April 30, 2012
That's a bit rich
Beneath the currently fashionable coat of social mobility an odd thing is happening: we're getting less social and less mobile.
The rich are always with us and particularly now. The recent publication of the Sunday Times rich list, the annual drool-fest for the middle classes came shortly after Nadine Dorries called David Cameron and George Osborne 'two arrogant posh boys' with 'no passion to understand the lives of others.' This criticism stings as a double-dip recession takes hold and figures reveal the gap between Britain's highest and lowest paid workers widened last year. The bottom tenth saw their pay rise 0.1% while the top tenth climbed 18 times that amount. The trickle down theory in economics, born in America's Great Depression, doesn't have many followers these days. Create money and it doesn't trickle down to the poor; it trickles up to the rich.
Or to those who have, more will be given.
The rich come out fighting. They tell us how hard they worked to get where they are and encourage us to do likewise: 'Work hard like me and you'll reap the rewards!' But the girl in Taiwan working 15 hours a day to make trainers for the west will always be poor. Being rich may involve hard work but it's mainly about luck as the billionaire investor Warren Buffet acknowledges. 'If you stick me down in the middle of Bangladesh or Peru or some place, you find out how much this talent is going to produce in the wrong kind of soil ... I work in a market system that happens to reward what I do very well - disproportionately well.'
The rich never imagine themselves to be so. 'I have money worries too, you know,' they say. 'Once we'd paid our children's boarding school fees, the nanny and the gardener, plus the Tuscany trips obviously, we seriously wondered whether a third car was absolutely necessary. As it turned out it was but like everyone else, we have to keep a very close eye on our budget.'
These lines only just get into the 'parody' category. Some claim we're biologically programmed not to notice our advantages to keep us striving - or oblivious, such a vital anaesthetic.
One blogger responded to the Rich List like this: 'You won't find me on the rich list, but believe me I am rich! I have clean drinking water at the turn of a tap; I have hot water for washing; I have shoes; in my kitchen there is food; my bed is soft and clean. I was a taught to read when I was five so now I can effortlessly access books and newspapers. I am rich!'
Heart-warming and accurate words so we'll not be bitter. But neither will we worship the small god of social mobility. 'We do not accept that ours will ever be a nation of haves and have-nots,' says Mitch Daniels, the Governor of Indiana. 'We must always be a nation of haves and soon-to-haves.'
So inspiring! So hopeful! And so untrue.
April 29, 2012
We Do What We Can
We do what we can
And not what we can't
It helps when we can be honest with ourselves
Accept our feelings as our own
And not transfer them onto others.
It helps when we notice our assumptions
And see them for what they are
Of course they may turn out to be right
But more than likely
They will turn out to be on the long line between wrong and right
And it is always good to remember
That our right is only a judgement on a certain situation
We tend to firstly always see things from our own point of view.
It helps when we accept that the behaviours of others
That upset or anger us are often our actions too
Depending on the circumstances
We are also capable of all things
This may not be a comfortable place to sit
As at first the truth often disturbs
But the truth also always brings healing and hope
Truth is the friend that sometimes speaks
Of that which we do not wish to hear
Truth is ambitious for our health and our spiritual growth.
It helps when we notice and speak our own nonsense
It helps when we laugh at our own inconsistences
It helps when we cry our own pain
It helps when we accept our own humanity.
If we can accept our own humanity
And learn to love ourselves just the way we are
Then one day we may be able to accept and love others
Just the way they are
In the warmth of love and acceptance
Change can be contemplated
And inner beauty can break free.
Meanwhile we do what we can
And not what we can't.
April 28, 2012
And stuff can stuff us good and proper.
Stuff to make you weep, frankly.
So when it's too stuffy, we unstuff ourselves.
De-stuffify, to use technical language.
That is, we allow stuff to float off down the river, without chasing after it.
'Go stu-uff, go stu-uff!'
We say 'Hello stuff, how are you stuff?' and then 'Goodbye stuff'.
Because stuff happens but can't be carried.
Noticed but not carried or we become totally unfresh; in other words, really stuffy.
Stuff said, I think.
April 27, 2012
Would you have yourself as a friend?
I was interested in a headline in London's Evening Standard last night:
'Would you have yourself as a friend?'
Someone was saying yesterday that Simon Cowell obviously would - 'he even has mirrors on the inside of his glasses' they cruelly - though possibily truthfully - observed.
But beyond such celebrity chit-chat, one of my experiences of using the Enneagram over the years is that people very rarely choose a partner who is the same number as them.
The Enneagram describes nine ways of being, nine responses to our past and it is these which define our particular number. (Though not our health within that number - that's our daily journey.)
Statistically, again from my experience, people are most likely to choose a number next to them on the enneagram circle to be their partner. This will mean they share certain psychological features, but are different enough to make them feel interesting.
There's clearly an in-built sense in us that someone too like ourselves is rather claustrophobic; that we need to be drawn out of our habitual reactions rather than confirmed in them.
So its a day for noting who our friends are, and discerning who draws good things out of us.
Of course, its not really about numbers in the end, but about our and their psychological and spiritual health.
Perhaps you would have yourself as a friend, and perhaps you'd be a brilliant friend. Quite possible.
Or perhaps you'd be a disaster.
So would you have yourself as a friend?
April 26, 2012
What family values are worth fighting for?
This is a long blog, based on a piece I recently did for 'Third Way'. It concerns the politics, the psychology and the spirituality of family values. If such things interest you, read on.
If not, skip gaily away to more intriguing things.
Lauren is crying in frustration. Now in her mid-thirties, she left home many years ago and travelled far but neither time nor mileage seem to have made any difference. By phone and e mail, Lauren is still bombarded with demand and reprimand by her mother and it's upsetting her. When she recently refused Skype contact, her mother felt slighted and was furious. Lauren regarded it as one invasion too many and knew she had to stand firm; yet still felt guilty about her negative feelings towards her mother.
As we reflected on the situation, we saw that Lauren was playing the kind adult to her childish parent but it was hard:
'I'm an adult and I've left home,' said Lauren, who is a successful PR executivein the north of England. 'But when she makes contact, I might as well be seven and still trying to please her.'
Families, like the poor, are always with us. But just how honest are we about them? And what are the family values worth fighting for?
