connection

Hit with the truth

A long term study determines that ‘smacking’/hitting children isn’t such a good idea for their long term well-being and functioning. Wow – really? I’m shocked. So let’s put the research aside for a second, because there will be plenty of people not willing to accept the evidence.

Regardless of your beliefs, whatever values have been instilled in you from whatever sources perhaps an approach to this delicate topic of parental ‘rights’ and who gets to police that always evokes a challenge to the moral order.

But how about trying to look at this purely from a neurobiological perspective, particularly the fundamentals of the limbic system, namely the amygdala and the associated structures that mediate and process environmental info and emotional responses then how this is mediated by the frontal cortex or the ‘reasoning’ part of the brain. Abuse and trauma in early life (infancy-childhood) directly effects the amygdala producing structural and functional changes. Emotional responses and anxiety are heightened in response to stressful situations or stimuli. This early life trauma has been shown in studies to stay relatively permanent. The amygdala does not work alone, it is part of a network and this is also effected, including the relationship to the frontal cortex.

The brain has some level of neuroplasticity which is great and why children and young people need access to good support and resources to mediate the affective development and not be exposed to more abuse. There are some important places other than homes where children and young people can be exposed to stress and abuse, sometimes in the name of love and support. Schools in particular can be such sites.

While corporal punishment has been outlawed in New Zealand since 1990 the use of shame, humiliation and other threatening tactics are still employed and punishment is still seen as the preferred option. In light of this research I hope that approaches come under the microscope and we can look beyond blaming parents and take a collective responsibility for abuse – all forms including institutional. The growing movement of restorative approaches gives me some hope, neuroscientists such as Daniel Reisel back this process for healing and developing empathy.

So back to the truth – all forms of abuse have an effect, regardless of the intent. The courage our society faces is to start putting the effects ahead of peoples intentions and support the taking up of responsibility for harm.

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Drowning sorrows

About a year ago I wrote a piece about the need for Kiwis to move on from the ‘she’ll be right’ attitude when it comes to water safety. I’m talking adult responsibility here, and I might even add driving, drinking and sex to the list of things we’d rather not talk about or simply assume this thing called ‘common sense’ will offer some guidance and protection. I’m wondering what all these things have in common and what aspects are unique or perhaps not so easy to make sense of. With four possibly five people drowning in just a single 24hr period it’s more than a personal tragedy it’s a question of relationships that go beyond individuals and notions of responsibility.

In terms of a philosophical shift in ‘where the buck stopped’ the move from God to the individual happened a while back (more commonly referred to as the Age of Enlightenment – although there are always shadows) and we’re still trying to figure out what that actually looks like in practice. We’ve made some reasonable steps in terms of recognising what chronological age might limit and we probably over cooked the gender thing at times. But the idea of connection and taking care of others has mutated into a ‘them and us’ separation with ‘them’ also incurring some form of repellent type shield protecting ‘us’ from any sense of care or even interaction. The emerging apathy becoming more a form of collective sociopathy. This is what concerns me and I don’t think we need another advertising campaign, or philanthropist chucking money at it.

What I do think (for what it’s worth) is if people can reconnect with a sense of community and connection regardless of the amount of length of time that community remains together, then ‘care taking’ might take on a more active and interactive form. A group at the beach, a line of traffic, a park, dance party, festival, these are ‘pop-up’ communities. In a way what probably needs to happen is something similar to what has occurred with technology where relationship have adapted and changed. Part of the hang up is about the meaning of ‘individual’ and ‘response-ability’. The idea of caring about others needs a 21st Century reboot, a decent ‘control-alt-delete’ jolt from Western metaphysical defaults – especially the Cartesian split.

Keeping others and ourselves safe from harm is an ethic, one that is sometimes a matter a life and death. Let’s talk about it and say hi to each other as a first step. Be safe out there – I care.

Dirt-knee-dancing

Body’s struck by the dazzling light. A moment taken to gather nerves and step out for the first time. Hearts racing the crowd on the edge of their seats. This is it the moment we have all been waiting for. Months of build-up, the count-down is over, fighting back the tears of joy and delight. Tension and anticipation broken by the emergence of the performance. It’s awkward and a little uncoordinated but that’s ok, most of them are only three years old.

It’s their first ballet recital and the choreographed stage fright is nothing short of brilliant and is truly inspirational. Meanwhile on the other side of the world a bunch of other performers wait in their own test on the world stage. Their costumes will be worn with the same level of pride and a bit less tulle. They will wrestle with the same emotions, fear, excitement, triumph and satisfaction.

Playing on the stage and field with dirty knees and hearts filled with pride. Where both try-d. Today was a first for many and many cried.

Getting the blues

I’m sensing a relationship might be about to end. It’s been 8 years since taking the plunge and sharing so much personal information. I don’t know why we clicked but it just seemed the right thing to do. But I’m no longer sure this is working there are no red flags, well, the odd one or two from time to time but mainly blue. So Facebook, I might be about done with you.

Perhaps I am part of an invisible group of social media users who are caught between worlds. Kind of like an amphibian, cumbersome on the land and a bit awkward in the water but basically not fully adapted to either environment. So I’m curious about my own responses to a frustrating sense of dis-location. I wonder if I might be a digital introvert. It’s not for a lack of competence or even curiosity but someone my social net-working has very few threads. Fishing for connections in 8 years has seen most past through the holes. Indeed, as I write this I wonder if any more than a handful of people will even read it! How ironic.

