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This is my personal blog. This is the place where I rant and witter inanely about all sorts of things that take my interest from opposition to odious far right groups to personal learning projects such as my intermittent studies on evolutionary psychology.

If you’ve arrived here looking for information on my mental health and social care training and consultancy services you might want to click this link instead. That’ll take you to my commercial website: The Care Guy

You might also enjoy taking a look at Care To Share Magazine while you’re about it. That’s not affiliated with my business at all (or indeed anyone’s business). It’s a community of people who are interested in sharing ideas and insights into social care without any distractions from political ideologies, corporate agenda or media ‘fashion’.

Britain First’s ‘dangerous game’

Last weekend I blogged about Britain First’s decision to publicise personal information about a political opponent. The implication was clear – they were enabling their thuggish followers to find her and do what Nazi thugs do. After all – why else would a neoNazi group want to publish details about how to find a person (including even the pub she sometimes drinks in)?

I’m afraid things have moved on since then though. So far as I’m aware she remains physically unharmed as yet although I can’t speak for the psychological impact of this appaling intimidation. There are some genuinely vicious people in the British neoNazi movement. It’s true, of course that Britain First itself is more an exercise in money-making than ideology but the market they chose to exploit and to stir up is very dangerous indeed. The UK’s nationalist far right has always been full of willing boot boys ready to follow their leader into…. well…

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In this case into attacks on a single, middle-aged woman who happens to have been a bit shouty on the telly!

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It seems that their courage knows no bounds. The trouble is that people can and do act upon this stuff. Remember the mosque bombings and assaults when the EDL was at its height (before Tommy Robinson snuck off to join Quilliam). It’s no coincidence that attacks on Muslims have increased again since Britain First began stirring things up again. And now that they’re singling out individuals the outcome is predictable.

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It seems very likely that the only real motivation behind Britain First itself is to sell tatty merchandise, extract pledges from followers and generally make money for Golding et al. But the demographic they appeal to is altogether more serious. These people really do believe in Britain First and they’re naive enough about due process to think that BF could be a serious political or civil player outside of facebook. Naive or not though – they know how to pour petrol through letterboxes.

More Nazi attempts at intimidation

Here’s a question for you…

What legitimate, political outcome could Britain First possibly hope to achieve by posting this to their facebook wall?

Before you answer that please bear in mind that the Britain First facebook page is frequented by violent far-right extremists who regularly propose the violent assault of left-wing activists.

I mean, really! What do you imagine they might want to happen next?

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Of course it was all pretty predictable. This comment on the same thread clearly incites violence against her (and another activist whose details were also published by Britain First recently).
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Europe has seen this sort of political ‘persuasion’ before. It led to the creation of the Third Reich.

Nasty Nick copies Britain First

Banned by nasty nick

There’s nothing original in the land of far right Nutzies. Nasty Nick Griffin is back following his humiliating departure from the BNP and he’s stolen a few underhand marketing & publicity ideas from Britain First.

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Griffin’s new facebook page peddles the same misinformation as Britain First, the same white supremacist nonsense and the same way of dealing with dissent.

Islamic doll

 

Yesterday he posted this misleading nonsense about Sharia law on the back of something as benign as a child’s doll. So I commented last night.

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Today, in the style of Britain First, he has removed my comment and I’m unable to comment further. It seems that Nasty Nick is no more interested in genuine debate or free speech than any other Nazi. Same lies, different facebook.

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And they wonder why we won’t take them seriously.

5.4: Rejection by or dislike from others

If you choose to practice stoicism be prepared to be laughed at, sneered at, criticised, pulled down and even resented by other people. That’s the price of working on yourself. Those who choose not to do the same work sometimes decide to use you as a target.

  1. If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid with regard to external things

(Epictetus – The Enchiridion)

wpid-marcus-aurelius.jpgAlways remember that the insults spring from the other person’s opinion – and opinion is thought. Your private thoughts are your own. The other person’s private thoughts are theirs to manage too. If they choose to make their thoughts public then so be it – they expose their own lack of judgement to the world.

