Homophobia, Islamophobia and toxic masculinity

June 15, 2016

Orlando news collage

I’ve been so shocked by the tragic events in Orlando (the mass shooting at an LGBT club in Florida on Sat night) that I’ve been reading obsessively to try and get a handle on how to think about these events. I’ve watched the vigils on TV and I’ve read the updates and the opinion pieces and the analyses. How can such a terrible thing happen? What motivates someone to such hate and violence? What can society do to prevent such atrocities?

There are many themes which are emerging: the radicalisation of marginalised American Muslims; the dangerous mix of homophobia, mental instability and ‘toxic masculinity‘. The possibility that Mateen himself was struggling with a gay identity. The shocking lack of gun control in America. As more evidence emerges I’ll see what the psychologists have to say. For now I think the most powerful research comes from Sarah Lyons-Badilla, a social psychologist who has researched radicalisation in America.

If I was a journalist I’d want to interview the local Muslim authorities about what they teach their followers about tolerance and diversity. Is there tolerance or acceptance of different ways of life from those permitted in Islamic scriptures? I guess, as with Christianity, it really depends who you ask. I’m sure the media could do more to publicise the views of liberal Muslims (athough the cynic in me asks why they would do that if sensationalism is more profitable).

 

 

 


The mind of Donald Trump

May 25, 2016

The mind of Donald Trump

Interesting article. Dan McAdams, a psychology professor at Northwestern University, has crafted a detailed psychological portrait of Donald Trump, the reality-TV star and real-estate mogul who would be US President.

 He looks at Trump in terms of the Big Five of Personality Variables:

Extroversion: gregariousness, social dominance, enthusiasm, reward-seeking behavior

Neuroticism: anxiety, emotional instability, depressive tendencies, negative emotions

Conscientiousness: industriousness, discipline, rule abidance, organization

Agreeableness: warmth, care for others, altruism, compassion, modesty

Openness: curiosity, unconventionality, imagination, receptivity to new ideas

 

How does Trump stack up? High extraversion plus “off-the-chart low agreeableness”.

“People low in agreeableness are described as callous, rude, arrogant, and lacking in empathy.”

“Anger can fuel malice, but it can also motivate social dominance, stoking a desire to win the adoration of others. Combined with a considerable gift for humor (which may also be aggressive), anger lies at the heart of Trump’s charisma. And anger permeates his political rhetoric.”

A tendency to lie and distort.

Fascinating comparison with Andrew Jackson (who was the source of the donkey as the symbol of the Democratic Party). Similar populist appeal and driving personality. Brashness and anger.

Authoritarianism (associated with prejudice towards minorities or outgroups)

Disgust

A textbook case of narcissism

Archetypal warrior

But what is the purpose of fighting to win? Make America Great Again, says the Trump slogan. But what does that mean?

Great conclusion: “It is always Donald Trump playing Donald Trump, fighting to win, but never knowing why.”

 


Strange dreams and other things

April 25, 2016

My alarm went off at 5.50am. I turned it off and went back to sleep. T-bird gave my back a half kick. In my dream I was very intrigued to see how the plot would develop. I can’t remember the details but I was in some kind of difficult situation involving two women. Was I married to one and had made some kind of promise to the other? What made it more bizarre was that I knew this was the plot of some book. I had even asked the opinion of the most writerly blogging friend I knew. Lilian had agreed with the reviewer (but whether this comment was positive or negative I couldn’t remember).

The first woman had arrived from somewhere it seems. Maybe she had come to stay for a week? She met the second woman who I can only assume was my girlfriend. Woman #2  felt bad because  #1 had clearly been led to believe that we would have some kind of relationship, and she didn’t feel able to tell her the truth. I remember at some level thinking that these two women would be very annoyed to hear that I was actually married!

Woman #2 helped #1 with some kind of spell, which would need to be undone when woman #2 and I got together. Very complicated.

At which point L came to wake me to tell me that I had over-slept and that I would need to get a move on to get to work on time.

Bizarre. What did it all mean? One association that I have is with “Forty Seven Roses” in which Peter Sheridan writes about his dad who, while being married to Peter’s mother, managed to have a largely long-distance relationship with a previous girlfriend.

Needless to say I don’t have a girlfriend. I suppose the Jungians would say something about masculine and feminine selves. Maybe my feminine self has different aspects to her.

