Cognitive reassurance

I’ve not posted a blog for a long time, but I think it’s important to write something when the mood strikes me. I think I got out of the habit of writing when I felt like my blog was becoming a site for preaching my ideas in a time where I became to understand myself a lot more, and found an identity I’m not comfortable “preaching” about.

Something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently, is how our ideas about the world influence how we believe other people think. Ever since I was little, I assumed at some point or another that all of my friends were the same age as me (whether they actually were was another story). This phenomenon has translated to all sorts of other ideologies. I always presume that everyone shares the same mindset that I do, or will suddenly have an epiphany that matches my viewpoint.

The most prominent thought bouncing around my noggin recently has been death… I know, but it’s not what you think. I’ve been thinking about death positivity, and how the western world views death. This may have a lot to do with Caitlin Doughty. If you don’t know who she is, just type “ask a mortician” into Youtube and she’ll introduce herself to you. I’ve been grappling with a definite discomfort about death for a few years now and feel this may be strongly linked to a lack of exposure. So what do I do? Immerse myself in death rituals and death culture from around the world.

While this may seem like a bizarre and macabre thing to do, it’s actually quite life affirming and considered very normal in many parts of the globe. I know I’m pretty gothic and weird anyway; I feel more comfortable talking about death and what I want to happen to my body when I die (body farm please)! The real issue here is that I think everyone else has been exploring death and start talking as if they have been thinking about it too. In a way, I believe it’s good to have these conversations with friends and family so they know what to do when you die, but at the same time I keep having to remind myself that it’s totally weird and not everyone thinks the same way I do.

This brings me to the idea of the social media trap. Algorithms have now been set in place over a variety of social media platforms in order to expose you to the information you are most likely to agree with. This is so dangerous. When the Brexit referendum came around in 2016, my Facebook timeline was so filled with people sharing the same viewpoints as me. I was certain we would remain in the EU. I was VERY wrong. The problem with this is you don’t get the other side of the argument; you end up in an echo-chamber. You’re not always right in your opinions and if you don’t get exposed to other viewpoints, you’ll never change your mind.

It also perpetuates this idea that everyone thinks the same way I do, but some of the most interesting conversations you can have is with someone who vehemently disagrees with what you think. My best friend from university has some very strong opinions which completely oppose mine, and she is one of the most interesting people I have ever met. Obviously it’s nice to have like-minded friends too, but if you agree with someone all the time it’s not only boring, but can seriously disillusion you from the real world and actually, is quite a dissatisfying way to live your life.

So I guess my point is, find someone to argue with and play devil’s advocate as much as possible. Try not to get offended. Have deep meaningful conversations and look at other points of view. Do it for your own sanity!

Should we have high expectations for life?

There have been a few instances recently which have made me think a lot about the expectations we have in our lives. I wouldn’t say this is something I have just learnt, it just seemed the right time to consolidate and clarify my ideas.

Goals ≠ Expectations

To begin, I believe it’s important to differentiate between goals and expectations. They are not the same thing! This seems obvious to me, but I think it needs to be said. Yes, you should work hard to achieve your goals, but there are so many different ways to get to where you want to be. Don’t let the small things get you down, because in a day, a week, a year from now, they won’t matter. Let the things that fill your life be positive. If things don’t go the way you expected them to, then it wasn’t meant to be. A lot of difficult situations open themselves up to opportunities after all!

You should have as many goals as you wish, big or small. Work hard to achieve what you want! No one is going to do it for you. Having said this, if you have high expectations on how you should be rewarded for your hard work that’s when you will end up having a bad time. There are so many possibilities in life!

A wise worm once said “Things are not always what they seem in this place, so you can’t take anything for granted” (Labyrinth, 1986)*. ‘Taken for granted’ means to take something literally, or at face value without question. More often, this is used as an extension to undervaluing a person or object without appreciation (Lee, 2015).

