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How the BBC is against truth

Posted by Simon Parke, 16 July 2018, 3.40pm

I’ve only been on Radio 4’s Today programme once.

My book The Journey Home (previously known as The Beautiful Life) had recently come out.

What piqued the editor’s interest was the sub-title Ten New Commandments because life could be better which could, on the face of it, appear controversial.

I didn’t regard the book as controversial; more a natural development of Jesus’ beatitudes in which he focused on attitudes rather than behaviour.

And this is exactly what my book did. It looked at ten healthy attitudes.

But what interested me was how the BBC dealt with it - for, on arriving in the studio for the interview with Sue McGregor, they had a surprise opponent lined up.

It was a woman from the evangelical tradition. I don’t imagine she had read the book; there was certainly no evidence of this.

She had merely been told that someone was offering ten new commandments – commandments that were not in the bible. And did she have a view?

She certainly had a view.

So instead of reflecting of whether there was any truth in this book of mine – presumably the original intention - we wasted time on re-running old debates about the authority of scripture.

And all for the sake of ‘balance’...which is a most unstable god; and gladiatorial combat, the death of truth.

And so to the Brexit coverage.

I have been struck recently how - on a much larger stage, and in a much more significant drama - the unstable god of balance has returned, revealed in how the BBC use Nigel Farage.

Nigel Farage has failed to be elected on a number of occasions (is it eight?) so hardly the voice of the people. But he is given more air time than those who have been elected - and why?

For ‘balance’.

‘Find someone extreme, for God’s sake – we need balance!’

And so when Cambridge Analytica was recently exposed for campaign irregularities, we immediately had their boss on, saying how it wasn’t so, really, etc – for balance, of course.

We are left with the perception that here are two equally valid responses.

But they are not equally valid, the evidence only goes one way, and this is a crime of journalism…when they could have been reporting the lengthy investigative process that led to this exposure of the company’s activities.

That’s the news in this instance.

Others have written more knowledgeably than I can about the BBC’s almost non-existent reporting of the electoral crimes committed.

But I’m left with a sense of deja-vu and the sad truth that investigative journalism has been replaced by lazy ‘Balance TV’.

Back with me, my book and the Today studio, (a small stage, I know, but predictive) it would have been better if Sue McGregor had investigated my views when we spoke.

She could have asked hard questions, like Socrates. She could have dismantled me…or at least tried.

Instead, the lazy way was taken by the editorial team – get on some visceral opponent, (doesn’t matter if they haven’t read the damn book) and let the two of them slug it out.

‘Bit of drama, guys! And we must be balanced!’

Of course, in my case, it wasn’t even either/or. The Ten Commandments have much to commend them; they just aren’t the last word.

And I don’t imagine my opponent thought they were either. We were both debased by the process.

Balance never gets anyone nearer the truth; it just gives a leg-up to stupidity.

Whereas steady investigative questions, like Socrates once used…

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Attachment theory Part Three

Posted by Simon Parke, 16 July 2018, 2.19pm

We’re pondering attachment theory, and this is part three and the last in this mini-series.

And while all writing must stand on its own, to have read the previous two parts may help.

At the heart of attachment theory is the child’s relationship to their feelings.

The opportunity to express their feelings clearly and plainly - without being ignored and without fear of reprisal - is crucial in a child’s development.

If this opportunity isn’t offered to the child, and the trauma of the experience denied or ignored, then there is no way out of their psychological circumstances and they are a danger to themselves and others. 

Alice Miller, a personal hero of mine, puts it well:

‘The denied trauma is a wound that can never form a scar and which at any time can begin to bleed again. But given understanding surroundings, this wound can become visible and be healed.’

The central concept in Miller’s writing is the effacement or abandonment of self in the early years of life, when the child must bow to the parents’ needs rather than their own.

When the choice is between their own feelings and parental approval, there is no choice for the child. Parental approval trumps everything: one must survive and so true feeling will be denied, skewered or repressed.

When the child grows up, however, the price for this loss of self is paid in full, whether in anxiety, depression, emptiness, disorganised rage, indifference, control or distance.