Unlike previous generations of politicians, the present crop must have a view on family life. David Cameron places great emphasis on the family and sees marriage as the heart of it. At the Welsh Conservative Conference in 2009 he said: 'We want to see a more responsible society, where people behave in a decent and civilised way, where they understand their obligations to others, to their neighbours, to their country and above all, to their family. Families are the most important institution in our society. We have to do everything in our power to strengthen them.'
At his party conference in October, 2011 he said: 'Marriage is not just a piece of paper. It pulls couples together through the ebb and flow of life. It gives children stability. And it says powerful things about what we should value. So yes, we will recognise marriage in the tax system.'
His coalition partner, Nick Clegg only half agrees. 'Getting married,' he said 'is probably the best thing that ever happened to me. But as a liberal I think there are limits to how the state and government should try to micromanage or incentivise people's own behaviour in their private lives.'
Earlier in the day, in a speech to the Demos think-tank, he'd said: 'We should not take a particular version of the family institution, such as the 1950s model of suit-wearing, bread-winning dad and aproned, home-making mother - and try and preserve it in aspic. That's why open society liberals and big society conservatives will take a different view on a tax break for marriage.'
Ed Miliband also opposes the pro-marriage stance of Cameron. At a London event in May, 2011 he insisted that marriage was not a crucial part of family life. 'I am pro-commitment,' he said, 'but I think that unlike David Cameron, I am not going to say that those families that aren't married are automatically less stable than those families that are.'
The leftward-leaning Labour MP Diane Abbott, however, is concerned about what she perceives as a lack of interest in 'family' in her party: 'Some of my colleagues are skeptical of Ian Duncan Smith's family narrative,' she says, 'and I share that up to a point. I'm a single mum... and don't want to feel second class because of it... but we shouldn't abandon talking about the family to the right and extremist religious nut jobs.'
Off the record, another parliamentary source in the Labour party went even further when reflecting on the summer riots: 'We've got to do police but family is equally relevant and if we don't tackle that we will be out of touch. This is not just a post-riots issue, it goes much deeper.'
Politicians may not do God but they certainly do family; and when they do, they talk mainly about marriage. There's a reason for this as research suggests marriage provides a more stable background for children. Where marriage breaks down, there's plenty of anecdotal evidence of crisis and dysfunction. I listened recently to someone working in a school on a 'sink' estate. She said that hardly any of the children's parents were married and that a very high percentage were from multi-parent families. By that, she meant that brothers and sisters all have a different surname. These children have very little support at home, she said, 'probably because their parents put themselves first.'
Parents staying together is a factor in healthy families but is not the heart of the matter. The breakdown of marriage is only one tree in the forest for in the end, it's not the quantity but quality of adults around the child that is most crucial in their healthy development. The plain fact is that like Lauren, 4 out 5 of the people who come to see me for therapeutic help as adults had two parents who stayed together but who, out of ignorance or psychological laziness, passed on the poor parenting they received to the next generation. If we imagine renewing the family is all about saving marriages, we are mistaken. Two parents can leave you just as damaged as one.
But what of the church in all this? It's been common during the last twenty years to hear Conservative politicians berate the church for not giving a clearer lead in family life. There's an element of comedy in the fact that while politicians preach family values the church focuses on politics.
So when Rowan Williams reflected on societal unease in his 2011 Christmas address, he didn't blame family breakdown but a breakdown in communal trust: 'The most pressing question we now face,' he said, 'we might well say, is who and where we are as a society. Bonds have been broken, trust abused and lost. Whether it is an urban rioter mindlessly burning down a small shop that serves his community or a speculator turning his back on the question of who bears the ultimate cost for his acquisitive adventures in the virtual reality of today's financial world, the picture is of atoms spinning apart in the dark.'
But when it comes to family values, the church is aware of an elephant in the room, and the elephant is Jesus. The church follows a man who is unique amongst religious leaders for disowning his mother and choosing a public place in which to do it. Imagine it! Today, the pressure on people to buy a cheesy mother's day card is enormous. How could you not want to say thank you to this most central figure in your life?
Yet the gospels record an incident when Jesus doesn't play this family game. He's talking to his followers when his mother, brothers and sisters turn up and ask to speak with him. Their aim is to dissuade him from his increasingly public ministry, a role that has taken him, the eldest son, away from the home. His response is shocking. He refuses to go and meet them and says: 'Who is my mother? Who are my brothers? Whoever does what my father in heaven wants him to do is my brother, my sister and my mother.'
Blood family is ignored and a family of affinity encouraged.
Even in our supposedly liberated times, these 27 words spoken by Jesus would be considered unacceptable. Only the lowest of the low can disown their mother, surely? Yet in the patriarchal Jewish society of 1st century Palestine, where the 4th commandment required you to honour your father and mother, the words were even more shocking.
But here's the interesting question: is there a moment in our development when each of us, like Jesus, needs to forsake the family? Do we sometimes have to say goodbye to our family in order to say hello to them again? This is the premise in my recent book, 'Forsaking the Family' - an attempt to look at this institution with honest and contemplative eyes, away from the platitudes that so often surround the subject.
And it get's worse for the church, for lurking in the Old Testament scriptures, amongst many family horror stories, is the darkest incident of all: the tale of Abraham setting out with his son Isaac in order to sacrifice him to God. It's a tale of appalling child abuse told as if it is all rather divine. Here's a story of a father who agrees to kill his son when asked by the Almighty. It's a story which includes a death march: the three-day walk of father and son, with the son deceived about their destination and plans.
As a parent I am repulsed by the idea and as a son, I'm terrified. A walk together is usually a trusting and close affair but not on this occasion.
We then reach the moment which the storyteller, perhaps unsurprisingly, skims over. Abraham finally turns towards his son and using both his physical strength and the authority vested in him, forces him to climb up onto the altar. He then ties him down with cord. It will need to be tight, otherwise his son might wriggle in an attempt to evade the plunging knife. How would you handle this if you were the parent, if you were Abraham?
There is no dialogue recorded for this part of the story. Is Isaac literally dumb-struck? He's unaware of the fate his father has planned, though he must be weeping inside with confusion and fear. Finally, the knife-holding hand of the adult is raised and the truth is clear to young Isaac. His father, the man he trusts above all others, is about to kill him.