In a sense, this digresses from the main point I wish to make… but I believe when someone has high expectations, the danger is to slip into taking a situation for granted. When you attempt to predict the outcomes of the future with no regard for other possibilities, you could easily set yourself up for disappointment. Unfortunately, I’ve seen this happen a few times recently, and it’s heart-breaking watching people set themselves up for a fall.

If I got everything I wanted, I could be a failed psychology student, I would probably have dropped out of university, I might be working in an office, or living in another country. The point is, life is not a one track ride, and just because you desperately want to do something, or be something, or go somewhere doesn’t mean you will want to later in life, and the disappointment that comes from not getting what you want often isn’t worth it. Of course you are allowed to be sad and disappointed about tough situations but don’t take a situation for granted.

Confidence

I wanted to understand why a person might have higher expectations of a situation, compared to others. There’s nothing wrong with being confident. From a young age we are taught to be strong confident individuals. Confidence is seen in popular culture as an admirable quality, but when confidence turns to arrogance, there is a completely different connotation. The difficulty comes when attempting to get the balance of confidence right.

At this point, it is necessary to explain what is meant by the word arrogance. “Arrogance is engaging in behaviors [sic] intended to exaggerate a person’s sense of superiority by disparaging others… Despite the apparent confidence of those engaging in arrogant behavior [sic], research suggests that it is actually a defensive display occurring partially in response to low self-confidence” (Johnson et al., 2010). So this paper suggests that what appears on the surface as inflated self-confidence, is in fact the exact opposite.

Confidence is simply a factual and reality-driven belief about ability or standing, whereas arrogance is inflation of an individual’s self-importance intended to make others feel inferior (Silverman et al., 2012). So people with more self-confidence are actually less likely to take a situation for granted.

Assumption

Moving on, I believe there is another factor, other than arrogance that can lead to having high expectations of a situation. When a person has a few facts on a situation, there is a danger of neglecting the whole picture. This may initially be due to miscommunication or just assumption that the situation will go the way you want it to, without being mindful to other possibilities. As humans, we tend to get comfortable in our mind-set and don’t ask the right questions to get the answers we want. Consequently we don’t get the full picture and summarise the information we have because it’s what we want to hear.

So, to the whole point of this blog: Should we have high expectations for life? The short answer is no, but to extend this, I think we can hold our expectations wherever we want. The danger in assuming things will go our way or just taking the whole situation for granted is that we are completely blind-sided and left deflated after unexpected events. Having said this, I think sometimes we need to be knocked down so we can get back up, dust ourselves off and ask, so where am I going now?

Pivotal moments in my life can be characterised by the difficulties I have faced, and I must say, I am really grateful to all of them. I will deal with situations as they come, and try not to bulldoze my way through them.

It has become a custom to thank you for reading this far. I am really lucky to have a platform to ramble on about things that are rattling away in my head. I’m also thinking of making a tagline to end my blogs, but haven’t developed one I like yet. Anyway, thank you so much for your time.

*Labyrinth is my favourite film, and if you haven’t seen it, you really should. The volume of artistic talent and life lessons in that film are outstanding, even if it is an 80’s kids film!

Johnson, R. E., Silverman, S. B., et. al. (2010). Acting superior but actually inferior?: Correlates and consequences of workplace arrogance. Human Performance, 23, pp.403–427

Lee, R. C. (2015) What does “taken for granted” mean? Quora digest, available at https://www.quora.com/What-does-taken-for-granted-mean

Silverman, S. B., Johnson, R. E. et. al. (2012) Arrogance: A formula for leadership failure. The Industrial Organizational Psychologist, 50, pp.26-28

 

Humanism (Why words are your friends)

This particular blog is dedicated to Liz and Alice (and maybe even messy church), without whom, I would not have been in a conversation about beliefs and religion. It was Liz who asked me if I was a humanist, and I had to admit my ignorance on the subject; this sparked my curiosity into researching further. One needs to give credit where it’s due!

