Double Take

'When you've seen beyond yourself, then you may find peace of mind is waiting there. And the time will come when you see we're all one, and life flows on within you and without you – George Harrison


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On Being Human by Nigel Summerley and Rowena J Ronson

On Being Human by Nigel Summerley and Rowena J Ronson

Speak To Me

Photograph: Speak To Me by Rowena J Ronson

RJR: I am just back from the One World Festival and I was struck by how friendly people were! We all shared a smile as we crossed each other’s path, it was almost a shock at the beginning. It started to make me think how strange the reverse is in terms of how we live the rest of our lives. We walk along London roads completely closed to those around us. We cram ourselves in carriages on the tube, breathing each other in, but not uttering a word or exchanging a glance. How has this become the norm?

NS: This is not exclusively a London experience. It can happen also in the country – anywhere. And in London, you can live in a neighbourhood where people are friendly and do speak to each other. But generally, we increasingly don’t speak to each other – or even acknowledge each other. At the same time many of us are wrapped up in phone and email conversations as we move among those we are not speaking to. So we ARE communicating and NOT communicating at the same time. Is it us or technology that is to blame? Or just increased population?

RJR: Interesting points Nigel. Mobile phones seem to have become many people’s companion as they walk along the road. I was behind a woman yesterday in St Albans, and I could tell you had no issue with crawling along while scrolling pages on her phone, regardless of how busy the high street was or that she was holding others up. She was in her own bubble and no one else mattered. So I do think mobiles play a part in it, even if we are not communicating with someone while walking, we can so easily not be present. And I guess maybe there is something in that. When we are on a busy tube, do we ignore others because we really do not want to be present? Is the experience too unbearable? Watching people on busy streets passing each other by without a thought or glance, it is almost surreal, and this is how we were as humans way before mobile telephones….

NS: Yes, mobile phones used like this are perhaps a red herring – or a symptom of what you are talking about. Fundamentally, it seems that we don’t talk to each other on the tube etc, partly because we are stressed and engrossed in our own stuff – but perhaps mainly because we don’t know each other. We tend not to talk to ‘strangers’. Previous generations – in a world without so many people – did seem to talk to each other more. But apart from there being so many of us now, there is also an element of fear, isn’t there? You don’t know what might happen if you do speak to a ‘stranger’.

RJR: I think you are spot on about the issue of ‘so many people’. I think it brings out a sense of overwhelm and a need to disconnect and retreat into our own bubbles. I guess it is a survival mechanism. I am not so sure if it is a conscious a process as fear of what might happen but maybe there is an element of that for some too. I have spoken to several people recently who say that they just cannot cope with travelling in and around London anymore by tube. They feel it is such a huge zap on their energy for which they take several hours if not a day or so to recover. This is not something that they have experienced in the past. Can you relate to this?

NS: The tube in rush hour is one of the most potent reminders of how overcrowded we are – and also the epitome of the stress of city life. It’s not surprising that we retreat into our bubble – and perhaps become increasingly careful about whom we allow to have access to that bubble. But the more we are estranged from each other, the easier it is, it seems, for things to break down. It must, in most cases, be easier to be violent towards a stranger than towards someone you know. And doesn’t this potential explosion of violence in an overcrowded environment apply as much to the world as it does to the city?

RJR: I guess it does. It is interesting that you have brought violence into the equation. Tell me what made you make the link?

NS: City life is the proverbial ‘rat trap’ – and on the tube we are overcrowded and stressed and hemmed in by strangers. In these circumstances animals are more likely to fight each other for survival.

RJR: And by being forced to use the reptilian part of our brain, do we become less in touch with our humanity?

NS: That could be a chicken-and-egg situation – we may lose touch with our humanity and then resort to basic violence. If we dehumanise everyone around us, then violence becomes easier. So is there anything we can do to focus on the fact that ‘strangers’ are similar to ourselves?

RJR: Be conscious? But I am not sure that is the point is it? Our consciousness tends to go out the window of the train as our need for self protection has a louder calling.

NS: Perhaps being conscious would allow us to risk losing whatever it is that we think is so important that we tend to protect it at all costs?

RJR: I wonder if we can bring others into our discussion? Double Takers, what do you think?

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Resident Evil

Talking About Evil by Nigel Summerley and Rowena J Ronson

NS: Is there such a thing as evil, independent of human beings. Is the idea of the devil rooted in some sort of reality? Or is it a way of expressing an aspect of humanity – an internal flaw?

RJR: I am not sure what you mean by ‘independent of human beings’, as I am not a believer in heaven and hell or ‘God’ and his antithesis, the devil. But there is no doubt that evil exists in humanity. It is interesting to question whether it is a flaw or just born out of the survival instinct. What do you think?