What is there to commend this story? If it is a story about the merits of blind obedience, then we might equally celebrate the obedience of those who faithfully carried out orders in Auschwitz or Treblinka. What ethical check on obedience exists if child murder can be applauded when carried out obediently? And more crucially: what of the feelings of the child? Do you ever recover from such an incident? Presumably your only path of survival - one still common today - is to deny within that it ever happened. 'My father would never have done that. I must be making it up.'
The psychologist Alice Miller, reflecting on this story, believes that the Fourth Commandment has had disastrous outcomes for the family. Writing on her website, she said: 'Over 100 years ago Sigmund Freud subjected himself without reserve to the prevailing idea of morality by putting all the blame on the child and sparing the parents. His successors did precisely the same.'
She believes psychoanalysis is now more open to the child's story but in these attempts is still 'largely thwarted by the Fourth Commandment.'
She quotes the Auchwitz commandant Rudolph Hoss: 'Above all, I was constantly reminded,' he said, 'that I was to comply with and follow the wishes or commands of parents, teachers, priests etc, indeed all grown ups including servants and that I was to allow nothing to distract me from that duty. Whatever they said, went. These fundamental values of my upbringing became part of my flesh and blood.'
We note that the Nazis were pro-marriage and pro-obedience towards parents; we note also that for them as for many today, the family was a sacred cow that could not be questioned. In such a climate, as every psychotherapist knows, for a son or daughter to take on their parents is the 'last battle' and to be avoided at all costs, no matter how much of themselves or their past they have to deny. People will blame everybody - and particularly themselves, exhibited commonly in depression - before blaming their parents.
But this is not a counsel of despair. I am optimistic for families. The harm done by one generation need not be passed on to the next. As wonderful parents across the country show, a damaged child does not need to become a damaging parent. And we break the cycle of destructive family settings when we become aware of our own experiences as children. Did you have difficult parents? Difficult parents, according to psychologist Sue Gerhardt, tend to fall into three categories: neglectful, intrusive or inconsistent.
Neglectful parents are often themselves depressed and find it hard to respond to their babies. Oppressed by their own concerns, they are withdrawn, offer no eye contact and pick the child up only to feed or clean them. As a result, the baby develops depressed ways of interacting, as modelled by the parent.
The intrusive parent will display anger, even if it's passive. They'll resent the child's demands and express their aggresssion towards them. Perhaps they pick the child up abruptly, hold it in a stiff manner or throw it down on the bed.
This parent fails to pick up any signals from the child who will grow up insecurely attached and emotionally avoidant.
The inconsistent parent - sometimes concerned, sometimes switched off - forces children into heightened awarness of their parent's mood to optimise the chance of getting a response. The unpredictable behaviour of the parent gives the parent power, making the child - and later the adult - always available to them and always needing them. This is known as a 'resistant' or 'ambivalent' attachment.
Talk of family values is good for the family is always with us. But let's talk of those things which make families truly valuable. And most crucial to a happy home and gracious growing is not the marriage vows or obedience to parents but the extent to which the parent or carer is emotionally available to the child, able to respond to their signals of discomfort or delight and able to soothe and calm when disturbed. This is particularly so in the first two years of life when the hard-wiring of the human brain is taking place - the hard-wiring which will be taken onto the streets and into work in adult life.
And as the first two years of life are crucial to the health of the family so is a sense of eternity. Truth is strange to our ears because it's so rare but according to Jesus, the family does not exist in any eternal sense. We recall a scene recorded in the gospels when those negative towards Jesus were trying to catch him out over the eternal nature of marriage. Desiring to make Jesus look foolish, they asked this: who will a woman be married to in heaven if she has been married to more than one person on earth?
Now there was a tricky one for the so-called Teacher to handle!
Jesus is under-whelmed by their cleverness. The premise of the conundrum is that relationships on earth will continue as they are beyond the grave, making for hellish chaos, dispute and bad feeling. But Jesus does not accept this premise. He simply replies that things will not be like that; that if we look to the eternal future, we are looking at a different way of being.
The message is clear: our complex network of relationships on earth will not be polished up a little and then transferred to the halls of heaven; such concepts as marriage and family, which so dominate earthly life, will have no existence there. It will be different. We're presented with mystery, certainly but not a conundrum and the only ones left looking foolish in this encounter are those too narrowly obsessed with the confines of the present ways and structures.
But then who can blame them? That's what they had been taught from their mother's knee. They had been taught that marriage and obedience to the family ethos were everything. What else could they do but believe it and assume it an eternal truth?
Families come in all shapes and sizes and no two are the same. The family is the oldest institution in the world because it's so flexible, reinventing itself down the centuries, across the world and in our own lives in ever-different forms. Families can be both wonderful and tragic. They have the power to create but also the power to destroy which should make us cautious about calls to 'strengthen the family' for it begs the question: which aspect of the family are we strengthening?
And so we return to where we started. The wonderful Lauren is concerned at her negative feelings towards her mother. We laugh about it not being a concern that Jesus seemed to share and she's relieved when I say that she's not responsible for the relationship: 'The child's relationship with the parent is all down to the parent.'
This is self-evident. It's a psychological impossibility that a child would turn their back on a parent who has loved them in a consistent and accepting manner. Parents create their children which is why to a greater or lesser degree, we must all leave our family, as Jesus did, to find ourselves; and perhaps to find our families all over again.
For if Jesus disowned his mother in life, he looked after her in death. In a moving scene, the crucified Jesus creates a new family - not one of blood but of affinity. Speaking from the cross, Mary is told to take John as her son and John is told to take Mary as his mother. From this time on, we are told they shared a home together.
Lauren will create a good family around her, whether one of blood or affinity, because at some expense to herself, she's being honest about her experiences and feelings. In fact, is the most shining family value that of honesty?
(If you'd like to pursue this, my book is called 'Forsaking the Family' and published by White Crow books.)
April 25, 2012
99 words - part 4
Perhaps one more offering from DLt's excellent book, 'You have breath for no more than 99 words.'
Today we hear from Sheila Cassidy, hospice medical director and advocate for human rights and victims of torture.
'God holds the world in his hands.