**

Other than that, I can report :

  1. T-bird is almost two. Loopsie is five. T-bird is quite good at the ‘terrible two’s” and at other times is sweetness and light. She charms strangers in shopping centres. She blows kisses at everyone in her little play-group. Her favourite activity is running around the house.
  1. I did a Resilience talk to our staff, and now feel heartily sick of the topic.
  1. I am endeavouring to read more novels written by women this year. I have just started “Station Eleven” by Emily St John Mandel. I have also just finished “Rembrandt’s Mirror” by Kim Devereux.
  1. I have also just started “Cloudstreet” by Tim Winton. We’ll see which novel wins.
  1. Not much else. Parenting. School. More school. Family. Back ache. The weather. And no blogging. Plenty of coffee though. Ho hum. I hope that life is more scintillating where you are.

Making every ingredient sing

February 24, 2016

Thai-ingredients-mainI love my job … some days. Counselling teenagers is tough, not least because they can be so unreliable. Getting a teenage boy to remember to come to his session or to let me know that he can’t make it or at least to realise that he’s forgotten to pitch and communicate that to me is sometimes too much to ask for.

But I also get to do research and this year I’ve chosen as my focus: Building Resilience. There’s a ton of good material out there and the challenge will be to sift through it, take the parts that appeal most to me and to put it together in a meaningful way. I have a presentation on “Building Resilience” to give in exactly two weeks and, in the words of Masterchef, I want to make every ingredient sing. I want to present some stories and some theory but also to get the teachers to reflect on their own lives and those of their students. It’s a tough ask.

On the parenting side, we are lurching along. Our 5-year old is a lot easier to manage these days, except when it comes to getting herself ready so that we can get to school on time. Our 22-month old is a holy terror. “Bleugh!” And “Go away!” being two of her default responses when she sees me. I’m clearly doing something wrong here but I also I know this is part of the terrible twos. Deep breath. Don’t get angry. Walk away.

“I’m going to kill this child!” I muttered through clenched teeth as I passed the T-bird to L at about 8.40pm last night. Tessie was just being naughty but at the end of a long day I just wanted her to go to sleep so that L and I could sit down together and watch Australian Masterchef.

I love this programme. This week I decided to take some of the advice to heart. One of the guest chefs was telling the contestants to “Be bold!” and to have “No fear!” Rose, the contestant with the flapping hands and the tears, who always seems to be up for elimination, decided to be brave and went for the biggest fish in the pantry. She staggered back to her counter with a massive snapper and a look on her face that said “I’m being brave. Please reward me for this.”

The judges quickly gathered round to see what she would do with it. She cut two steaks and whipped together a Thai salad and some other concoction. I was impressed. I was thinking along the lines of “Feel the fear and do it anyway” except this time the version was: What if you can be anxious and bold at the same time? Because when it comes to my own feelings and behaviour I can never ignore my daily anxiety. But it doesn’t need to define my life. What if I was bold and adventurous as well as anxious and tired? What actions would I take instead? Would I be more decisive?

That’s become my thought experiment for the week. Not to be completely fearless and gung-ho but to take a few risks. To be a bit bolder AND also more reflective.

On the cooking front, however, I immediately fell on my face. I was trying to whip up a Thai Red Curry (from the box) while at the same time keeping an eye on the SA vs England cricket match. Unfortunately I took my eye off the pan and managed to melt one of our plastic spoons. L’s response was along the lines of: What the hell were you doing using a plastic spoon on a hot frying pan? I shot back with: “You’re not being supportive!”I managed to rescue the dish but I realised that I will definitely have to re-visit the multi-tasking idea.

And now I’m off to cook up some more psychological interventions. Wish me luck!


Having a life

January 25, 2016
Tessie with Tuscany book

T with one of her favourite books (a travel book on Tuscany).

What does it mean to ‘have a life’? And how does one have a life when balancing competing demands? The demands of parenting are well-documented: the sleep deprivation, the loss of self, the loss of sanity even. Putting ourselves on hold so that we can calm the baby, reassure the anxious toddler, make the school lunch, just do the flipping washing and organise the baby-sitting.

I bumped into another dad outside the school gates. I was feeling a little dodgy and so was still trying to make it work vaguely on time and get started on the mountain of emails that I don’t look at on the weekend. This dad has four kids, the youngest of whom is six months old. He said something about parenting four young kids as being like “throwing live hand-grenades”. I was in a hurry so I muttered something about taking “one step at a time” and then tried to re-focus on my Monday morning. My mind already races ahead to the week’s activities. Testing, meetings, counselling, welcoming service, trying to organise admission for a boy to the clinic. And then hoping that I have the energy to cope with the demands of the week. At least I am blogging this week, even if it is just to say “Wish I was here”. Oh, and I’m loving reading “All the light we cannot see” by Anthony Doerr. Other than that, life is carrying on.


