Why we all discriminate (and it’s not why you think)

 

The lines are the same length, but the illusion is that the one above is longer.

It’s an old illusion and as I’m sure you’ve seen it before, you can measure them with a ruler and prove they’re the same.

So why do you keep looking at them with the nagging feeling that they’re not?

[photo monkey thinking]

 

It’s all to do with your instinctive brain and your reasoning brain. Prof Steve Peters goes into this in great detail in his excellent book ‘The Chimp Paradox’, and it describes how our brain has two separate parts when it comes to making decisions. Your reasoning brain is your human side, the part that reasons things through, uses logic to make its decisions, and generally takes its time. For most major decisions, ‘human side’ does the job of taking all the evidence, weighing it up then directing a decision.

Sometimes, however, the human side feels a bit lazy. For some people, this happens a lot. When that happens, the instinctive brain, otherwise known as your ‘Chimp side’ takes over.

[photo people running from bear]

What does that mean? Simply, that Chimp acts on impulse, it doesn’t want to do the boring job of ‘working through stuff’ and simply wants to make the decision and then move on. Our inner Chimp was useful back when we were cavemen and there was a lot of danger about, so sitting around reasoning whether to run away from the bear wouldn’t have been useful. In general there are not so many dangers nowadays, but Chimp still forms a major part of the thinking process.

The problem is, Chimp’s level of education is the same as it always has been, ie, takes things at face value. One of those values is, ‘different is bad’ and the tendency to see the world as such is emphasized by family, peer groups, media and so on. There’s a saying, ‘People like people like them’ and people indeed will seek out company that looks, behaves and holds similar views to them. It’s obvious when you think about it. Who wants to spend all their time around other people who don’t agree with them? It would be exhausting.

Therefore, if you’re interviewing two candidates for a job, and they both have exactly the same CV and experience, but one of them is black and the other is white, and your entire world experience has taught you to trust one and not the other, what do you think will happen?

The worst thing is that while we know that we should not be judging by the differences we see , that is , literally, face value, that instinctive part of the brain is screaming at us, ‘but they are different – just look at them! Pick the one you like!!!’ That’s what’s happening when you look at those lines in the diagram. You know they are the same. We all know they are the same.

 

[photo black and white hands holding]

It takes an enormous amount of willpower to subdue that impulse and be entirely objective. As I’ve discussed in other posts, we only have a limited amount of willpower in an entire day and once it’s used up, it’s just quicker to take the easy option, the one that involves less thinking, the one that is most comfortable and consistent with our world view.

This is true for every kind of discrimination that exists, be it racial, sexual, disability, you name it. They are all just another word for different. So don’t feel bad if you’ve been discriminated against, it’s not that they’re necessarily a bad person. We’ve just got a few more thousand years of brain evolution to go.

You also shouldn’t feel bad if you see that someone is trying to treat you the same, but you think deep down they don’t instinctively want to. You can’t change that instinct – but you can help them, by acknowledging that they are trying, and respect that effort.

In the meantime, help the process along with peace, love, and understanding. That’s a language every culture understands.

Am I Ugly?

Did you know 10,000 people Google this question every month?

[photo woman looking in mirror]

 

Meaghan Ramsey on Ted Talks discussed this very subject recently. This set me thinking about, firstly, who was asking this question, and what kind of mind-set would you be in at the time? As someone in the very business of selling beauty, or at least a version of it, I know that this theme of beauty and ugly is prominent in the minds of my potential clients.

 

Not surprisingly, the vast majority of those asking are female. And, the vast majority of those are teenagers. Some are as young as 6 years old. A lot of our younger generation are deeply worried about their appearance. This is only exacerbated by the rise of the selfie culture, the fact that how things look are vastly more important than the real person, and the constant pressure to ‘look good’ is permeating into the mind-set of younger and younger people.

 

Whether you are still a teen or not, how we perceive ourselves has a huge influence on how we look upon life and, most importantly, how others perceive us. It all comes from within. But the pressures of a peer group, themselves influenced by a media culture obsessed with how things look, are driving forces in the increasing mentality of ugly/beauty. It’s being forced down your throat like junk food that you know is bad for you and barely counts as food, but if it’s the only option, that’s all you’re going to eat.