He is not a bystander
at the pain of the world
but is there, in the dock, on the rack,
high on the gallows tree.
our pain and prayer are somehow used
in the divine economy.
The blood shed in Salvador
will irrigate the heart of some financier
a million miles away,
while the terror, pain and despair
of people swamped by lava, flood or earthquake
will be caught up like mist
and fall again,
a gentle rain on arid hearts or souls despairing
in the back streets of Brooklyn.'
What would your 99 words be?
April 24, 2012
Enneagram: the new and improved version
I was delighted today to receive the first copy of the revised version of my book 'Enneagram - a private session with the world's greatest psychologist.'
Although there is a constant re-writer in me - I'm always wanting to chip and chisel away at my text, never feeling it's quite there - this book is the only book of mine I've seriously wished to re-write. And I'm grateful that White Crow have given me the chance.
The Enneagram may be a complete mystery to you, but simply put, it's a way of understanding why we are as we are and how we can grow from here.
It records and explains nine different human reactions to a loss of trust in the world and a lost sense of unity with the world when young. One of those reactions was yours, forgotten now in the mist of time, but it has played a significant - and almost certainly unknown - part in your life ever since.
There is no better friend than the Enneagram for both exposing our phoney self and helping us towards our true selves; or as Julian of Norwich called them, our insubstantial and substantial selves. So I commend the Eneagram journey to you if you feel it might be your time.
The new version of the book is distinctive for the orange and green chairs on the cover. That's the revised version and you can use the book section on this site to find it. The other thing is, it's never been released as an e book before; it is now.
The Enneagram journey is about waking up and discovering not so much your hidden talent as your hidden being. And then staying close to it.
P.S. I'm doing a 4-day Enneagram retreat in September. Again, details on this site.
April 23, 2012
Tesco's Shelf Life
Alan Coren, the comic writer once said that Sainbury's exists to keep the riff-raff out of Waitrose. But what does Tesco exist for?
Tesco, the retail giant, is in a spot of bother at the moment - though everything's relative. Last year, their overseas business in Europe, Asia and the US rose 7%; they have a 30% market share in the UK, some way ahead of their competitors and though their UK trading profit fell by 1% that still left a profit of 2.5bn. It's a decline most of us can only dream of.
But perceptions of the company are changing. From being seen as a smart and innovative British success story the noises-off now are about a surly workforce, penny-pinching understaffing in their shops, hubris in a boardroom out of touch with customers' needs, cold in-store décor, a bullying attitude towards local councils set alongside an unattractive willingness to undercut local shops to close them down before raising prices again.
And then there's the 'narrative' question. Every organisation has to have a narrative these days, even supermarkets. They don't just sell carrots and washing-up liquid. They must 'tell a story' and as one shopper said, 'Tesco has no compelling narrative now. It's only about price and it's not a narrative that's working.'
New Chief Executive Philip Clarke acknowledges the problem. He told the BBC's Robert Peston that their mistake was to invest too little in existing stores, even taking money out of them to finance the growth overseas. With its market share established, Tesco simply took its British customers for granted; customers who are the company's financial security.
The plan now is to move away from getting bigger and aim instead to get better, including a £400m 'refresh' of 430 existing stores, to make them less clinical. There's too much white, apparently, which can be intimidating.
Decline is inevitable. Success tends to make both companies and people less interesting as mistaken assumptions around entitlement and genius begin to calcify. And when you're at the top the only way is down, with many keen to help you there, including your rivals who are sure to up their game as M&S and Sainsbury's discovered in the 1990's.
But while we enjoy success, we learn from failure and inevitable or not, this is Tesco's chance to search inside for its soul. The store has experienced massive product diversification and global expansion over the last ten years, but perhaps lost sight of the central questions: What's it for? Why does it exist? It used to be a grocer in the UK. Now it wants to sell us insurance, electrical goods and a 100 other things far removed from broccoli and bananas; and it wants to do it world-wide. Is getting bigger always the best way forward?
Unlike Tesco, we're not all the world's third largest retailer. But we all sometimes need to recover our soul. We never lose it but it can get mislaid along the way.
April 21, 2012
99 words - Part three
Today's words come from Tony Benn, Labour MP and former Cabinet Minister.
'Richard Rumbold, a republican executed in June 1685 at the Gallows Market Cross in Edinburgh - hanged, drawn and quartered after the Monmouth Rebellion, said this on the scaffold:
'I am sure there was no man born marked of God above another; for none comes into the world with a saddle on his back, neither any booted and spurred to ride him.'
(Taken from 'You have breath for no more than 99 words. What would they be?' published by DLT.)
April 20, 2012
99 words - Part Two
In our '99 words only' mini-series, we hear today from Nelson Mandela who used these words in a speech at the International Aids conference in 2000.
'It is never my custom to use words lightly.
If 27 years in prison have done anything to us, it was to use the silence of solitude to make us understand how precious words are and how real speech is in its impact on the way people live and die.'
April 19, 2012
Breaking news: new consultation development
Readers of this blog are hearing breaking news here:
Since three hours ago - and after some kind help - I am now offering consultations via Skype.
I'm aware that in the past, the geography of a London meeting has made a consultation impossible for a number of you.
It's also an expensive and time-consuming business travelling to the capital, unless you're also taking in friends, some shopping and a show.
Of course, I'm continuing to meet people in the flesh. That will never stop.
But if you're interested in meeting via Skype, then do e mail me. As you will know, it's both free and easy to download and free to use it.
I will ask £30 for an hour-long meeting.
If this might be for you, or if you have any queries, then make contact at firstname.lastname@example.org and the conversation can continue.
99 words - Part one
I was yesterday given a book called:
'You have breath for no more than 99 words. What would they be?' published by DLT.
In it, various individuals offer us their 99 words. With permission, I thought I might share a few. Today we meet Susana Baca, singer and champion of Afro-Peruvian music:
'I started in life inventing dreams and characters...time filtered them to leave me the essential. Like a tree, I know which fruits I am to bear; I also know that only time will reveal which is to become my best and sweetest...
Today I met an old musicain, strong as a tree and as grounded; he gave me his best melody, ripened with his years; he taught me that my music must last, that it holds the sounds and the words of others as well as mine.
I'll travel with them, sowing my spirit and spreading my happiness...'