But, as Miller says, given understanding surroundings, the wound can become visible and be healed.

And in this journey to health, the adult will need to grieve; there is bereavement here. They will need to grieve for the emotionally-denied childhood, which is lost and can never be recovered or lived again.

This can be a slow process, because the idealization of the inaccessible parents must slowly be dissolved before a true recognition of childhood reality can appear.

(There’s a lot of fake news in families.)

Such dissolution can be difficult for some, still hoping for parental approval, not wishing to rock the boat.

‘I don’t think its worth saying anything now.’

Or they say, ‘I’m sure my parents did their best’ - when wishing to perpetuate the denial of their true feelings. ‘And, I mean, she is my mum, after all!’

An insecure attachment style will persist throughout life, unless there is some well-supported inner work or an unusually secure attachment with someone in adulthood, like a partner, or perhaps in long-term psychotherapy.

Sadly, non-therapy relationships are sometimes unable to survive the work of undoing childhood insecurity. There can be a clash of baggage between friends or partners and therefore no safety.

Whatever help we find along the way, however, most of the work will be our own, as we allow the grief and the anger - for all emotions are allowed; as we notice our attachment patterns with kindness and accuracy; and as we find safe space to tell our story, space to be and so begin to meet with, and recover, the self that we lost and the feelings we had to deny.

The journey to health will be lost and found… found and lost… lost and found… it will be a dance in which we trip and stumble occasionally.

But it’s a good homecoming, and the begetter of fresh energy and new attachments…

...wiser, cleaner and better ones.

 

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What question is your life here to solve?

Posted by Simon Parke, 16 July 2018, 10.02am

What question is your life here to solve?

Sometimes life’s question is simply, what socks shall I wear today - or what shirt?

Or perhaps a little more challenging, should I change jobs or propose marriage?

Questions differ in significance.

And then somewhere beneath these questions, in a deeper soul space, is the question your life is here to solve.

It’s a slow-burn question, but unique to you and worth some attention.

Given both your struggles, your discoveries and your hope, what is the question your life is here to answer?

It’s like a magnificent infection inside you, touching every organ.

It’s like a seed within, slowly cracking open with growth.

Perhaps you know the question already…though the search for it will include both your conscious and shadow side…the hidden places, perhaps rejected by you and pushed away.

For everything within you belongs and is part of the answer...everything.

You’ll need to gather these different voices, especially the rejected ones, hear them out, make a choir of them, full of acapella harmony.

It may take time, a choir finding its voice, integrating its parts, a work in progress.

(Though sometimes it’s effortless and no work at all, and we are given in a moment all we ever wanted.)

And there at our core, like deep orange embers ready to flame: what question is your life here to answer?

What will you draw from your ‘one precious life’ and bring to the great human story?

It taps us on the shoulder. It keeps turning up unannounced, begging our attention…

...this simple and difficult question guiding us home.

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Attachment theory Part Two

Posted by Simon Parke, 13 July 2018, 9.13am

We’re thinking about attachment theory, pioneered by John Bowlby.

This is Part Two, which assumes knowledge of Part One, which I posted recently.

We opened the subject up and looked briefly at secure, anxious, avoidant and disorganised attachment.

Secure attachment is gift; the other three are not. Anxious attachment, for instance, forms where the world is so unsettled, or the parent so preoccupied or vulnerable, that the infant must cling very tight to survive.

This child does not explore very much. Maybe the carer does not want them exploring; or perhaps they’d just get up and leave if the infant did not hang on. It’s an anxious space to inhabit when small and the experience long-remembered.

We also pondered avoidant attachment, where the message is that the caretaker is dangerous and needs to be avoided; or appears to value most highly a child who is minimal trouble and independent.

And there are times when, in anger and desperation, the parent wants the infant to just disappear or die. Perhaps the child is shaken, thrust down or thrown across the room. In that case, the infant will do best not to be attached at all.

As we seek our place in all this, we remember that attachment theory is not some binary, all-or-nothing labelling. Like all truth, it has many shades.

Sometimes, for instance, a child is securely attached to one parent and not to the other. Different attachments may form with different parents.