 

But it doesn’t have to be the only option.

[photo woman looking at phone in mirror while upset]

Emily (aged 13)

Emily has just turned 13 and like many of her friends, is into clothes, music, spending hours on the phone, all the usual teenage stuff. She’s friendly and has a good home life. Her parents are reasonably well off and she’s not lacking in any of the basic necessities. But Emily doesn’t like herself, she thinks she’s ugly. She’s also feeling really inadequate. What is this perception based upon?

 

For one, she just Googled London fashion week, as many of her friends have been talking about it. It’s the same this year as it has been every year, rake-like models in ridiculous clothes surrounded by armies of hair and makeup artists before tottering about on a stage, while the captions and commentary talk endlessly about how wonderful it all is. (Do you remember the sporadic campaigns to get ‘real women’ into fashion shoots? How’s that working out?)

 

This year though, Emily’s new phone allows her to see all the details up close. She’s also now a fully-fledged user of Twitter and Instagram now she’s reached qualifying age (a number of her friends have been using Twitter for much longer, but that’s a story for another day). So all her friends and a lot of people she doesn’t know at all are all talking about how amazing these models look.

 

Think about that last sentence. It doesn’t matter that most of the comments are from complete strangers and may well have been set up by PR companies. The point is, the social pressure is already there.

 

It’s being talked about, so it must, by definition, be important.

 

Emily starts looking for ways she can emulate the ‘beautiful’. She obviously can’t afford the clothes, but makeup is quite easily within reach, either at home or with her pocket money. Plus, she’s noticed how some of her classmates are now wearing a lot more makeup in school. This attracts attention. Not necessarily good attention, but there’s nothing worse, at any age, than being ignored. So Emily starts putting more make up on as well. She spends hours in front of the mirror trying different things out, all the while with one thought in the back of her mind –

‘I don’t look pretty enough’

[photo sad looking Bridget Jones type pic looks out of window]

 

Jessica (aged 23)

Jessica works in a bank and earns a decent living. She likes good clothes and meeting up with her friends for drinks. She likes clothes shopping and a good proportion of her monthly earning goes on clothes. Her flatmate Mila also has similar interests.

 

Jessica commonly scans the magazines at the supermarket checkout to keep up with celebrity ‘gossip’ because, let’s face it, there’s lots of fun in seeing who’s got into and out of relationships, who’s on holiday in the Bahamas, who’s just gained weight or lost weight (always women, strangely).

 

The thing about the latter, is that there is always something inherently bad about the women who are in this latter category, something to be mocked or judged. Just harmless gossip, right?

 

It must be acceptable; there are about 10 magazines on the shelf all about the same kind of thing. Jessica sees other people reading as well as they queue up to pay. She knows, she’s certain, that those same people are looking at her and noting that she too has put on a little weight recently.

 

Jessica is feeling down now. Mila tries to cheer her up over dinner and wine. Jessica feels a bit better, but then Mila’s boyfriend comes around and they disappear off to her room together. Jessica can hear them talking and laughing and now she feels more down. She hasn’t had a boyfriend for a while and when she looks on Facebook, all her friends seem to be talking what they’re doing with their boyfriends too. She sits in her room and thinks

‘Why can’t I find a man? There must be something wrong with me’

 

 

Here we have two people who have, by social programming, developed feelings of deep inadequacy yet have nothing to feel inherently inadequate about. They are taking their self-esteem cues from external influences and since they have no control over what those influences might be, this perpetuates a feeling of dependency, poor self-image and lack of control. Does this sound familiar?

[photo hands in cuffs]

The first step in breaking free of this prison of social programming is recognising it exists.

 

All around, 24 hours a day, messages are fed to us about how we are lacking something, and we need to get it in order to feel complete. It usually means we have to buy it, whatever it is. Have you ever felt that? This is how the worlds of advertising and marketing work, the basic tenet of inadequacy.