April 18, 2012
High levels of uranium and hypocrisy
How to solve a problem like Iran's nuclear ambitions? Possibly by minding the hypocrisy levels.
This month in Istanbul and next month in Baghdad, the UN security council is meeting with Iran to talk about nuclear weapons. And trust is in short supply. Israel continues to threaten military action while US lawmakers pledge to enact new economic sanctions unless Tehran abides by UN resolutions.
Iranian President Ahmadjinedad denies weapon making: 'We do not need an atomic bomb. The Iranian nation is wise. It won't build two atomic bombs while you have 20,000 warheads.'
Well, there's both lie and truth here. The lie is suggesting the Iranian people are key in this matter. They may well be wise but evidence of a rigged election last year reveals the leadership has no interest in their opinion. (Shame. This is the country where Hafiz is the most popular poet.)
The truth however is in the figures: 20,000 against two. Iran's uranium levels may be high. But are the west and their allies' hypocrisy levels even higher?
No one is asked to trust Iranian intent; that's not how you do politics or indeed life. But hypocrisy may become a problem with the collapse of the Iron Curtain a case in point. Remember the Eastern bloc and how it looked so impregnably solid? What could topple that?But there's only so much nonsense and double-speak which can be tolerated before the centre cannot hold and things fall apart. The ridiculous can only be briefly strong for hypocrisy contains the seeds of its own death. Is the west reaching this point over nuclear weapons?
The accusation goes like this: if Iran has nothing to hide, why are they so afraid of full inspections? Yet when did Pakistan, India and North Korea last grant free access to their military nuclear facilities? Or America, Israel, Russia or the UK? As Gary Mckinnon discovered, hack into American defence material from your North London bedsit and the US will come for you. Access is definitely denied. Yet Iran is asked to open its doors and say 'Welcome! Please access all our secrets!'
The Iranian leadership says it will 'wipe out' Israel: stupid, twisted, sabre-rattling words for home consumption which in reality would be suicide for any Iranian leader who sanctioned it. Yet scolding them for this is America which is the only country in the world to have used a nuclear device against civilians without repercussions. Are there different rules for them?
As for Israel and the topic of 'wipe out', in the UN's Goldstone Report of 2009, a psychiatrist in Gaza says: 'We already see in our schools in Gaza the next generation of Hamas revolutionaries, children exposed to so much violence they have no option but to terminate their childhood and move into a different frame and the likelihood is that they will never stabilize.' Since then, things have worsened considerably.
Trust in others is foolish but awareness of my hypocrisy is wise. When the emperor has no clothes, a little girl in the crowd may well declare, 'But he isn't wearing anything at all!'
April 17, 2012
I was speaking with someone recently - we'll call her Joan. She is disturbed that for the first time in her life, she doesn't like herself.
'What's gone wrong?' she asks.
Of course, nothing has gone wrong. Indeed, much has gone right. Joan has simply started the journey of self-awareness, of waking up. She's dared to look in the truth mirror.
Previously, she had a false image of herself. With this, she could cruise through life being life and soul of every party, consumed by activity, judging everyone else and feeling good about what she did.
Yet as she said with breath-taking honesty, 'I'm not sure I was ever really present to my children - or anything. I was always somewhere else.'
'And I have regrets,' she added. 'I've never had regrets before! I don't want them!'
Now Joan has begun to look in the truth mirror she's seeing herself as she truly is. Her old certainties about herself crumble.
'I don't know anything now.' she says.
It's a wonderfully brave journey. To discard that false image of self is like discarding our most treasured possession.
And as Joan says, she doesn't feel good.
'It's tempting to go back to the false image,' she says. 'But I can't. You can't go back to sleep, can you?'
Part of human awakening is the truth mirror.
It's shocking, but more than shocking, it's kind.
Joan will be fine.
Joan is fine.
April 14, 2012
Titanic Episode Eleven
The world remains gripped by the story of the Titanic.
There have been other watery tragedies. On April 27, 1865, a boiler explosion on the Santana, a Mississippi steamboat, left 1,547 people dead, most of them Union soldiers returning home at the end of Civil War. But while the death toll of the Santana exceeded the 1,517 reported for the Titanic, few remember the name.
And in the history of maritime disasters, the Titanic falls far short of the estimated 4,000 killed when the Dona Paz, a passenger ferry, collided with an oil tanker off the Philippines in 1987.
So wherein lies the fascination with the Titanic?
My sense is this: an intriguingly diverse community, from all social classes, is isolated on a vast ocean and given time to contemplate its own death. From utter security - 'this ship is unsinkable' - to radical insecurity: how do people react?
Here lies the fascination with this story, as we put ourselves in their place. Who do we admire? Who do we scold? Who would you have been?
In these eleven short episodes, we have lived the moment again through the eyes of those who were there. But we close with the words of some one who wasn't.
Our mini-series ends with Viktor Frankl's reflections on his time in a Nazi concentration camp. They seem relevant:
'The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity - even under the most difficult circumstances - to add a deeper meaning to his life. It may remain brave, dignified and unselfish. Or in the bitter fight for self-preservation he may forget his human dignity and become no more than an animal. Here lies the chance for a man either to make use of or to forgo the opportunities of attaining the moral values that a difficult situation may afford him. And this decides whether he is worthy of his suffering or not.'
Titanic Episode Ten
As we heard from Lady Gordon, many of those in the water clung onto floating items discarded from the boat.
Some men found an overturned raft and climbed onto it. Any port in a storm. But as the hours passed, several of them, unable to stand the cold, gave up the struggle and fell off.
Gracie was one of those on the raft who survived - and recalled that he'd been uttering silent prayers for deliverance when one of the crewmen suggested they should all say the Lord's Prayer together.
The suggestion 'met with instant approval and our voices with one accord burst forth in repeating that great appeal to the Creator and Preserver of all mankind and the only prayer that everyone knew and could unite in, thereby manifesting that we were all sons of God and brothers to each other whatever our sphere in life or creed might be.'
Titanic Episode Nine
Lady Gordon, from her relatively empty life boat - only 12 on board - tells the story of the ship's final moments:
'The whole forward part of the great liner dropped down under the waves. The stern rose a hundred feet almost perpendicularly. The screaming was agonizing. I never heard such a continued chorus of utter despair and agony.