But it is the primary carer who will have the most real-life influence; and the most particular power.

So how will this affect our lives?

From our first attachment experiences, with our neural pathways still forming, we develop a mental idea of what to expect from someone we are close to and depend on.

As a vulnerable child, meeting our primary carer’s desires is crucial for our survival; all else is secondary and we must do what is necessary.

And even when, in adult life, it ceases to be about survival, and we appear to have more power and more choices, the neural pathways remain and the programme is still there in our brain, a secret but formidable influencer.

It is why we don’t always make the best choices in relationships, perhaps repeatedly choosing people who harm us or make us feel insecure.

Many of us stick to a flawed survival plan that we somehow feel safe with. We stick to what we know, because it feels familiar and protects us from dangerous error.

Or so we imagine…

Somewhere inside there is often the longing for parents to change:

‘This Christmas will be better!’

There is the longing that they might see us for who we truly are and understand us. Never say never but this rarely occurs, because parents rarely change with age.

Adults may then seek some sort of redemption in their partners or in their children, looking for acceptance or value from them instead…which can be quite a weight for them to carry.

If they don’t find it there, they may opt for the self-medication of alcohol, pills, work, random sex or join some tribe or other - political, social or religious.

What is apparent is that our attachment wounds – the scar tissue from the past - are the stuff of our healing, and a journey we’ll be on for the rest of our life.

My issues won’t be solved by a weekend away or with the purchase of a book – though every little helps.

And our attachments are crucial, they’re worth the time, because they affect how we deal with other traumas in our lives.

How I deal with rejection, for instance, may not have changed very much since I was nine months old.

The attachment wounds are the fundamental trauma, which, for good or ill, cradles and colours the others.

Initially, most people are looking for symptom relief rather than healing; though slow healing is possible, if there is the will for it.

Healing is the kind and patient recovery of the self we had to abandon as a child, and even as I write that line, something inside me sighs.

It is re-parenting ourselves– or parenting ourselves for the first time.

In Part Three, we’ll look at some healing paths.

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Are penalties a matter of luck?

Posted by Simon Parke, 09 July 2018, 5.41pm

So England beat the disgraceful Colombians on penalties.

(I’m sorry, they were. Had they played us at football, they probably would have won.)

And with column inches to fill, we heard a lot about the psychology of penalty taking…particularly as the national team has lost the last seven shoot-outs, I believe.

Gareth Southgate, the England manager - who himself once missed a crucial penalty for England - even spoke admiringly of his players ‘owning the process’... which I last heard at a psychotherapy conference.

Things are changing in the England camp.

And my friend – not a football follower, but aware that it’s a bit hard to avoid at present - listens to all this and is wondering: ‘Is the psychology of penalty taking really a thing, Simon? I mean, isn’t it all just a matter of luck?’

And I say, well, it is a thing to the extent that players, amid extraordinary pressure, can be helped to stay in the moment.

And they can be helped to breathe deeply and trust their preparation; helped to stay with their normal routine and (amid the absurd delaying antics of opponents) to avoid distraction and focus on their task.

All of life is luck, of course. We have no power over where we are born - in what country, in what century, to which parents, and to what financial and emotional resources – all of which make an incalculable difference to our lives.

We are surfers, dealing with what comes, riding both the waves of luck and ill-luck…waves that do not obviously care and are not obviously just, though they sometimes lift us high.

Life is luck.

But we can help luck along, we can attract luck even, by ‘owning the process’ - living it presently, with awareness, with hope and without fear…whether we’re wondering about our job or our marriage…teaching a difficult class…handling the world’s most stupid boss…

...or walking up to take the penalty.

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Attachment theory Part One

Posted by Simon Parke, 09 July 2018, 2.01pm

I’d like write something about attachment theory.

This will be familiar to some of you. Perhaps you’ve come across it professionally; or perhaps it has been helpful personally.

I remember when I first came across it. It was like I’d been hit by a big sand bag; my body knew its truth, in a manner my head could not.

It left me with much to consider; and, in a way, exposed wounds that are at the heart of my healing. It’s a journey I’ll be on for the rest of my life.