You need Product X, and you are a poorer person without it’.

 

And marketing is now aimed squarely at women, because it is easiest to take aim at their self-esteem.

 

This wasn’t always the case – advertising was rarely aimed at women in the past because they didn’t have the spending power. Times have changed and women earn and spend independently of their husbands or spouses. So now the focus is not on who has the money to spend, but who can we make feel inadequate? It’s not that men are immune to this, oh no. But look at the statistics – 70% of all spending power is now in the hands of women. No wonder advertisers have changed their focus. And no-one ever sold a product to someone by making them feel good about themselves.

 

Take the first step. Recognise you are being screwed with. Take the time to notice all those subtle and not-so-subtle messages that ram home the idea, over and over, that you’re not good enough. Once it’s entirely clear that you can take the power back, you will open up a whole new way of thinking.

 

Instead of asking ‘am I ugly?’

Start asking ‘what is it about me that’s so powerful and attractive that makes others so desperate to control me?’

There are 3 times as many search results in Google to ‘Why am I ugly’ than ‘Why am I powerful’.

Start asking better quality questions of yourself if you really want better answers.

By the way, we’re not done with Jessica or Emily yet.

 

 

To be continued…

 

How to DOUBLE your love, BOMB PROOF your relationship, and be the ENVY of every one

 

[photo couple]

I’ve been married to the same magnificent lady since 2005, and there are so many things I wish I’d known back then that would have made the path smoother and easier. But I’m glad that we have the chance to love each other each day, and I hope that everyone either in or starting a relationship has the opportunity to build something great, something wonderful and empowering. Your partner is the one who is the source of your strength, not a promoter of weakness. This is something you want to last for years and years, so here are a few ideas that experience has taught me, and if you focus on them, expect amazing things in your relationship

 

1)      Plan, plan, plan!

Consider this a 20-year process. Do you honestly think you can start a 20 year process with no form of plan in mind? Yet that is exactly the mindset of most people getting into a long-term relationship (LTR). Think of every great achievement or success in your life – did they happen by accident? Even small achievements? Can you bake a cake by throwing some flour and sugar in the oven and hope for a cake at the end? Your LTR needs both of you to sit together, with a glass of wine if you want, and put together, on paper, the principles that guide your relationship. These are the big goals, the things you both want today, and will want in 2, 5 10 and 20 years time. They are timeless and don’t change from day to day. This takes some thinking about, together, at the beginning, when everything seems possible. Don’t just drift along like a rudderless boat. You’re a cruiseliner which refuses to deviate from its course, with both of you at the helm.

 

2)      The individual plan.

There are reasons you selected your partner, why they are the one who stood out from all the others. Are those reasons based on solid character, or flimsy behaviours that can disappear like mist? Make a list of all the things that make your partner ‘the one’, and keep it somewhere safe and accessible, so when the going gets tough, and it will, you can pull it out and know that you’ve made the right decision to stick with him/her. You love them for what they stand for now, not for what they might be in the future. Do you want a partner, or a ‘project’? (Hint: Don’t choose the latter.)

 

3)      Love is a verb, not a noun.

Doing love is not the same as being in love. How many couples, especially new couples, regale you with stories about how ‘madly in love’ they are, yet if asked what they do to create that love, they’ll often look blank, with the best available response being, ‘do? Uh… it’s just there.’ Love is about doing the things needed to create love. It is not a feeling. How you feel can change within minutes, seconds even, never mind years. Do you think you can sustain a ‘feeling’ of love for 20 years? Feelings change, but the ‘actions of love’ endure. Your partner will change, and so will you. Ever hear a woman say, ‘He’s not the same man I married’? Of course he isn’t! And they’re not the same woman either. Do you think you’re the same person you were 5 years ago? Last year?  You must prepare to fall in love over and over again, to a different person wrapped in the same, subtly developing shell.

 

4)      Be together.