Resilience 1: Prozac, Coffee and Fridges

October 27, 2015
resilience2

Photo credit: Rebecca Wolsak

Struggling today but persevering. I was thinking (for the umpteenth time) about resilience. About being down but not out. I was going to post something about coffee and Prozac and then I remembered that I’d forgotten to take my little white pill today. I’ve got mixed feelings about being on Prozac. I think it’s definitely helped but I’m also sceptical and I don’t like the idea of being dependent on a chemical to feel better.

One of the side effects of being on fluoxetine is that I’ve started drinking coffee again (and eating more). I know that both coffee and sugar are bad for me but I definitely crave both of these substances now more than before. Previously my body just wouldn’t tolerate coffee and I would be bouncing off the walls (before crashing metaphorically at my desk). Now I quite like the buzz but I’m worried about overdoing it.

I read an interesting post detailing new developments on Chronic Fatigue which had me wondering what’s going on in my body at a cellular level. I’m certainly tired a lot of the time but I put that down to the strains of parenting. I don’t get to exercise enough and from the time I get home in the afternoon I’m often on the go with two small, demanding girls. Feeding, bathing, the bedtime routine. After that I often just collapse on our bed until it’s time to clean up the kitchen. Oh the drudgery!

This weekend we had the added drama of the fridge packing up. I was so stressed about the South Africa versus New Zealand rugby match that I decided to do some fridge defrosting as a stress release. Pick up knife, hack away at the ice in the fridge until …. I hit something I shouldn’t have and there’s a long hisssssing sound. Uh-uh. That’s the sound of Freon escaping and our 15-year old fridge expiring. The rest of the weekend didn’t get much better. But on the positive side we now have a sparkling new fridge which dispenses lovely cold water and which is purring contentedly on the side of our new kitchen. It’s silver, it tells the temperature (a chilly 2 degrees) and I think it’s possibly the best thing we own. We can;t afford it but that’s another story.

In due course I will post properly about resilience. About how resilience is not quite the same thing as Grit. I will even put up a picture of my beautiful new couch. Life carries on. The girls are on their TB-prophylaxis and it’s going better than expected. At least it’s Rifampicin and not INH. Three months to go and then we can breathe a little easier.

Life is hectic but it carries on. And there are good days in between the hectic ones.


I am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes

September 2, 2015

I am PilgirmTerry Hayes’s gripping debut novel is over 800 pages but well worth the read. The plot is pretty simple: Scott Murdoch (aka Jake aka Brodie aka …) is a retired secret agent. He was one of the best but now he’s hiding out in Paris, taking stock of his life post 9/11. The intelligence world has changed irrevocably, Scott is out of a job and he also knows that there are many people who would like him dead. He is very reluctant to return to his previous life but when a gritty New York cop tracks him down, he gets drawn into a very bizarre and intriguing New York murder investigation. And then, fast forward a bit, he is hand-picked by the head of the CIA to be a one-man secret operative hunting the world’s most wanted would-be terrorist.

The other side of the story is the Saracen. Hayes has done a brilliant job of getting into the head of a Saudi exile who is plotting to wipe out millions of Americans through a biological terror attack. The Saracen’s family life, his training and psychology are all detailed very convincingly.

However, when I had finished I couldn’t help wondering about a few things. I should probably put a SPOILER alert here but I will try not to give away the details of the plot. Firstly, why are Scott and the Saracen operating largely on their own? Everything that I know about al-Qaeda or ISIL or ISIS tells me that agents tend to operate in groups. They are trained in cells and they need a support network. The way I am Pilgrim plays out it’s Scott vs the Saracen. We know who will win but it’s still a nail-biting race against time.

Secondly, isn’t it convenient that the terrorists (in this case the Saracen plus some Albanian thugs) use the same interrogation techniques on Scott as the US use on their prisoners? If the CIA were trying to justify the use of waterboarding on terror suspects, they couldn’t have done a better job. Yes, they might say, this interrogation technique is abhorrent but see how the terrorists are using it themselves. All is fair in love and war.

Thirdly, I did wonder about the boy with Down’s syndrome. Call me cynical but did we need the added heart-string-pulling of a child with disabilities? Disability as a plot-device leaves me a little uneasy.

All told though, an excellent thriller up there with the best that you will read. Hayes is also a very successful scriptwriter so we can expect that when this becomes a movie it will be huge.


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