But more importantly, is there anything here for you?

To ensure the blog is not too long, I’ll be doing this in three parts. This is part one, outlining the basic premise of attachment theory.

Attachment theory, (pioneered by John Bowlby, and developed by Mary Ainsworth) describes four different attachment styles that arise from the relationship between the primary care-giver (usually the mother) and the baby.

These are named as secure, anxious, avoidant or disorganised; and they will form the blue print for relationships throughout the baby’s life.

Attachment is an emotional bond with another person; and when we are young, it’s an evolutionary survival tool, trying to maintain proximity to those we need; creating a safe haven, where we can return to in case of threat; and a secure place for us from which to explore.

Everyone needs these things; but the baby particularly needs them.

As we look at the different sorts of attachment, we’ll probably see/feel one form which best describes each of us.

The roots of all this are buried in our ‘unrememberable but unforgettable’ past. The development of our particular attachment was a transactional process, shaped by real life relationships. Our attachment model grew from our early experience of both attitudes and behaviour.

So what happened when we cried/smiled/held/clung or raged, for instance? We learnt from the responses we got.

So here are the four different attachments. 

Secure attachment This describes children who were able to separate from parents and explore, but also return happily to them. They found comfort from them when frightened, and preferred parents to strangers.

As adults, they’ll tend to have trusting, lasting relationships, comfortable with their feelings and able to share their feelings with friends and partners, with good self-esteem, able to seek social support.

Anxious attachment – As children, they may be wary of strangers, become distressed when parents leave, but do not appear comforted when they reappear. As adults, they may worry their partner does not love them.

They received inconsistent parenting, sometimes switched on, sometimes distant. They were forced to focus on their parent’s state, to maximise the chance of a response.

Emotions are kept close to the surface, bubbling away, so they can make a bid for attention when the chance arises.

Instead of suppressing feelings they may exaggerate them, becoming overly aware of fears and needs. They seek a good response from their carer, who may like and use this neediness.

In adult life, they may cling to others to get more feedback, to help them cope with/interpret their emotions. Those with ambivalent attachment may plunge headlong into expressing strong feelings, without restraint or regard for others’ feelings.

Avoidant attachment As Sue Gerhardt says, if a parent hasn’t learned to handle feelings of hostility and anger comfortably, then they’ll find them very hard to bear in their children.

She’ll push them away/rage at them or demonise: ‘You little devil!’ or, ‘Don’t try that on with me!’

The child will learn to hold back their feelings, either denying they exist or avoiding expressing them, so as not to upset mother. This is a matter of survival. So the child regulates the mother by protecting them from their feelings.

But for themselves, there is no regulatory help for their feelings, which they must try and suppress or switch off completely.

Avoidant children will slam on the emotional breaks when strong feelings start to arise, so they don’t have to deal with feelings they don’t know what to do with.

Disorganised attachment - Arises in families where much is broken, parents overwhelmed by traumatic experiences they have been unable to process. They are unable to provide the child with the most basic needs, like safe space of any sort – physical, psychological or emotional.

When so much is wrong, the child has no coherent defence strategy to pursue, either as a child or an adult. Reactions will be volatile and inconsistent.

Apart from secure attachment, each of these parental responses disturbs the body’s natural rhythms, where cycles need to be played out, as we grow.

We need to be helped into a relationship with our feelings as we grow, rather than avoiding them or being overwhelmed by them.

(Part Two, in which we consider healing paths, will follow.)

 

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Fachidiot

Posted by Simon Parke, 09 July 2018, 10.30am

You won’t be surprised to know that the Germans have a word for it.

It doesn’t sound polite - and it isn’t.

The German word Fachidiot – pronounced ‘Fack-ID-yot’ – refers to someone who has great subject knowledge in one area… but who doesn’t know or care what happens around them.

A Fach is a compartment in a larger piece of furniture, (like a small drawer in a cabinet) but in a figurative sense, can also mean specific knowledge in a broad field, as in civil engineering, or a niche artistic gift, such as a singer’s tone or vocal range.