You may find this astonishing, but couples who stay together, do stuff together. There’s nothing more important than nurturing your life together. Do as many little things together you can, even if it’s ‘boring stuff’, you can make anything interesting with a special person beside you. It’s more important than the big things. Reinforce sections 1) and 2) with each other often, the promises that you made at the height of your love, because you want them to stand for something, for always.

 

5)      Know the boundaries.

You may think this is obvious, but not necessarily. Whether either of you have been in a relationship(s) before, I guarantee you do not know where the line is unless you have discussed it. Don’t wait, and don’t gamble. The currency of any relationship is trust, and once lost is the hardest thing to get back.

 

6)      Never, ever assume.

Communication is more important than any other factor in your successful LTR. To have one, you must change your mindset from ‘I want this…’ to ‘We want this…’ and you cannot know what you both want unless you have sought to understand your partner. Listen, listen, and listen some more. You cannot choose your own opinion as more valid than your partner’s, and you must not assume that you have understood. Don’t believe me? Plan a conversation lasting less than 5 minutes, where both parties have 5 key points they each want to get across to the other, that the other party doesn’t know about. Then 30 minutes after the conversation, write down what you think the 5 points were that your partner really wanted you to know. Then compare. And prepare to be really disappointed. The key here, is always say what you mean, and always mean what you say.

 

7)      Problems, problems.

It is said that life is a series of problems punctuated by crises. Don’t hope to avoid problems. Expect them. Now you don’t have to face them alone. Be supportive of your partner, because their problems are your problems, but together your joint solutions will be better. You’re a team. You’re in charge of the ship together. Little problems will not blow you off course, and crises are the storms which you’ll weather together.

 

8)      Never, ever, badmouth your relationship outside of the relationship,

no matter in what shape or form. You might think it’s a small ‘joke between friends’ when you put your partner down, even in the smallest way, but it’s a cancer that will grow and grow. Don’t let this happen. Remind everyone instead of the things you enjoy each other, the little things that make your relationship special. Not as a form of one-upmanship, but as one of the acts of love described above. Warm words warm your heart when it needs it the most. Even if they’re not with you, act as though they are. It’s the ultimate respect for your relationship.

 

Relationships are tough, they are a marathon, not a sprint. Work on your fitness every day if you want to win the race.

Have a great day, everyone, and love the relationships in your life.

So long Piers Morgan

 

[photo Piers]

Love him or loathe him, you must have heard of him. Piers Morgan, former (and youngest ever) editor of a UK national newspaper the Daily Mirror, and until recently, chat show host on one of America’s biggest TV networks, has found himself looking for another gig after said show was cancelled due to falling ratings. This was commented on at some length in the media both here and in the US due to the high profile nature of the show, which was previously hosted by the interviewing legend that was Larry King for many years before he retired.

 

Jeremy Clarkson very recently wrote that Piers lost his job because ‘everyone hates him’. It’s probably an exaggeration, I certainly don’t hate Piers Morgan, mainly because that would elevate him to a level of importance in my life that he simply doesn’t occupy. Then again, Clarkson has a long standing feud going on with Morgan so I can understand his views.

 

I overheard a comment on a BBC show reviewing the newspapers just after the story broke, and the gentleman was heard to say that he hoped that Piers Morgan was axed not because he was British, but because he was awful at interviewing. Morgan himself described his technique as ‘provocative’ for those whose views he opposed, where other parties felt he was simply argumentative. For the guests he liked, he was reported to take on a more genial approach (‘sycophantic’ is how it was described by others). The commentator did raise some interesting issues on the art of interviewing and I’m going to use some examples via Piers Morgan to help you, the reader, reassess some of your communications with people you like, but also people you may not like.

