What’s in an Attitude?

Recent activities have got me thinking about this, the meaning of “attitude”, and surprisingly, reminded me that once upon a long time ago I was a [very good] mathematician and physicist. OK long time ago, as being a wife, mother, worker, educator, counsellor, retiree, granny, and much else, happened.

First – great discussion at the Island Free Library following my showing of the TED talk “The Danger of the Single Story”. It is given by one of my favourite great authors Chimamanda Adichie, worth watching even if there is no discussion to follow.

Think about how we all have multiple identities and sometimes they contradict each other, etc, like my list above, that leaves out sister, friend, and more. Reminded me of “danger of a single way of thinking” and “danger of a single group dynamic”.

[Psycho-social profession suggests three basic human group interactions – unconscious dynamics: dependence; fight/flight; and future-hope. We need them all, and a strong contender for cause of the mess we are in is that the destructive competitiveness of fight/flight on its own has brought the world neo-liberal economics and seemingly endless wars – both trade and military.]

Back to the muddle I am presently in, personal because I am leaving my life in Block Island after 15 years to return to Edinburgh [positive grief loss move forward etc.] and also because I got involved online with Deep Adaptation and the sort of generalized existential grief that the notion of climate disaster and societal collapse arouses.

Is getting on with my own stuff living or avoiding? who cares about my inner avoidance except me, etc etc? Words are not enough, but they may help.

When teaching emotional education [experiential learning process] that included counselling, listening, attentive observation etc etc, I often used the concept of “Empathy” as an example of one thing alone not being good enough. I would say: empathy is exactly what con-men use to operate a successful scam. The group would discuss, let me know how values, ethics, mattered. And, “attitude“, whatever that was, so then we would talk about the three attitudes that needed practice, particularly in counselling: Genuineness, Acceptance and Empathy.

We would realize we needed both sorts of “practice”, enactment within the professional practice, and personally practising to get better at the enactment, and see the complexity.

We would also talk about the probability of finding ourselves going in a “good” direction, rather than a “bad” one, when our thoughts adjusted with trying out these attitudes. Identities would become fluid, we would see the layers in the stories. After we reflected, I would write up, Looking at that long-ago paper I see again the ideas of Rapport – the emotional contact between people – and Here-and-Now, the capacity to be in the present moment in unconscious communication. We are always in the present moment. Obviously? But our words often forget that.

So, I am reading all these online articles and references to people’s thoughts. My cynical side mutters darkly about “good intentions” and the road to hell . My critical academic side nit-picks details. My lazy side says says “nice, interesting, so what”. My “shoulds and duty” side tries to remember that I am 76 and still don’t know where I am going and other writing people are a lot more clued in than I was once, whatever age they are.

So, no single story there then.

A. I find myself saying still, that genuineness, acceptance and empathy are HARD WORK [but worth it]

B. I find myself wanting to bring back the mathematics knowledge.  In particular the difference between a vector and a scalar. Scalars are qualities, characteristics, something, often measurable, inherent to the object considered – in physics things like length, or electric charge. To extrapolate to use in society, surely values are scalars, generosity, compassion, and also the other destructive ones, cruelty and negativity. I look again at those three I once called “attitudes” – genuineness, acceptance and empathy, because they, and other values, may be necessary, but they are not sufficient to cause change. We also need the VECTOR. A vector is at an instant, here, now, this point, this place, it has a DIRECTION.

This vector is how we act, here-and-now, as agents. If we keep the direction we have had in the previous instant, and the one before that, than we are avoiding change, whatever it looks like on the surface. We are just repeat acting. Change involves falling out of the nest of past habits and beliefs, mindsets, not-knowing the future. In the instant we can choose the direction, a vector matters. That is when we are an agent.

I find myself looking at Jem Bendell’s 4 Rs again, resilience, relinquishment, restoration and reconciliation. Other posts about compassion and kindness and connection. Same puzzlement – goodness exists – each of us is just ONE tiny piece. In the meantime the world of destructive qualities carries on too. OMG I am doing it again, getting complicated, confused, even while I hope that being a vector, acting here-now matters.

I found another definition:

Ecological succession, the process by which the structure of a biological community evolves over time. Two different types of succession—primary and secondary—have been distinguished. Primary succession occurs in essentially lifeless areas—regions in which the soil is incapable of sustaining life as a result of such factors as lava flows, newly formed sand dunes, or rocks left from a retreating glacier. Secondary succession occurs in areas where a community that previously existed has been removed; it is typified by smaller-scale disturbances that do not eliminate all life and nutrients from the environment.”

That is it. I am in an ecological succession. All of us on the planet, life, is a biological community.

In my little space and place, I will try to put life and nutrients in, as best I can.

I am one of those smaller scale disturbances, with an attitude.


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