And an idiot is the same in German as in English.

So the word describes someone with a particular knowledge-base, interest or skill; but one which is out of relationship with everyone around them.

The consequence can be a blinkered approach to a multi-faceted problem; or a lack of awareness of, or interest in, the bigger picture and other people’s contributions.

There is probably a Fachidiot in us all, walled-up in our own tiny slice of truth, threatened by the big flow around us.

It’s a bid for certainty and, therefore, safety.

But just as water away from the flow grows stagnant, foul-smelling and unusable, so, if isolated, do our skills and ideas.

Our insights are better in relationship, where they are tested and enriched.

‘Only connect,’ said Forster.

But the Fachidiot cannot do this. They are too busy making too much sense to themselves.

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Reflections on trust

Posted by Simon Parke, 06 July 2018, 10.51am

Trust is sometimes presented as something we should try harder at.

‘You should trust more!’

But trust is never a matter of striving or straining.

Indeed, beware of those who say ‘You should trust more!’  There is no ‘should’ here.

Trust is a gift we are given, not a virtue we strive for.

If we trust someone, it is because they have proved themselves trustworthy.

They give us the gift of trust through their behaviour, repeated consistently.

Some people punish themselves for not trusting more, but this is inappropriate.

Trust is not something we do, but an attitude that is nurtured by real life experiences of consistency.

Instead of punishing ourselves, it might be helpful to reflect a little on our past.

If we have difficulties with trust - and many of us do - then probably we did not experience our environment as trustworthy when our brain was hard-wiring in our very early years.

To survive, we had to distrust, and it is difficult to shake that approach to life; it is difficult to ease away from the belief that this is somehow doing us good, protecting us.

It did once - but it doesn’t now.

Some people’s childhoods – lost to conscious memory but remembered in our bodies – makes trust very problematic in later life.

The memories are still there, hidden away in our unconscious.

These people will be more vulnerable to what they perceive as betrayal or abandonment by those around them.

Trust can create difficulties in relationships for these people, if it becomes attached to the ego, and something judgemental.

People will let us down. That’s a fact. Everyone will let us down at some point, in small or large ways.

If we trust them, we may feel angry, let down, disappointed, despairing, judgemental.

‘How could they do this to me? It’s not right!’

We may learn to trust someone, but we will trust with a lightness of touch, for trust is not the same as control.

They are no more reliable than we are. So we will trust… and we will not trust.

A trust in God - in the good unfolding of creation and the good unfolding of our lives - can bring calm and contentment.

But if we have issues around trust from our past, they will assuredly be projected onto God as well as those around us.

We don’t relate to God in a vacuum; we don’t relate to God any differently from those we live among; our past fractures are not erased in the divine relationship.

So we’ll need to be kind to ourselves, let go of self-punishing attitudes and remember trust is a gift, not a striving.

We’ll tend to drift in and out of trust; it will come and go and that’s OK.

Though when the trust is strong, in those moments, all is quite well in our lives, whatever is happening around us.

Such trust is the source of Julian of Norwich’s famous lines, ‘All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.’

We can help ourselves.

We can help ourselves by remembering the good rather than always going to the distrustful negative.

So many aspects of our lives can be reframed and seen in a fresh light, as we begin to parent ourselves, holding ourselves kindly.

So there are things we can do.

Though in the end, trust must arrive as a beautiful and moment-altering gift.

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The Seagulls and Mr Fox

Posted by Simon Parke, 05 July 2018, 11.14am

Peter and Mrs Peter are seagulls who live on our roof.

‘Herring gulls, actually,’ she’ll tell you, if you press her on the matter. ‘We’re herring gulls. Is that really so hard to remember?’

‘Check out our one and a half meter wingspan,’ adds Peter, who does work out a bit.

They were here before we were, as they keep reminding us; and if they have a name for us, it’s probably ‘staff’ – people who serve them.

‘It’s the new staff arriving,’ they said as our removals van pull in.

They are not enlightened employers; no one could call them that.

They shit on us from a great height, literally.

In exchange, we provide food and break the ice on the bird bath in winter, to enable them to drink.