 

1)      As Monty Python once pointed out, an argument involves an exchange of views providing a rational counterpoint in positions, not just the automatic gainsaying of the opposing party’s views. In English, you will get nowhere arguing with someone just by telling them ‘you’re wrong’. Ever get into those kinds of arguments, even with (or especially with) people you care about? How far did that get you?  To have a productive discussion with someone you disagree with, you have to know your views but also be able to explain them in a way that  recognises the other person has a viewpoint, and that you have taken those views into account while holding your own views. Morgan was famous for opposing the use of guns, something that I actually agree with him on, but his audience in the majority love their guns, and he never really acknowledged that they had a right to their opinion. It’s like going to someone’s house and telling them all their furniture is rubbish. It doesn’t matter even if you’re right, and even if they know in their hearts you’re right, you probably aren’t going to get many more invitations. To successfully create a dialogue, you have to listen first. This takes some practice, as nearly everyone out there wants firstly to be heard. They want their message to be the loudest. Loudest is not necessarily most effective. Morgan’s pro-gun lobby guest was a total jerk and was very practiced at shouting, but he certainly couldn’t make an effective case.

 

2)      If you’re only interested in your own views, you may describe yourself as ‘opinionated’. Everyone else will describe you as a jerk. I saw an interview where not only did Morgan not agree with his guest but made a habit of talking over them. If you want to irritate someone to the point that they will punch you in the face, just have a conversation with them, and interrupt them every time they are halfway through their sentence. Then do this every time they open their mouth. It drives people mad, with good reason. You are putting your own opinion above that of the other person, and no-one likes that. Have you ever been interrupted while in full flow, say by a phone going off? How does that make you feel? If someone talked over you every time you wanted to say something, how much empathy do you have with that person by the end, even if you actually agree on something?

 

3)      I learned this in a drama class I once took. We did an exercise where for the whole conversation, we had to follow someone’s statement with another prefixed by ‘Yes, and…’. This exercise was part of establishing rapport with a fellow actor which allows the dialogue to flow more effectively. Notice how with these two small words, I can communicate that I’ve acknowledged the other person’s view in the discussion, and I indicate that I will include their view in my own point coming up. The opposite of this is one the world’s favourite and least productive words, which is ‘But…’. Again a very small word, which subtly indicates ‘I hear you, however I discard everything you’ve just said in favour of my view which is…’ When you’re in conversation watch out for the use of the word ‘But’ and see how it makes you feel, especially when the other person says it following something you’ve said. Do you feel that other person really empathises with you, or that your opinion is worth less than theirs?

 

4)      Our commentator mentioned above that Morgan had a habit of being way too chummy with guests he liked, or rather, guests he wanted to be liked by. I refer to this as ‘sucking up’, or trying too hard to be agreeable to the other person’s viewpoint in an effort to appear to be on their side. In America interviews that go this way are often referred to as ‘fluff pieces’, which to my understanding refers to people who work in the, shall we say, the ‘adult entertainment industry’ (Google ‘fluffers’ for full details). I saw this in action in a documentary where Morgan visited Dubai, and seemed to spend way too much time sucking up to rich people in an attempt to get noticed or to get an invite to an exclusive party and so on. It’s generally considered that by agreeing with everything someone says you’ll be seen to be ‘on their wavelength’, so to speak. This is not necessarily so. In fact, the ‘stars in your eyes’ or ‘hero worship’ approach doesn’t particularly go down well, or really only for very insecure people. These people will generally drain your emotional energy, and you should stay well away.

 

How does this help us in the art of good conversation and communication skills? There are many factors to good communication, way more than I can cover here today, but the takeaways from this are

1)      Listen, and listen some more. It’s a skill that requires cultivation. You have 2 ears and 1 mouth. Use them in that proportion

2)      Avoid interruptions and distractions in an important conversation. Suppress the instinct to ‘butt in’ even though the urge may be really strong. Practice with a loved one, give them 5 minutes to talk and then you take 5 minutes, with neither of you allowed to interrupt the other for any reason.

3)      Go for 24hrs during which time you will avoid using the word ‘but’. It’s another skill, and you will sound like someone who listens and understands, and people love that.

4)      Have a viewpoint based on a wide variety of sources. If you sound informed, people will listen to you. Make a point of conversing with other informed people and see how your horizons expand. Take yourself out of your ‘opinion’ comfort zone.

Most importantly, avoid national newspapers. You know what these editors are like. Good luck in the job hunting Piers.