I used to be scared of labels. Words can be scary when you are attempting to assert your ideas on something. I did not understand the parameters of some of the words I was using, until I realised I could set these boundaries myself. I researched more words, and educated myself so I could finally situate my ideas. The more I research, the more ideas I am changing – and that’s okay! Sometimes I find new words that better describe what I meant before.

So in my previous blog Speak Up?, I talk about my ideas on religion and atheism. Since then, I have been introduced to the world of humanism. That doesn’t mean I’ve changed my views, but I was a humanist without even realising it! Which begs the question, what is humanism? Well in my research, I found out that many of my atheist references from my previous references are also spokespersons for humanism!

How can I be happy? features Stephen Fry explaining the basics of humanism in a lovely animated video. Humanism Intro Part 1, and Part 2 are two more videos that use advocates of humanism (including some familiar faces) to describe what it’s all about. These three videos are all from the British Humanist Association. There is a quiz on their webpage to see if you are a humanist too! Of course, there is also the American Humanist Association, GALHA (aimed at the LGBT community), and many more!

I also like the fact that the recognised symbol for humanism, known as the ‘Happy Human’; is a little figure looking liberated and ecstatic. (I may have added his little speech bubble for dramatic emphasis).

humanism logo

BUT I DIGRESS

The real point of this little blog was to urge you to never stop learning. There’s no real excuse to stop your education now the internet exists, whether it takes you 5 minutes or an hour to read an article, you have the power to learn about anything you want with great ease and minimal effort! It’s not just reading either. Many of the links in this blog are videos, and in my experience, lots of people want to share their thoughts and opinions with others through video. It’s easy, and accessible! Whether or not you agree with those people is a completely different matter! You will always be entitled to your opinion and have the freedom to change it for whatever information you discover.

I want to know your opinions on this. So far my blogs have generated some really interesting conversations with friends, family and colleagues, and I really want that to continue.

Also, for the sake of self-development and learning I think it’s important to note that I make the distinction between being a feminist and being an egalitarian. Like this blog asserts, words are your friends!

The year two thousand and fifteen

As the year draws to a close, I’ve had a compelling urge to write another blog, to summarise and reflect on the things I have learnt.

I started the year in tears. I knew 2015 would be the year of change, and I was terrified of it. I was beginning to grow as an adult in a way that I hadn’t experienced before. Thinking back, it’s difficult to put into words. 2015 was the year I would graduate, the year I would have to make decisions about my life, the year people would move in and out of my life in ways I couldn’t control.

Final Year

Undoubtedly the best for me at uni. In terms of lifestyle, I definitely did the most than previous years, and consequently was the happiest I had ever been.

I felt more independent from my parents, even though they were a constant source of emotional support and love. I had a wonderful flat “wife”, who constantly taught me how to be a better person. We had some of the most memorable parties, nights out, and nights in! We joined the Cocktail Society, which was something both wifey and I thoroughly enjoyed. I’m really thankful we did something like that together; as I’m not sure I would have had quite as much fun without her.

I started archery, which initially was meant to be something I did fairly casually, but quickly became something I was utterly obsessed with. When I told my Grandad, who also does archery, he actively laughed at my naivety… I suppose all the new friends (and medals) allowed my addiction to develop.

I was part of the fund-raising team for the Fine Art degree show, putting on events and such to raise money for catalogues and the private view bar. For my course I definitely felt the most involved and committed than the rest of my degree.

Music

Please be aware there are links to videos in this section which may contain explicit language. You have been warned.

Strangely, 2015 marked a shift of music interests for me. I feel this was partly due to the increased levels of stress and dependence on spotify. My uncle told me I could appreciate many different types of music because of “my creative mind”, which seemed an awfully bohemian idea. Nevertheless, my music choices range from Slipknot and Korn; to David Bowie and Pink Floyd;  to ThisWillDestroyYou and Ludovico Einaudi. I think my musical interests come from real people writing and playing their own music. Artists who feel their music and believe in what they do.

