Thursday, 18 June 2009

Yay! It's raining.

I think I am happiest when I can accept everything: who I am, the circumstances I am in, the way I treat others and the way I am treated, and the direction in which my life is heading. This idea is nothing new, but sometimes I forget about it, despite its simplicity.

Thinking about acceptance helps me separate the things I want to live with from the things that I don't. 

For me to be happy, I don't need all of my personal circumstances to be positive, or even going "my way". In fact, I am happier when I realise that I can accept and live with unchangeable things that aren't good. The sense of pleasure comes from knowing that everything won't go my way, and being happy in spite of, or perhaps because of, that fact. 

The things that make me unhappy are the things I can't accept, and yet can change. I think the discomfort comes from knowing that I want to and can control something, but that I'm not taking any action. I can hear myself, internally or externally, making excuses; that I'd love to be able to feel differently or behave differently, but I can't, or I don't have the power to. The second that one of these thoughts enters my brain, I'm aware that I'm lying, and letting myself down. 

I am a pretty happy person, and I think this is because there aren't many things that I lie to myself about, and I find myself accepting of most things. I really want there to be nothing changeable that I want to alter, but won't. But at the same time, I think like having flaws sometimes, and I don't want to be mentally unblemished and perfect. 

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Man eats banana; gets cancer*

I've been told that I get agitated when people in positions of authority misinterpret data. It might be geeky of me, but it's just not on.

The well-known mantra, "correlation does not imply causation", was heavily drummed into my head during my undergraduate Psychology degree. I'm confident that it would have entered my brain, regardless of my participation in any education; the idea is a straightforward one, and utterly common-sense. Despite the simplicity of this concept, it appears to be forgotten with alarming frequently in pieces of journalism published by (allegedly) high-quality and respectable sources. In a conversation where people are enjoying casual discourse and not scrutinising every utterance, these sorts of lapses are normal, and to be expected. However, when such errors are made by professional writers and journalists who are publishing formal pieces of work to large audiences, it's just sloppy. 

For example, in a recent article about illegal music downloading that I was reading on the Guardian website, the author claimed that file sharing wasn't responsible for diminished profits in the music industry. Instead, he had some recent figures that demonstrated a large increase in video game and DVD sales. Therefore, he claimed that it was this that was killing the music industry, because people had no money left over to buy music. As far as he was concerned, this was undoubtably what those numbers meant, make no mistake about it. 

Clearly, whilst he may be right, the causation claims he is making are, in no way, backed up by the data he cites. Ironically, he berates music industry bosses for the unwarranted inference of a "cause and effect" relationship between music downloading and a decrease in music sales, but then in the very same paragraph of his article, goes on to say that "there's only a limited amount of short-term spending cash available to people" and that "instead of buying music, they choose to spend it on other things". He replaces one unwarranted claim of causation for another.

This is just one example of many such articles I've read recently. Academic journals use peer-review, and you rarely see anyone getting away with publishing conclusions from their data that aren't absolutely qualified. You get tentativeness, "we might be able to conclude this, but we need more studies to confirm it", and admittance of the shortcomings of their current knowledge. Essentially, you get humbleness and honesty - the exact opposite of many sensationalist news articles that bastardise the real research and communicate it in that warped form to the general population. This may relate to why people consider psychology as a "pseudo science", if most of their exposure to psychological research has been in the form of watered-down, poorly written journalistic articles.

Are people aware that they are making these sorts of assumptions? Do they think that because they mention a few figures or the odd research paper (e.g. "studies have shown..."), that it qualifies their subsequent conjecture as fact? I can only assume that such unfounded conclusions are being drawn knowingly; on-the-fence articles may be considered inadequately gripping. Still, I'd rather read about the truth and be presented with the data in an accurate way, even if it might be rather less exciting sometimes.

*Actually, a man ate banana once, but he also ate lots of pies and smoked lots of cigarettes, and then got diagnosed with cancer a few years later. Sorry, I know that's boring. 

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Nobody realises that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal.

For some time, I have found myself deeply admiring the characteristic of self-awareness in some individuals and bemoaning its absence in others. I think self-awareness is beautiful. I aspire to know myself, to be aware of how my actions affect others, and to appreciate others as equally mindful beings. This latter point is crucial, as I think that attempting to achieve self-awareness involves the understanding that for every thought, emotion and feeling that I have, someone else is having the same (but different) cognitive experience. When I catch myself behaving or thinking in a way that fails to demonstrate this, I feel frustrated and as though I have let myself down. I am not a paragon of these virtues, but these are, at the very least, my aims.

It is not that I expect others to behave in a way that pleases me; I do not believe self-awareness is synonymous with putting others before, or on the same level, as myself. I don't always intend to act with vast amounts of (outwardly apparent) consideration for others. I don't live by the mantra of "do as you would be done by", although most of the time, acting in a way that is self-aware achieves this quite well. I acknowledge the importance of selfishness and doing what is best for myself, even if this means hurting or disadvantaging others in some way. What I really care about is an awareness of these things; that is, thinking and displaying thoughtfulness in behaviour. 

I frequently find myself troubled by what I perceive to be a lack of self-awareness in other people I encounter. Sometimes, the incidents are trivial; for example, a group of people walking four-abreast on the pavement, unaware of others clogging up behind them, or having to step into traffic to get past. On other occasions, the absence seems more pronounced - people who repeatedly find themselves in situations where they are distressing others, and when confronted with this information, always look to an external other to shoulder the blame, denying any opportunity for meaningful introspection about their involvement in the problem.

I view being self-aware as a crucial part of being human. I sometimes find it terrifying that there are powerful, influential adults existing and behaving in a way that appears to be so automatic, mechanical and without thought. On days when I am exposed to a greater number of people who behave like this, I find myself feeling quite isolated and alien. I now feel that you can never be too self-aware. In the past I didn't believe this to be the case, but I think that was because I was blurring the boundaries between self-awareness and self-consciousness. My understanding of the latter is that it involves some sort of preoccupation with the self, and it brings with it negative feelings of discomfort, paranoia and social anxiety. I don't really think that anyone ever fully achieves self-awareness. But I am very glad that I have realised how much it means to me.