“I cannot be harmed by any of them, as none will infect me with their wrong.”

(Marcus Aurelius)

But in doing so they have exposed nothing of you. Your dignity remains intact – unless you choose to damage it yourself.

“Reject your sense of injury and the injury itself disappears.”

(Marcus Aurelius)

Others’ judgements of us spring from their thoughts – they are outside our control and therefore not a proper subject to concern us. We can only focus upon doing what is right – let others judge us how they might.

“This above all: To thine own self be true.

And it must follow as the night, the day.

Thou canst not then be false to any man.”

(Polonious, Hamlet, Shakespeare)

This is more than just a nice way to remind ourselves not to be troubled by those who would put us down – it’s vital to our emotional and psychological health.

  1. If a person gave your body to any stranger he met on his way, you would certainly be angry. And do you feel no shame in handing over your own mind to be confused and mystified by anyone who happens to verbally attack you?

(Epictetus – The Enchiridion)

What matters to the stoic is not that he is never ridiculed – but that he is able to think and behave well himself in the face of misfortune, including insult and animosity. Many people find insult and rejection by others almost impossible to bear. This is because they cannot accept the idea that someone might think badly of them. In truth this tendency to dislike insult is probably a trait developed deep in our evolutionary past when rejection from the group almost certainly meant death. So it’s difficult to overcome because it’s something of a default in our species. However that doesn’t mean it can’t be overcome.

The first thing to do when dealing with insult is to decide whether or not what the insulter has said might be true. Sometimes the other person is correct and we really have behaved badly. In that case the proper course of action is to acknowledge the truth, apologise and attempt to make amends if possible.

I recently had occasion to speak to a social worker colleague of mine who I hadn’t seen for 17 years. At our last meeting my attitude was much less professional than I would normally demand of myself. I was dismissive and rude. It’s true that I was experiencing some difficulty myself at the time but that’s no excuse – my problems weren’t her doing and I shouldn’t have inflicted them on to her.

So- at the end of our recent meeting I took her to one side, reminded her of our last meeting and apologised unreservedly. I didn’t explain about my circumstances at the time because that wasn’t relevant. An apology followed by an excuse is only half an apology at best. I had wronged her and she deserved an acknowledgement of that – even after 17 years.

As it happened I didn’t need to remind her – she’d remembered too. That’s the thing about insults or other wrongdoings. People remember so it’s important to put things right when we can.

I made my remarks about our last meeting just before leaving. We both had other places to be and hurried off so I genuinely don’t know whether or not she accepted my apology. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is that I said it. That’s within my power and, quite frankly, 17 years on it’s all that’s in my power. How the other person reacts is her business – not mine.

The second way to deal with insult is to ‘consider the source’. You can learn a lot about an insult by understanding the person who delivers it. Some people will attempt to bring you down not because of any particular fault in you but because that’s the only way they know to find their way through life. It’s not necessarily appropriate to write off everything such people say but it is worth understanding that, in the case of untrue insults, they have merely done what they have to do to survive given their own limited coping skills. They are only able to feel good by putting others down – it just happens to be your turn to be the target.

Marcus rocky headland quote

It’s not necessary for us to feel aggrieved because other people have poor coping skills. If anything the appropriate response would be to help them if we can. Remember….

It could have been worse for you – you could have been them

Instead – be yourself – indeed, be the best version of yourself you can aspire to. Let others do what they do and say what they will. You have no control over that.

Your task is to take charge of the things you can control and acquit yourself as well as you are able, regardless of the judgements of others.

“Be like the rocky headland on which the waves constantly break. It stands firm and round it the seething waters are laid to rest.”

(Marcus Aurelius – Meditations)

“35. When you do anything from a clear judgment that it ought to be done, never shun the being seen to do it, even though the world should make a wrong supposition about it; for, if you don’t act right, shun the action itself; but, if you do, why are you afraid of those who censure you wrongly?”

(Epictetus – The Enchiridion)

 

The Stoic 5.3: Anticipated misfortune

“Rehearse death. To say this is to tell a person to rehearse his freedom. A person who has learned how to die has unlearned how to be a slave.”