My mood can strongly influence my music choices, but now I am much more likely to put on some relaxing instrumentals than powerfully emotional metal. I feel this transition is mainly due to needing to concentrate, which I find difficult when lyrics are involved.

That being said, I’ve had an amazing year of concerts. Slipknot (and Korn) in January, System of a Down in April, and Korn again in July. Dream come true for my inner 15 year old. My mother was with me for the first and last concert, and it means a lot to me to see her so ecstatically happy.

For those of you that think metal is for angry, aggressive and violent people, you can educate yourselves here.

Jobs

In previous years, I would work full time in admin during the holidays to get out of my overdraft and earn my keep whilst at home. I never felt as if I had enough time to have a job during term time, and get my university work to the standard I desired. After I graduated, I felt an immense pressure to become a fully fledged human being and get a ‘proper’ job. At this point, I knew I wanted to go back to uni and do a masters, but had no funding to do so.

I found another office job through an agency and quickly realised I hated it. Yeah I was good at it, and the people were lovely, but I wasn’t stimulated. I found myself thinking, this is not my life. During this time, I was overwhelmingly grateful to my Mum, who kept pushing me to return to uni, find a job here, and on top of that she found me somewhere to live. “Winners find a way”, she tells me. I’m not sure where that came from, but I try to keep it in mind whenever there’s an obstacle in my life I’m struggling to overcome.

I was always looking for new jobs in various sectors both in Hertford and Loughborough, trying to make up my mind whether it was worth staying at home for a year, or move out as soon as possible. It was really important to me by this point to be self-sufficient, for a number of reasons I will save for another time.

Long story short, I found my current job as a private carer. I remember ringing my Mum after the interview saying “I REALLY WANT THIS JOB!” When I got offered and then accepted the job, it felt like the start of a new chapter. It meant I would be moving back to Loughborough for the foreseeable future. I can’t remember the specific series of events for housing, masters or anything else at that point; I know that I have Mum and Liz (my boss) to thank for giving me the life I really wanted. I don’t think I realised myself at that point how important it was to me.

Masters

I knew I wanted to come back and do a masters near the beginning of 2015. I toyed with the idea a lot. Left it, came back to it, pushed it away and finally realised it was something I needed to do at some point in my life. There’s no time like the present! I wrote a long winded post on my Facebook which I want to quote, as it is still true and very important to me.

“So after one of the toughest summers I have ever experienced, I have found a way to go back to university to do my masters. I’ve had to re-think my life many times and have learnt so much.

I’m glad of the obstacles which have made me realise what I can achieve and how far I have come. I’m proud to be self-funding because it means I will appreciate all the little things that much more. That does mean I’m having to go part time to manage everything financially, but I have found myself a great job while I study.

I’m lucky to have such supportive people around me, who haven’t let me give in when I thought there was no way I could do what I wanted to. I can’t even begin to thank them enough. I love you all so very much.

I’ve also learnt there’s a lot of money in the world, but not a lot of time. I would rather be happy and in debt than miserable with a bit of money.

I can’t wait to go back to Loughborough on Friday to start a whole new chapter.”

My masters so far has been tough but rewarding. Balancing my weeks between study and work has been something I have really enjoyed. In a way, it has been easier for me transitioning to post-graduate level, as I did my undergraduate at Loughborough, but I don’t think I appreciated the level of research and work I have had to do. Having said that, I’m lucky that I love reading and reflecting on what I am doing.

Relationships

There’s not a lot I want to say that hasn’t already been said. As I said before, I knew this year would mark people moving in and out of my life. There’s much greater distance geographically between people I have cared and continue to care a lot about. I’ve learnt to accept that this is life and you can’t have everything and everyone all the time. I hope the people who mean a lot to me know that they are missed, and I will work hard to see them when I can.

