Behaviour Self Esteem

Trust Yourself

In a concentration camp where our freedom has been taken away from us our powers are reduced to the thoughts that we create in our heads. In such circumstances if we want to stay alive, doing being ordinary has to be doing nothing that draws attention to the prison guards. If we are imprisoned according to the laws of this country the best way we can help ourselves is to follow the rules and make no attempt to rebel. That is what doing being ordinary means if you want to be released as soon as possible. In other words we work at fitting into a law-abiding society.

Exceptional men and women have to do being ordinary in their own special way. This means getting to know themselves very well by constant self-examination, especially learning from their mistakes. They gradually assemble a set of rules they choose to live by that help them to maintain looking after themselves as a first priority.

Such people understand many kinds of doing ordinary because they constantly study human habits. The better they know themselves the more use they are to other people. They rarely need to ask anyone else for advice because they have had enough experience to trust their own judgements, but at the same time they are always open to new ideas. This enables them to grow and develop and manage their own particular prejudices and negative sides.

They are never anything but themselves whoever they talk with. Titles, ceremonial garments and special kinds of oratory do not impress them. They never become “do gooders” although they are as pleased as anyone else if something they have done has been useful to someone else and at the same time they put their own wellbeing first. They never become martyrs nor are they victims if they can help it. They worship no-one and nothing but they recognise everything that is beautiful and revel in it. They prefer to work alone and they rarely join groups. Einstein was such a one and so was Victor Frankel. The good that they do is not deliberate but the result of having a great virtue: that they set a good example without realising they have done it. That, I believe is the highest kind of doing being ordinary. This kind of ordinariness is the extreme of extraordinary. Another kind of anentiodromia.

When we want to help people we must first consider what our motives are. Many of us are drawn into the so-called ‘caring professions’ because they think they want to help people, or because they have been bludgeoned into accepting beliefs that have more to do with keeping other people under their control than improving their lives.

If we are not on good terms with ourselves, we can be sure we will not be good for other people. All the talking and cajoling in the world cannot be beaten by behaving well ourselves.

Behaviour Psychotherapy Self Esteem

So Ordinary

Harvey Sacks’ lectures were not prepared. They were delivered ad hoc in ordinary everyday language, which is very encouraging to those of us who are used to reading academic treatises full of special words we don’t understand. Yet paradoxically, its very strangeness surprises us and makes us work hard to see what he is aiming at.

Much of what he says we haven’t heard anywhere else because he was working from sets of human behaviour that he had observed and had not taken for granted. For example when we are in a different group of people we adapt ourselves to the unwritten rules of that group without even realising what we are doing.

Whenever I went to a conference to find out more about psychotherapy I found myself floundering in the group exercises because I hadn’t the faintest idea of what these hidden rules were. Whenever I came up with a response of my own I always heard cries of “This is not what we are talking about!” and I did not know why I should be denied to come up with my own ideas.

Sacks wrote a lecture called “Doing being Ordinary”. This at once threw light on my dilemma. I never learned as a child to fit in anywhere, because my parents left me to my own devices or told me things that seemed so ridiculously childish that I took no notice of them. Neither did I want to join in any kind of group because they never fitted in with what I wanted to do, so I learned to be myself and to act that way to whoever I might be talking to. My book “Boadicea’s Chariot” is about my childhood experiences and clearly explains what I am trying to say here.

Sacks points out that circumstances alter rules about conversation. We all have a job to do which enables us to create different kinds of rules for how we fill in our time.

People who are as independent as I am are categorised as eccentrics because they have found there own way to live and their own work to do. When I consider the small number of what I call ‘real friends’, these are the ones we keep forever even when we rarely meet and even after they have died. I realised in due time that the complete freedom of speech between us is what I value most.

So how can we learn to “Do being Ordinary”? If we have different ways of being and doing ordinary what do we do when we come up with a completely new kind of person? We can say what we like as in my article called “Stranger”.

I end with a story. When I became a psychotherapist I was determined to work only with people who were willing to come to terms with themselves. I noticed that those who did not would play all the games they could think up to avoid taking responsibility for themselves.

When clients came for the first time, I spoke to them as I would have done with any stranger with the sole exception that I would take into account their emotional state by close observation so that I could understand it better.

I worked with a lady who did not value herself enough. She was also making a good recovery from an operation for cancer. I don’t know what I did. Like Sacks I let myself respond to her in a way that would, hopefully, do her no harm. I took a great liking to her from the first time I met her. That made it easy for me. Clients are not fools. They soon find out how you feel about them. Our work was very successful. It took quite a while until she felt confident enough to look after herself. Towards the end of our work she suddenly said, in tones of astonishment “I don’t know what you did but I feel like a different person. I can’t believe it. After all you are just an ordinary person!” “Quite right” I said. It was one of the best things anyone said to me, that just by being myself I could have had such an effect on another person.

Self Esteem

Children and Self-Esteem

One of the most common things that people complain of is low self-esteem. Like so many other additions to the list of psychological problems it is treated as a sympton that can be ‘cured’.

When children come into the world they do not lack confidence. When they learn to walk they don’t mind how many times they fall over as they learn to move their bodies. They are not lazy about walking. They keep on trying until they succeed. The same is true of talking. They have endless curiosity and constantly look for new things to do. Their imagination and concentration is aroused with delight when they find out something new that excites their enthusiasm.

Today, when I watch children and parents in supermarkets or in the street, I am glad to see most children are given a free reign except for the few restrictions to safeguard rhem from danger. I wonder why the parents treatment of their children has vastly improved? There is no doubt advantages in technology and transport have made hopusekeeping and shopping far easier now than ever before.

Once children go to school restrictions on their lives are much greater. Things begin to change. The ugly word ‘compulsory’ creeps in. Children can no longer do what they want to do. Everyone in the class has to learn the same thing at the same time. That is alright if what is being taught is the three ‘Rs’, Reading ,Writing and Arithmetic, in a way that the children can learn and enjoy and plenty of time during lessons for the children to get up from their seats and run around, preferably outside. Good teachers are born, not made. By the same token painters and writers are the same. Techniques can be taught but the foundation of all three activities comes from the heart and genes of the fortunate people who have these potentials.

Before the Second World War, the government took little interest in state infant and primary schools. Teacher Training Colleges ran two-year courses that were more than adequate for these state schools. They included a short period of experience in real schools but teachers were trusted to teach in their own way following the basic needs. People who went to grammar schools taught academic subjects in preparation for universities, Others who wanted to train for business and secretarial work went to technical schools and the rest left at 14 to take what work they could find.

Unlike today, it was rare then for children of 7 and 8 not to read and write and learn a little rudimentary arithmetic by the time they went from infant into primary school.

People who went to university were those who wanted to study academic subjects. Money was not a problem because anyone who wanted to go to university and was good enough was paid grants that made them independent of their parents. When I was up at Liverpool University im 1957 I went to a meeting for undergraduates. The speaker was one Bessy Braddok, a fierce left-winger.

She was behind the times , having made the mistake that we all came from families who could pay the university fees. Most of us had fought in the war and received very good grants from the the central government or had won scholarships from local governments. We heckled her without mercy. Taking us for middle-class toffs whose fees were paid by their parents she shouted out:

‘You will soon have the working class in your midst!’

With one accord we roared back “Who do you think we are!” She could find no response. She had made a big mistake.

In those dim and distant days we had never heard ssuch a phrase as low self-esteem. We were mostly overflowing with confidence because we had worked hard to get what we wanted to do and did it well.

Psychology was only just being recognised as a subject for universities. People of my generation find it hard to understand why so many people think they need psychotherapy and I can understand why.