(Seneca)

In the previous post I suggested that there’s no point in becoming distressed today because we think something might distress us later. That just increases the misfortune. Indeed, once we realise that most of the things people worry about never actually happen it becomes clear that it’s possible to ruin the quality of an entire life with pointless and unnecessary anxiety. If we expect next Friday afternoon to be distressing that’s one thing. But let’s not destroy today as well.

In the Christian tradition this seems to be what Jesus meant when he said

“….. do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

(Matthew 6:34)

I have long believed that Jesus (or whoever wrote the Gospels after his death) must have been familiar with the earlier works of stoic philosophers, there are just too many such coincidences for it to be otherwise in my opinion.

But it’s important to be clear. Freedom from distress by avoiding the emotional content of anticipation (avoiding worry, in other words) isn’t the same as avoiding anticipation altogether. On the contrary, we must anticipate. In fact the stoics advised us to go further than most worriers do in our anticipation – but we do so without distress. We do it as an intellectual exercise. We visualise loss and misfortune and we imagine how we might cope with the worst. On the one hand his can prepare us for what tragedies may befall us. On the other it helps us to understand and appreciate what we already have.

“Take full account of what Excellencies you possess, and in gratitude remember how you would hanker after them, if you had them not.”

(Marcus Aurelius, meditations)

This is one of the ways that stoics are able to maintain emotional equilibrium when things go wrong for them. They understand that all things in life are transient and they prepare for the changes in advance – they are always prepared to ‘give back’, to ‘return’.

  1. “Never say of anything, “I have lost it”; but “I have returned it”…….

“But he who took it away is a bad man.” What difference is it to you who the giver assigns to take it back? While he gives it to you to possess, take care of it; but don’t view it as your own, just as travellers view a hotel.

  1. If you want to improve, reject such reasonings as these: “If I neglect my affairs, I’ll have no income; if I don’t correct my servant, he will be bad.” For it is better to die with hunger, exempt from grief and fear, than to live in affluence with perturbation; and it is better your servant should be bad, than you unhappy.

Begin therefore from little things. Is a little oil spilt? A little wine stolen? Say to yourself, “This is the price paid for apathy, for tranquility, and nothing is to be had for nothing.” When you call your servant, it is possible that he may not come; or, if he does, he may not do what you want. But he is by no means of such importance that it should be in his power to give you any disturbance.”

(Epictetus, The Enchiridion)

Stoics visualise the loss of the things they hold dear, They make a point of contemplating death, material losses, homelessness, hunger, injury and illness, unemployment, grief – all the unfortunate things that might happen for them. And then they imagine how they might deal with them. There are several advantages to this:

  1. Increased contentment with the things we have;
  2. Increased awareness of the things we need to od to maintain and improve our circumstances;
  3. Significant reduction in distress if the worst does happen because we’re prepared;
  4. Clear direction to deal with misfortune if it does occur;
  5. Freedom from anticipatory anxiety (worrying about what might happen).

Of course that doesn’t mean stoics need to go around reflecting upon miserable possibilities all the time. That wouldn’t do at all. But every so often, once or twice a week perhaps it’s a good idea to stop and think about what we have (health, possessions, abilities, relationships, status etc) and how it might be taken away. I promise you – make this a habit and you’ll enjoy life a great deal more. You’ll also be much more resourceful and better prepared to deal with tragedy.

Anxiety 3 stage process

In a different, less obviously philosophical context I talk to anxious, worried people about the ‘three stage plan’ for dealing with anxiety. I’ve used it for years with good effect. Once again it’s an idea stolen from the stoics. This is how I described it in one of my mental health Ebooks:

“We can also help people to plan, both should the worst happen and also how to prevent it. This becomes a fairly straightforward three-point process:

  1. What’s the worst that could happen?
  2. If it does happen how can you survive it?
  3. Now we know you can survive the worst what can you (or we) do to make sure it doesn’t happen?