Charlotte's Web (RJR)

NS: I am not a believer either. But there does seem to be a widespread belief that evil exists as something separate from us, something that we can succumb to or be taken over by. But perhaps this is an excuse – like the scapegoat that was blamed for evil things and then driven away or killed. The potential for evil may well be within us all, no? It seems more likely that it is a psychological/self-centred flaw. But why do you mention the survival instinct? Is it that we are prepared to push our boundaries to encompass almost any act – if it is linked to self-preservation?

RJR: How easy it is to think of it as separate from us. It is such a great way for no one to take responsibility for anything. In saying that, I do believe in possession, so in some instances I guess evil can be perceived as a separate entity. I believe we are all capable of anything, yes. But I am not sure we are all capable of evil, although I guess we are all susceptible to being possessed. I am sure you will have something to say in answer to that comment! There is a difference between self-preservation and evil, surely? It may be born out of survival, but it is not what motivates it…

NS: If you believe in possession, then it seems like you are having it both ways… Evil is not separate but it can possess us…? Either it is separate or it is not, surely? I agree that we are all probably capable of anything – or certainly we can never know for sure what we may be capable of. Self-preservation at all costs must lead ultimately to violence – and perhaps also to evil? First, I think we need to clear up this “possession” thing. If we are possessed, what is it that possesses us? And if it is separate from us, what is it, what is its nature and where does it come from? Could we go into this a bit more?

RJR: I would say that it can be separate and it can be part of us. I believe that evil spirits can possess us. Or have I been watching too many films? I also believe that one can be possessed by good spirits too. So in answer to your questions, I believe we can be possessed by spirits, be they evil or otherwise. I am guessing you don’t share my belief?

NS: Saying that evil can be separate from us and part of us seems to be contradictory, although I suppose it is not necessarily so. If you feel that we can be possessed by spirits – either evil or good – then what is the nature of these spirits? And again, this seems contradictory because you were saying earlier that we sometimes look to blame an outside agency for the way we are or the way we behave. I think there is something in this feeling of “possession” but perhaps it is possession by thoughts or feelings that we like to think could never be a part of us?

RJR: I agree that most people do not take responsibility for their feelings, thoughts and resulting behaviour. I am not sure we are conditioned to do so. It is only when people are in crisis and they do some personal development work that they learn the skill. I have learned in life, and I work with my patients with the model that we need to take 100 per cent responsibility for our behaviour. We cannot take responsibility for how the person in the dynamic with us reacts, as that would be controlling and would imply that they should be responsible for our behaviour, which in turn is disempowering. Evil is something else, though, isn’t it – or would you put aggression and lying for example, under the evil umbrella?

NS: Yes, it’s far easier to blame someone else or something else for our behaviour. There may be something in the self-preserving, self-justifying nature of the brain that predisposes us to that? Awareness of what we do and what is being done to us presumably holds the key to placing responsibility where it belongs? Aggression or lying (and other types of “bad” behaviour) could be described as evil or not, depending perhaps on the context or the degree or the result. But I wonder if evil is a mystery that we cannot solve. Is it a word we use to describe aberrant human behaviour stemming from the more primitive actions of the brain and from lack of awareness? Or could it be something that “possesses” us from outside. The latter seems unlikely, doesn’t it? But then what lies behind the way the human brain and behaviour have developed? Is it too fanciful to think that forces of “good” and “evil” may have been involved in our emergence as human beings?

RJR: The idea of forces of “good” and “evil” being involved in our emergence as human beings makes no sense to me. Is there a religious explanation that you are referring to, and if so, can you tell me more?

NS: Not exactly a religious reference, although I suppose that is the basis of much religion – the idea of the opposing forces of God and the Devil. And that can be a metaphor for the human condition. I suppose I come back to the question of whether or not there are forces of evil and good at work in the universe? And is life born out of that? Or is the universe ‘detached’ – neither good nor evil. Or is it good/evil? Or are good and evil ‘human’ terms that have no real meaning in the universe?

RJR: There are opposing forces throughout the universe. In fact, everything exists through polarity, light and dark, but that is not the same as good and evil, is it? Or is it one and the same? I agree the concept of good and evil is human terminology. Other animals are not evil. The reptilian and oldest part of our brain provided us with our basic survival animal instincts. It is from the more evolved parts of our brain that evil has manifested. When we observe animals it is all too easy to project human emotions on to them, but a cat is not evil if it scratches you. We all hear of stories of people who seem completely heartless. I watched last night the new film Monument Men. Forces of good and evil are clearly seen throughout.The selfless men who helped rescue our culture heritage from the nazis. The gold collected by the nazis from the teeth of the Jews.

NS: I am left thinking and feeling that ‘good/evil’ is a red herring. The terms good and evil are simply human creations. There is darkness and light in all things – and perhaps if we are aware of the darkness within us, we will move and act more in the light.