The great power of the Titanic slowly sank as though a great hand was pushing it gently down under the waves. As it went, the screaming of the poor souls left on board seemed to grow louder. It took the Titanic perhaps two minutes to sink after the last explosion.
It went down slowly without a ripple. We had heard of the danger of suction when one of these great liners sinks. There was no such thing about the sinking of the Titanic. The amazing part of it all to me as I sat there in the boat looking at this monster being destroyed was that it all could be accomplished so gently.
Then began the real agonies of the night. Up to that time no one in our boat, and I imagine no one on any of the other boats, had really thought that the Titanic was going to sink. For a moment an awful silence seemed to hang over all, and then from the water all about where the Titanic had been arose a bedlam of shrieks and cries.
There were men and women clinging to the bits of wreckage in the icy water. It was at least an hour before the last shrieks died out. I remember the very last cry was a man who'd been calling loudly: 'My God! My God!' He cried monotonously in a dull, hopeless way.
For an entire hour there had been an awful chorus of shrieks, gradually dying into a hopeless moan until this last cry that I speak of.
Then all was silent.'
TItanic Episode Eight
The ship's band was praised by all surviving passengers.
Beesley, who we have already met, recalled that they began playing around 12:40 a.m., an hour after the collision and continued until after 2 a.m.
'Many brave things were done that night, but none more brave than by those few men playing minute after minute as the ship settled quietly lower and lower in the sea and the sea rose higher and higher to where they stood; the music they played serving alike as their own immortal requiem and their right to be recorded on the rolls of undying fame.'
While it was generally reported that 'Nearer My God to Thee' was
one of their chosen pieces, perhaps even the final one, many passengers, including Colonel Archibald Gracie from Washington DC did not think so. He said it would have been tactless and would have created a panic. Gracie interviewed many passengers, finding only two who remembered hearing the hymn played.
Whatever the truth, Hilda Slater said that the music did much to keep up people's spirits, a calming influence.
But was this all good?
Interestingly, a 2004 article posted at the internet site Encyclopedia Titanica suggests that the playing of the music contributed to the death toll by creating 'a mood of conviviality, of unity, of optimism,' thus giving 'auditory assurance that all was well.'
The author Sean Molony argues that more passengers would have boarded the lifeboats had they not been lulled into a false sense of security.
Perhaps this is so, perhaps it is not, but those seven orchestra members, under the direction of Wallace Hartley, showed great courage in the final hours.
The music died with them but their gracious tune lives on.
April 13, 2012
Titanic Episode Seven
Multi-millionaire John Jacob Astor, 47, is said to have initially ridiculed the idea of leaving the ship in lifeboats, saying that the solid decks of the Titanic were safer than a small lifeboat.
However, by 1:45 a.m. he had changed his mind and helped his 18-year-old wife, Madeleine board the last lifeboat. (He had divorced his first wife in 1909.)
He then asked Second Officer Charles Lightoller if he could also board and was told that no men were allowed. Astor then stood back and reportedly stood alone as others tried to free the remaining collapsable boat.
And so it was that the richest passenger on board the Titanic went down with her, when presumably he could have bought his safety.
Also lost was his much-loved Airedale dog, Kitty.
In the next episode, we hear of the remarkable musicians on board.
Titanic Episode Six
Some women remained on the ship because the risk of boarding a lifeboat seemed greater than that of staying on board the liner.
Albert Smith, the ship's steward, said, 'Many believed it was safer to stay on board the big liner even wounded as she was than to trust themselves to the boats.'
If this fear seems odd with hindsight it made a lot of sense at the time. The lifeboats hung 70-75 feet above the ocean as crew members struggled to lower them. It was a journey dowanwards in fits and starts, jolts and jerks.
'Our lifeboat, with thirty-six in it, began lowering to the sea,' said Elizabeth Shutes, a 40-yearold first-class passenger. 'This was done amid the greatest confusion. Rough seamen all giving different orders with no officer aboard. As only one side of the ropes worked, the lifeboat at one time was in such a position that it seemed
we must capsize in mid-air. At last the ropes worked together and we
drew nearer and nearer to the black, oily water.'
Shutes added that there was some reluctance to row away from the ship. It felt much safer to be near it, so certain were they that it would not sink.
There were also reports of men rushing the life boats, jumping in them as they were being lowered and even stowing away in them under cover.
'Some men came and tried to rush the boat,' said crew member Joseph Scarrot, in charge of lifeboat 14. 'They were foreigners and could not understand the orders I gave them, but I managed to keep them away. I had to use some persuasion with a boat tiller. One man jumped in twice and I had to throw him out the third time.'
Fifth Officer H. G. Lowe reported that one passenger, an Italian, boarded one of the boats dressed like a woman, with a shawl over his head.
And as the boat was being lowered he noted a lot of passengers along the rails 'glaring more of less like wild beasts, ready to spring.'
He said he fired three warning shots and did not hit anybody.
In the next episode, we hear a story of surprising honour.
Titanic Episode Five
The smell of cowardice at sea hung around long after the great ship had plunged to its watery grave.
The person most suspect of being a coward was J. Bruce Ismay, the 49-year-old president of the International Mercantile Marine, owners of White Star Line. There were conflicting eye-witness reports as to whether he was in one of the first lifeboats to leave or the last. There was also disagreement about what prompted him to get in the boat in the first place.
Mary Louise Smith, an 18 year old wife - whose husband was refused a place on the lifeboat - claimed that Ismay was escorted by seamen into the lifeboat she occupied, which was one of the first to leave.
However, Thomas Cardeza, a 36-year-old first class passenger testified that Ismay at first refused to enter the lifeboat, was one of the last to leave and was urged by several women to get in the boat, saying that they would feel safer if he were in it. He finally agreed.
Quartermaster George Rowe, in charge of the last boat to leave at approximately 1:40 a.m., about 40 minutes before the ship sank, testified before the American Court of Inquiry that Ismay got in his boat only after it was clear that no one else was around to board it.
However, he heard no one ask Ismay to get in the boat. In testifying before the British Court of Inquiry, Ismay stated that the boat was ready to be lowered and since no one else was around on that side of the ship, he got in.