I don’t feel different in myself, but practically everything in my life has changed as I knew it would. Change can be for the best though, and there’s not much that would make me happier. I can’t wait to go back and see my parents at Christmas and I think being away for this long has made it all the more special.

To those who read my last blog, and enjoyed my referencing,  I’m sorry there wasn’t as much this time! I just felt the need to conclude the year in my own way.

Speak Up?

As I get older, I find myself become increasingly frustrated with social politics, and my lack of ability to voice my opinion. I love having freedom of thought, speech and information, and have an incredible privilege of education. I have opinions, but I don’t often share them from fear of upsetting others. I do wish I was more outspoken about my morals. I don’t want to be a mediator for the sake of keeping the peace. I fear staying silent allows for the breeding of ignorance. So I’m making a change, writing my thoughts down for the scrutiny and criticism of the internet. These are my opinions (until I change them), and you are allowed to disagree. I will respect your opinions just the same.

  1. I don’t believe in a God.

When I was younger, I belonged to a choir and was an active member of the church. Technically speaking, I am a confirmed Christian. I changed my mind about religion when I was 18, just before I came to University. I think I lost faith before then, but I didn’t really understand why. Since then, I have clarified my opinions and I don’t see them changing any time soon.

It was my passion for singing that took me to choir in the first instance. I felt moved by the music I sang, the sounds that echoed round the church. When it came to praying, I felt nothing. Mostly, I felt stupid. I so desperately wanted to feel something, or someone. I felt like a bad Christian for not having a “close relationship with God.” He never spoke to me, and I found myself questioning why God was portrayed as a ‘he’ anyway. No one really KNOWS which gender God is… In the end, I felt like a fraud for being part of a community of which I did not sympathise. I think I left before I truly understood why I felt this way.

It was at my Auntie’s funeral that I felt the most confused and angry about my religion. The ceremony was performed at the crematorium. The local vicar conducted the service and said; “All those who die in the faith of Christ will go to heaven.” The Bible says: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13)…But she didn’t believe in God, she lost her faith when her husband died nearly 20 years previously. Does that mean she’s going to hell? In that moment my mind whirred, and I realised God is for those who are scared of death. If there’s hope of an afterlife, one doesn’t have to deal with the reality that we will die. In that moment I knew that while God was a wonderful idea, I could no longer identify myself as a Christian.

When I went to university, my beliefs cemented themselves through many more questions. University is a place of great diversity. There are so many religions, ethnicities, and backgrounds all united in a place of learning. My friend from Singapore is Muslim. My friend from India is Hindu. My friend from France is Catholic. My friend from Israel is Jewish. What makes one religion right and another wrong? Geographical location tends to determine which religion you follow. (Park, C. 2004) Does that mean if you are lucky enough to be born in a certain place you will go to heaven, while your friend does not? Who chooses? Who is right?

In light of everything that is happening in the world right now, I think it is futile to pray to whatever or whoever you believe in. If there is a God, they are passive, and will do nothing to help us. By all means, pray for the strength and humility you require to help people, but don’t expect anything to come from anywhere but within. Only you have the power to make a change.

In the same vane, I think it is wrong to name good or bad things that one does in the name of God. I’m all for missionaries going out trying to better the world, but the physical action comes from a person regardless of their beliefs. In the same way, killing in the name of God is still killing whichever way you look at it.

There is too much randomness, depravity, disease, disability, poverty, oppression, slavery, totalitarianism, power, extreme weather conditions, geological faults, and war for me to believe that an external being created our world. Non-belief is more comforting to me than a God who stands-by and does nothing.

I feel as if my lack of religion allows me to see the world in a way that makes me want to do everything I can to better myself; to be the best person I can be; to teach others; to listen to others; and do things that make me happy. By believing in nothing, I can welcome diversity. Being an artist, I suppose I have educated myself into a very globalised ideology of the world. I am accepting of all difference.