There are many people who seem more extroverted and willing to say and do things in the digital world; leading to a sense of double lives, introverts in the real world and extroverts online. My generation went through High School and University without social media, so if we are finding friends we look back and wondering where people ended up. So I suppose in 8 years having had less than a dozen friend requests I’ve realised just how much of fringe dweller I have been. I’ve tried not to take it personally but perhaps it is a bit indicative of some the phases of my life. I probably wasn’t all that fun to be around at times.

This isn’t a poor me story though, that would suggest my ego was craving some sort of recognition yet I cannot deny my disappointment that I just don’t get that many red flags on my page. I’d rather people want to be my friend because they like who I am in the real world or know something about me as a person. Maybe that is where my adaptations reveal their flaws. People are relating to concepts of friendship and intimacy differently and I am flailing.

Time to grow some wings perhaps and fly above it and feel the world with the most amazing technology – the body, or the joy and rush of ideas and imagination with my face in a book. Thumbs up to that.

Sticks and stones and a pile of dirt

Standing on the river bank watching the inky black pool break and run free. I throw a stick in and the child with me throws one in as well. We watch them float down then spin out of the current. A perplexed look crosses her face, a wondering and an opportunity to play and learn – current affairs. We throw more sticks and observe them, describing what is happening nothing more. An urge to up the stakes and race, but what to do when that pesky eddy throws a reverse current into the mix. Stones enter the picture, there are plenty to choose from. But where to throw? How big? More experimentation and my young apprentice catches on quick. Making waves and calmly enjoying the rush of success. Wet feet and cold hands our reward and some hydrology terminology experienced.

Later a mountain of dirt in a field and some tame ducks with a dog who’s instinct to herd everything boarders on OCD. Two of them scramble up negotiating feathered and furry friends. Clumps of soil are picked up and hurled backwards and forwards like snow balls. Shouts and protests make way for tentative rules with animals being completely off limits. The sods are flying and the faces smiling as they quickly weigh up the line between dusting yourself off and mud in your eye. No-one is crying and the ducks seek shelter behind the scrambling legs and flailing arms. The dog is relentless. Friendships blossoming between all creatures. It’s messy and chaotic, perfect.

Gumboots discarded, they just fill up and slow you down another lesson in mass and inertia. Running free and feeling the earth beneath feet. Resting finally in a drain to pick watercress. This is how I remember learning and how I always wanted to teach.

Shelf Life

Book cases are snapshots of who we are have been or wish to become. Mine is a curious mix ranging from childhood favourites, various interests and fields of study. They aren’t particularly well organised, like the messiness of life and the multiplicities, intersections we live. I have one exception, my complete collection of Frank Herberts Dune. Each copy dog eared as I have worked my way through it at least a couple of times. There are numerous gaps however, books that have been borrowed and stayed borrowed or given away as gifts to those who need them more than I do. I’ve been thinking about some of those books I hoped would return but haven’t and whether or not to seek new copies. But there are two in particular that I miss.

First there is Stranger In A Strange Land. I’ve read a lot of science fiction and I know when it was first released in the early 1960’s it was provocative and much like 1984 by George Orwell (although less widely known) the questions it raises about what it actually means to be human are no less relevant today. I love the word ‘grok’ and it is a bit like saying ‘take the red pill’ as a way to strike a chord of recognition and connection with others. The second is Skallagrigg by William Horwood. Perhaps one of the few books that had me from page one and kept me on an emotional roller coaster, cleaver and intense. I’m surprised so few people know about it. It’s a bit like the Tardis of books – infinitely more expansive than the title or plot summary describe. Once you open it you are in for an amazing journey.

These two books fill more than two slots. It is something about what they provoke and stir and I suppose it is the thrill of the creative force they contain that spills through my memories or at least my recollection of how I felt reading them. Even in their absence they maintain a strong presence. Both seek out something beyond the threshold of the familiar, unravelling and splintering linearity and the comfortable containers we prefer to give shape to meaning and materiality.

When we are deeply affected, touched, moved and inspired there is a simultaneous collapsing and expanding of spacetimematter, it is sublime. To share a book is to share life, passion and indeed love.

It’s life gym…

“but not as we know it” if you couldn’t help saying it then you will likely “live long and prosper”. I can’t imagine living inside a giant tin-can in space, although I spent an hour inside a smaller tin-can this week watching kids doing gymnastics. Parking my bike outside after a bit of a squally ride – wind rain cold, a perfect Auckland day I wandered upstairs as parents were barred from the floor to a curious picture of contrasts. Downstairs, a hive of bodies moving and exploring apparatus. Waiting their turn, sharing space, encouraging and supporting each other. All ages mingling and united in their enthusiasm and determination to master skills. Upstairs other children sitting around using apps, isolated from each other, age segregating them as younger children tried to explore the space but were met with annoyed looks and dismissive gestures. A clear sense of territory and personal space emerged. I picked my way through gingerly trying not to break the concentration of those staring into screens to look into the den of activity and caught myself thinking ‘I want to be down there’. Under one roof a simple line had been drawn around play and while the wind howled and the heavens opened, inside all were happy doing their thing.

Riding home in the driving rain passed by tin-cans on wheels I felt the pounding of my heart, the drenching of skin all my senses working together to adapt to the elements. Laughing at the ridiculousness and enjoying the sensation of complete and utter saturation that those in tin-cans will never know. It was life gym and I am glad to know it.