And sometimes we try and save their young.

They usually parent three offspring; and about this time of year, they tumble down off the roof into the garden or onto the road.

They tumble down - but they cannot tumble back up again, being quite unable to fly yet.

And so at this time of year, Mr Fox is pretty alert - ‘feathers from heaven’, as they say. ‘The easiest meal all year.’

And on Tuesday, early in the morning, Mr Fox jumped the garden wall with incredible ease, and took the first of the babies to leave the nest.

Only a few grey feathers remain of a brief life; for a large bird who cannot fly is a ‘sitting duck’.

I don’t know if herring gulls mourn; I suspect their predominantly reptilian brain is not geared up for that.

Peter and Mrs Peter certainly don’t lose their appetite, unable to eat for grief. They are very able. And neither do they use the incident to advise their remaining children on ‘stranger danger’.

For later that day, the two other babies make the fool’s jump, one into the garden, one into the road.

They are as big as their parents, but hunched. They cannot fly, they cannot feed themselves, they walk around in a clueless daze…(join the rest of us)... and last night, my wife was worried.

‘He’s not going to survive a night in the road.’

This was true. It’s a fox highway when the shades lengthen and evening comes, and full of dangerous ginger.

So with patience, gentle steps and soothing words, Shellie is finally able to draw alongside the baby herring gull – who we’ll call Gerry. She picks him up and takes him through the house and into the garden, where his sibling, Aqua, is wandering in the gloom.

Their parents are nowhere to be seen. They do rather turn their care on and off, which must be unsettling for their offspring. In later life, they may tend towards ambivalent attachment patterns.

But more pressingly, will Gerry and Aqua survive the night? They’d have more chance here in the garden, behind a wall. But darkness is falling, the Fox family waking, and in the end, nature must take its course.

We close the curtains and go to bed.

‘It’s like picking up a chicken,’ says Shellie, when I ask her how it feels to pick up a baby herring gull.

‘I’ve never picked up a chicken,’ I say.

‘Nor have I,’ she replies.

(Note: When using ‘like’ as a preposition, in an analogous sense - as in, ‘similar to’ - it’s helpful if both speaker and listener are familiar with the object or experience to which the subject is being compared.)

Anyway, grammar aside (because this is a life and death situation) early the following morning, I stumble down stairs, and before even making a cup of tea, I go out into the garden.

What do I find?

I find them safe! Hurrah!

They sit together, like two teenagers, who haven’t quite made it home after a rough night. They are hunched, and look longingly through the patio window to the comfort of our front room.

They have survived the night and live to see another day; and, with a shrug of their young middle-class shoulders, they’re now just wondering where the staff are.

‘They seem to turn up when they want to,’ says Gerry.

‘Tell me about it,’ says Aqua.

P.S. The night after this blog was written, both Gerry and Aqua were taken by the fox. It was a brief hurrah.

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Jason the Juggler

Posted by Simon Parke, 03 July 2018, 7.24am

Jason sits quietly on the pavement as people pass by.

He is surrounded by the tools of his trade, the juggling trade, keeping everything in the air – daily and always.

And you mustn’t drop the prop, golden rule in juggling: DON’T DROP THE PROP!

Jason had juggled with all sorts down the years – balls, sticks, knives, oranges, bean bags…he’d even juggled with fire - flame torches tossed high in the air, spinning around, each one caught and sent flying again.

The crowd like that stunt, and Jason tries to please.

The juggler has to keep the show on the road, no rest at all, keep everything in the air, every damn prop - you must never drop the prop.

Only now Jason sits quietly on the pavement, pondering the tools of his trade and the sky above.

He hasn’t looked at the sky enough.

Some ask why he’s not juggling for them anymore.

‘Why are you just sitting there? We like you when you’re juggling!’

And he explains that he’s taking a break.

‘I’m taking a break,’ he says.

And he is taking a break, for this is his time now.

His time… to recover his soul or whatever.

Sitting there on the pavement, there’s nothing to keep in the air, no show to keep on the road – just a life to love and to ponder.

And Jason feels happy, nervous… and free.

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