In my opinion, time is short, and money is plentiful in the world. I may not have lots of money, but ultimately that is my choice. for the sake of my happiness, money is not important to me.

Here I have listed a few speakers who helped me clarify my beliefs on atheism.

2. I am a feminist.

I believe in equality, but moreover I believe in justice. In my opinion, feminism, equality and justice are synonymous with one another. I believe that each person should have the same opportunities as the last person. Whether that be education, politics, salaries and beyond.

To demonstrate what I understand by the term feminism, I want to give a example of what I am not. I am not someone who believes that any one person is better than another. Granted I may not enjoy the company of every person I meet, but I don’t think any less of them as a human being, I just wouldn’t choose to spend my time with that person.

Earlier this year at my university, there was a big scandal about the soon-to-be Union President. (Young-Powell, A. & Wakefield, L. 2015) What most alarmed me about this whole scandal, to Reckless’ eventual decision to stand down, was that in the epicentre of this unacceptable behaviour was the emphasis that a man hit a woman. In the article, the Women’s Officer at the university kept stressing the sexes of the persons involved in the incident.

My standpoint is that the fact he showed violence towards another human being was unacceptable regardless of gender. I understand the people who voted for Reckless to become union president felt as if they had been deceived, and rightly so! However, the fact he was banned from the union was a direct consequence of his actions. To me, his violence from one human being to another does not make him a suitable candidate to represent the university union. In the interest of equality, the genders of the persons involved in the incident itself are irrelevant. I feel like this is almost lazy feminism of people who haven’t really grasped the concept of feminism and give the whole movement a bad name.

I don’t really fit into any feminist stereotypes, because in reality there are none. I don’t wear make-up, but it has nothing to do with my ideas about feminism, I’m just lazy. It takes enough effort to drag myself into the shower of a morning without having to paint my face on! That’s not to say I never wear make-up, I make an effort for big events, weddings, parties etc. Neither do I condemn those who choose to spend hours on their make-up. I have high admiration for those who spend aliges getting ready, I just don’t have that kind of commitment to social constructs of perceived beauty, sorry.

3. I surround myself with positivity

Over the past year or so, I have found it increasingly important to be friends with people who get the most out of their lives. As mentioned before, I appreciate that I am extremely privileged to have all the opportunities I have, but I have had to work hard to get here. As a result, I don’t need outsiders telling me I shouldn’t be doing what I am doing. More importantly, I don’t want to be around people who moan about how bored they are, and how horrible their life is. My advice? Do something about it.

I like to spend my time with people who are happy despite adversity. After all if I am right (and there is no God), we only have a few years on this planet before we leave, so we’d best make the most of it! If that means I don’t have as much money, or make choices that other people don’t agree with, so be it. I am refusing to be judged by others when they cannot make an informed opinion. Even if they do, I fail to see why it would be their business. I’m not saying I’m going to do anything stupid, but it would be my choice if I so wished.

I love my life. I love my job. I love my course. I love my friends, however near and far they are. They are a never ending source of laughter, guidance and generosity. I love reading, writing, caring, cooking, thinking, making and archery, so I do it whenever I can. I’ve never been happier. I’m lucky to have a wonderful man in my life who supports me, doesn’t judge me, and is always grateful for the things I do. I owe him so very much.

So I suppose that’s a brief summary of my beliefs. I felt like this was necessary with all the research and clarifications I have had to make recently for my masters. If you read the whole thing, thank you. I appreciate your time.

Alex

Park, C. (2004) Religion and geography. Chapter 17 in Hinnells, J. (ed) Routledge Companion to the Study of Religion. London: Routledge

Young-Powell, A. & Wakefield, L. (2015) Student union president urged to stand down after ‘slapping’ woman in face, The Guardian,  [online] available at  http://www.theguardian.com/education/2015/mar/26/student-union-president-urged-to-stand-down-after-slapping-woman-in-face (Accessed 17/11/2015)