One member of the inquiry court questioned Ismay about his duty to search for other people to fill the boats. (They would not have been hard to find.) However, board members agreed that if there were such a duty it was a moral duty and that such duties were not within the jurisdiction of the board.
In Ismay's defense, Sir Robert Finlay, counsel for White Star company, argued that there was no duty on his part to go down with the ship, as the captain did.
'He did all he did to help the women and the children. It was only when the boat was being lowered that he got into it. He violated no point of honour and if he had thrown his life away in the manner now suggested it would be said he did it because he was conscious he could not face this inquiry and so he had lost his life.'
So Mr Ismay: was he all-coward, all-honour or something in between?
In the next episode, we'll hear about the increasing pressure on the life boat's as the panic grew. We'll discover things that don't quite ring true with Mr Ismay's story.
There were plenty of people aching to be on the last life boat out.
Titanic Episode Four
Although the captain had given the order 'women and children only!' many men were able to board the lifeboats.
One of them was a man called Beesley. He later explained that lifeboat 13 was only about half full when he heard the cry, 'Any more ladies?' The call was repeated twice with no response before one of the crew looked at him and told him to jump in.
Would you have?
After he was in the boat, three more women and one man boarded and then the boat was owered into the sea.
'We rowed away from her in the quietness of the night,' he recalls, 'hoping and praying with all our hearts that she would sink no more and the day would find her still in the same position as she was then.'
Still people assumed all would be well. As Beesley writes, 'Husbands expected to follow their wives and join them either in New York or by transfer in mid-ocean from steamer to steamer. It is not any wonder, then, that many elected to remain, deliberately choosing the deck of the Titanic to a place in the lifeboat. And yet the boats had to go down and so initially they were half full; this is the real explanation of why they were not as fully loaded as the later ones.'
While some newspapers and the public initially looked with suspicion on the 338 men saved, it became clear that some were picked up from the ocean, including hose who had clung to an overturned raft, while others, like Beesley, were invited to get in when no other women or children were around to fill the lifeboat. Others still were commissioned by those in charge to row the boats.
And of course the women and children travelling third class were still not able to get on deck, their way to the lifeboats barred…
So not all the men who survived were cowards; far from it. They may well have been rich - that was their luck - but not necessarily cowards.
But in the next episode, we hear of the man most suspected of being one.
Titanic Episode Three
Only 12 people were in the lifeboat occupied by Sir Cosmo and Lady
Duff-Gordon, even though it had a capacity of 40. And seven of those 12 were crew members.
It was reported by one crew member, Charles Hendrickson, that Lady Gordon objected to the lifeboat returning to pick up those in the water after the ship went down for fear that the boat would be
swamped by people. Several of the men agreed with her and so they rowed away while hundreds were left freezing to death in the water.
It was also claimed that Sir Cosmo offered the crew members money
not to go back, but when he was called to answer this claim before
a British inquiry board, he explained that one of the crew complained
that he would never be paid by the White Star Line now the voyage was abandoned and so he offered five pounds to each crew member and kept his promise after boarding the 'Carpathia', the ship that rescued them.
Lady Gordon also appeared before the board and denied that she heard any of the cries of those drowning and further denied that she objected to going back to pick them up.
So passengers first had to survive the crisis; then they had to survive the suspicion in the weeks and months that followed. How come they had made it? Suspicion fell particularly heavily on the men who survived. But apportioning guilt and blame was not a straightforward affair as we shall see in our next episode.
Titanic Episode Two
Fear arose slowly aboard the Titanic.
People really did believe the publicity, that it was unsinkable. Robert W. Daniel, a 27-year-old first-class passenger from
Philadelphia, testified. 'The officers assured everybody that there was no danger, and we all had such confidence in the Titanic that it didn't occur to anybody that she might sink.'
Finally, Daniel jumped into the ocean before the ship went down and was picked up by one of the lifeboats. He said that in the water, 'men fought and bit and struck one another like madmen,' referring to those in the water attempting to save themselves. He was reportedly picked up naked with wounds to his face and nearly died from the exposure from his time in the water.
Even when, an hour after the accident, the captain ordered the lifeboats to be lowered, the severity of the situation was not realized by most. It was seen as a precautionary measure. Lady Gordon-Duff takes up the story:
'No one, apparently, thought there was any danger,' she writes. 'We watched a number of women and children and some men going into the lifeboats. At last one of the officers came to me and said, 'Lady Gordon, you had better go into one of the lifeboats.'
I said to my husband, 'Well, we might as well take the boat, although I think it will be only a little pleasure excursion until morning.'
Lady Gordon also recalled that a number of other passengers, mostly
men, were standing nearby and laughed at those boarding the lifeboats,
saying that the ship would never sink and they'd 'get your death
of cold' out there on the ice.
That was around 1 a.m., roughly an hour and 20 minutes after the collision and an hour and 20 minutes before
April 12, 2012
Titanic. Episode One
We start with some basic facts:
The Titanic, the largest passenger steamship in the world at the time, was on its maiden voyage from Southampton, England to New York City, in the northwest Atlantic Ocean, when it hit an iceberg at 11:40 p.m. on April 14, 1912.
It went to its watery grave at approximately 2:20 a.m. on April 15. Of the 2,223 passengers and crew aboard, 1,517 perished, many of them from hypothermia resulting from the 28 degrees ocean cold.
After undergoing sea trials on April 2, 1912, the ship, owned by White Star Line and constructed at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast sailed from Southampton on April 10, arriving in Cherbourg, France 90 minutes later. It departed Cherbourgh at 8:10 p.m. the same day, arriving at Queenstown in County Cork, Ireland at 11:30 a.m. It departed there for New York City at 1:40 p.m. April 11.
Of the 2,223 passengers and crew, 1,324 were paying passengers and 899 were crew members. Only 706 survived. The high casualty rate was due, in great part, to the fact that the ship carried lifeboats with a capacity of only 1,178. Some of the lifeboats left with less than capacity because most of the passengers and crew did not believe the
ship could sink.
We'll hear more about this.
Titanic: the story that's still asking questions
The Titanic is not the biggest disaster at sea in maritime history. So why the enduring fascination with this tragedy?
Of the 2223 passengers and crew, only 706 survived. We know there weren’t enough life boats. But are there other reasons for these appalling statistics of death?
