to be infected by it.

I know that at present, I’m not equal to that kind of service. I don’t have the resources of energy or the depth of equilibrium called for. I’m not prepared to compromise my health and viability to tackle problem people. Mostly I deal with people who bother me by keeping away. And sometimes I recognise that calls for a calculated form of selfishness on my part. Compassion can be exhausting, and I am a finite being. But, so many wrongs in the world derive from the fears, mistaken beliefs and unsustainable habits of people. Turning a blind eye is a means of condoning. Whatever we may feel about not wanting to control people, there’s the issues planetary crisis and not tolerating cruelty to consider. Sometimes, it’s necessary to act.

How do we discern between rightful action, and action motivated by vanity, pride or a desire to control? How much wanting to redirect is merely self importance? Every time any of us get the urge to call another person out over their behaviour, this is something to consider. Never, ever get complacent about it. Holier than thou as a mindset is seldom very holy at all. It’s so easy to see the surface and not see what lies beneath. Another thing that touched me in Cat’s recent blog, was her desire to understand and to heal, not to browbeat.

Taking the time to understand can often foster compassion. If we see the fear that underpins the shouting, the raging insecurity that has someone behaving in a controlling way, we have more scope for handing it gently. It’s easy to accidently reaffirm the mindset – anger, resentment, resistance, can all turn out to be what the awkward one knew would happen. If we reinforce the world view, we help entrench the problem.

There’s a lot to be said for doing, and saying the unexpected. Take a second to consider what kind of response the words or behaviour seemed intended to elicit. Then do some other thing. There are people who will push you away because they believe no one can love them. There are people who will shout at you so that when you shout back, they have a justification for hitting you. There are people who will make you lose your cool so that they can mock you, or will try to make you lash out so they can prove how unreasonable you really are. Often, once you start looking, the intended reaction becomes transparent. Do some other thing. Smile. Laugh. Wish them well. Compliment them. Get them on the back foot by refusing to conform to their world view. Seed an idea.

Lots of people have tightly held stories about the way the world works, and will cling to them regardless of evidence to the contrary. Some people have an amazing capacity to reinvent experiences in order to make them fit. A person clinging to a perspective may react negatively to someone whose very existence challenges belief. Pagans frequently fail to conform to other people’s stereotypes. This alone can lead to resentment. Sometimes just being who and how you are will constitute an affront to people whose tidy little perspectives cannot fit you in. Some people will try and take you down, take you apart, just to make you fit. People who have given up on their dreams tend to detest dreamers. People who believe the world is an ugly place resent those who can see beauty. People who are jealous and fearful resent those who are generous and free. Those who think that power, money and social status matter feel threatened by anyone who can be happy with very little. And on it goes. If we let them diminish us, we let them win.

I think sometimes, the most compassionate thing we can do for some of the people who come into our lives, is to fail to live up to their expectations, and thereby fail to make them comfortable. The shaking of complacency, the challenging of beliefs, the refusal to play, are all very powerful ways of encouraging other people to rethink things. And it’s an approach that keeps us on our toes too, keeps us honest, and stops us falling into other people’s traps or trying to make them do anything at all.