Whatever else we do we must be honest, rational and realistic. Only then can we understand whether or not the anxiety, the perception of threat is justified. If it is then we can begin to work on making the situation safe with all the facts that we need. If it isn’t justified (if it’s what Freud called inappropriate anxiety) then we can have the confidence to work on activities designed to help the person to face the thing they fear.”

(Stuart Sorensen – Mental health and social care p.20)

When we take gratitude, negative visualisation and awareness of the eternal now (see yesterday’s post) together we have a powerful blueprint for dealing with anxiety and enhancing enjoyment of life as a whole. But don’t just take my word for it. Give it a go and see what happens.

Senior DWP Manager Congratulates Staff For Hitting Sanctions Targets

Stuart Sorensen:

Didn’t IDS say there were no targets for benefit sanctions?

Originally posted on Same Difference:

Spotted on Twitter:

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The Stoic 5.2: The eternal now

In a previous post (Irvine’s summary) I made the point that…

“People generally confuse the things they can control with the things they cannot. The result is frustration and wasted effort as we invest (waste) our emotional and practical energies in futile attempts to make changes that are beyond our ability.”

In therapy sessions with my patients and clients I often encourage people to distinguish between…

  1. The things that they can control,
  2. The things that they can influence but not control, and
  3. The things that interest them but that they can neither influence or control.

I describe these different categories as ‘spheres of influence’.

Spheres of influence wordpress

The basic idea is to help people to understand the difference between a problem and a fact

Problems are things that can be solved.

Facts simply are – they cannot be changed.

One of the biggest sources of frustration and distress comes from the attempt to treat facts as though they were problems: from the attempt to ‘solve’ facts; from the attempt to do the impossible.

The past is always a fact – but so is the present and, very often, the immediate future. Some people lament the fact that the past cannot be solved, that it cannot be altered but that’s not really very helpful. If the goal is to be effective now there’s no benefit in obsessing about ‘water under the bridge’, no matter how difficult or unpleasant things might have been at the time. In the task of living we are always precisely where we are at this moment.

Accepting that, accepting the fact that the past is no longer ours to change means that we can also begin to see it as no longer our concern. It’s true that there may be issues arising from past events or mistakes that we need to deal with but any actions we need to take will be taken in the present or the future – not the past. We can learn from the past but we need never be concerned about it because it’s gone.

That brings us to the present – the only thing we ever really have to call our own. And it’s fleeting. In fact, by the time you notice the present moment it’s already gone into the past and is no longer your concern. Yes – I know that sounds a bit weird but please, give it some thought. It’s important, especially when dealing with long-term hardship. Understand the concept now and you’ll find it much easier to bear life’s misfortunes later. You’ll be much more effective as you work to change and overcome them too.

Life is a series of moments, most of which are actually pretty neutral. It’s regret, anxiety and anticipation that spoil our days, not the enduring event because most events don’t actually endure all that long. People endure hours of misery when they don’t need to because they’re forever focussing upon either the past (which is no longer their affair) or the future (which may be theirs to plan for but is not yet theirs to experience).

Even at times of hardship the eternal now is relevant. How bad is your situation at this very instant? Why let your mind focus on experiencing hardship before it needs to? Why experience the thing you dread before it happens?

It’s far more constructive to plan for the future than to imagine it negatively and suffer all the emotional distress that such imaginings bring. Make it a habit never to allow yourself to experience misfortune in your mind before it actually happens but to plan to deal with potential future problems instead. And understand that if you expect pain – there’s no need to be distressed by it until you actually feel it. Even then stoicism advises us not to worry about current pain but that’s for another post. We need to cover some more basic stuff first.

Remember ‘the eternal now’. Do you have physical comfort and freedom from abuse right now, at this precise moment? Then you have all that you could possibly need. This moment in life is a success. Use the current success to plan with a clear head how to solve the problems of the future. Don’t squander it trying to solve the past (which is a fact, not a problem). Be glad of your immediate situation. The only alternative is to cancel out all those moments of contentment and comfort with futile focus upon the past which you can never change or the future which you have not yet reached.

The life well-lived involves taking time to appreciate the good moments (which generally far outweigh the bad)

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