What happened when the richest passenger on board, John Jacob Astor, tried to get into a lifeboat with his new 18-year-old wife?
The ship's 7-piece orchestra have been praised for playing on until the very end. But some say they made things worse by giving a false sense of calm, conviviality and optimism. So were they heroes or villains?
The person most suspected of being a coward was J. Bruce Ismay, the 49-year-old president of the International Mercantile Marine, owners of White Star Line which owned the Titanic. The captain went down with the ship but the owner didn’t; he was on the last life boat to leave. What conclusions did the Court of Inquiry reach?
It's a tale of upstairs, downstairs, opulence and poverty, fear, honour, deception, love, despair and bravery amid the dark and icy waters of the North Atlantic.
Over the next few days, in brief episodes, we'll draw on eye-witness accounts of survivors to live again the sinking of the Titanic after it hit an ice berg at 11.40pm on April 14th, 1912 sinking to its watery grave at approximately 2.20am.
And always at the back of our minds: what would I have done?
April 10, 2012
The Easter Sermon
I was in church on Easter morning while the drama of crucifixion and resurrection was played out before me.
I was sat behind a young man with Downes Syndrome. He was squat and powerful, in his mid-thirties and restless throughout. For most of the time he stood, swaying, arms stretched out like one writhing on a cross.
He pushed at the air, muscles tense in hunched and constant motion.
Sometimes he'd pull back and feel for mum and dad sitting on the pew. He'd grab a parental hand and place it at the top of his back. They'd then stroke him, running their hand down his spine in reassurance.
And he would turn on them, wrestling and forcing, pushing against them like a bear cub. And they'd receive his rude energy, hold his hand until he pushed away, up again, arms stretched out, hands bent back at right angles, visceral power, turbulent energy.
Up at the front, the vicar was talking animatedly about the resurrection. It was a cerebral affair, about why this thing was important and that thing wasn't or why that thing was and this thing wasn't - I don't remember fortunately - and why we should believe this and not that or vice versa.
Who knows? And who cared? For they were dry words, conceived by the head and therefore dead before they were born.
Meanwhile, back in the real world, the drama played out before us: the arms stretched out, the reassuring hands, the violence and the love, the restless cross and resurrection of existence.
April 06, 2012
Dickens on the run
Further reflections on my experience at the Museum of London recently:
Robert Augustus Masters calls it 'the most neglected emotion in psychotherapy and spiritual practice.' And it's there in bucket loads at the current Dickens and London exhibition.
It's hard not to get caught up in the sheer race and rush of Charles Dickens for his 58 years on this earth displayed a terrible energy. He was reporter and journalist, produced endless novels and both edited and published magazines. He was also a co-founder Urania House, a refuge for 'fallen women'; a fundraiser for Great Ormond Street hospital and helped save Shakespeare's house in Stratford. He proved a tireless performer of his works in both Britain and the US, travelled extensively, had ten children, loved writing the letters which the Penny Post of 1840 made possible, was a restless night walker covering miles as the country slept and lest we forget, was an early member of the Ghost Club, which pursued interest in the paranormal.
But why? Why could he never stop?
It was only in 1872, two years after his death, that John Forster published 'The Life of Charles Dickens.' Until this publication, no one had direct knowledge of Dickens' past, though there are clues enough in his fiction.
Why didn't Dickens speak of it? He wasn't usually shy about coming forward. The sense is that he was stalked by feelings of shame throughout his life, transmuted into restless energy. This is what struck me at the exhibition. He didn't ever stop because if he did, he would once again experience the hell of feeling defective in some way, inadequate and rejected in the eyes of the adults around him.
In David Copperfield, perhaps his most autobiographical work, we hear of his feelings when, in 1824, his father was imprisoned in Marshalsea debtor's prison. His family all joined him there except for young Charles. Instead, at the age of 12, he was sent to stick labels on ink pots for 10 hours a day in a rat-infested factory near Charing Cross station: 'I had no advice, no counsel, no encouragement, no consolation, no assistance, no support, of any kind, from anyone that I can call to mind, as I hope to go to heaven!' (David Copperfield.)
Forster quotes him directly on the subject of his childhood, saying 'he thought himself a 'very small and not-over-particularly-taken-care-of boy''.
Feelings of rejection and inadequacy can bring a lifetime of shame and is very 21st century. In an American poll of what people most feared, while dying came third, making a fool of oneself came top.
The common dream of turning up naked at a big event is further manifestation of this fear.
We escape shame's hell, this most neglected of emotions, in different ways. Dickens kept moving, always moving. Though in truth it's best to stop and stand in its fire. Face it. We may emerge scarred with our skin burned a little but we're free at last from its lies.
Until then, its all bleak house and hard times.
April 05, 2012
Enneagram Book in E book format for first time
A little piece of information sharing:
I'm delighted that my Enneagram book - revised and improved - is now
available in the e book format format for the very first time.
So who are you?
P.S. The revised edition, also available in hard copy, is published by White Crow books. Look out for the green and orange chairs. These indicate new edition.
April 04, 2012
I had that Dickens in the back of my cab...
I was at the Museum of London yesterday for the Dickens exhibition, which proved to be as much about the city as the man.
The extremes of London - wealth and poverty cheek by jowl - always intruigued him. And of course little has changed in the capital since he wrote so eloquently about it. Though perhaps the rich have got richer.
I learned one or two new things in this imaginatively conceived exhibition, which cost £8 entry.
I never knew, for instance, that the man who wrote 'David Copperfield' and 'The Tale of Two Cities' also coined the phrase 'red tape'.
Dickens hated incompetence in government.
And though he wished to create a sense of compassion and charity towards the poor, he couldn't do compassion or charity at home. High score for writing, restlessness and performance; low score for family relations.
So perhaps I should not have been surprised - though I was - to learn that his sons emigrated to Canada, India and Australia.
April 02, 2012
We wouldn't run up to someone in the street, grab them and say:
'You are me, I am you, we are one and the same!'
It would be inappropriate and perhaps a little embarrassing.
Yet with our inner life, we do just when we come across our emotions.
We run towards them, grasp them firmly and declare:
'You are me and I am you! We are one!'
Without a trace of embarrassment.