Locus of Evaluation: who makes your decisions?

There is a spectrum when it comes to decision making:  at one end is using an internal locus of evaluation and at the other is using an external one.  A person lucky enough to have an internal locus of evaluation, my oldest daughter, for example, makes decisions by consulting herself.  She always has!  I joke that she raised me and not the other way around, except that it isn’t a joke.  When Abi was 6, she decided that animal consumption was immoral and cruel, and in my maternal ‘wisdom’, informed by mainstream thought about meat, protein and growing children, I persuaded and cajoled her to continue.  Sorry, Abi!  But by the time she was 9, she pointblank refused, and I realised that she really was going to exist on potatoes, pasta, vegetables, baked beans and toast unless I intervened.  So I joined her in the meatless way of life but persuaded her to continue eating fish and dairy and eggs, for protein and Omega 3.

Abi continued to consult herself on these matters, doing research and ordering informative leaflets from a range of animal welfare organisations, and made it increasingly clear that she considered fish eating also immoral and bad for the planet, as well as dairy and eggs.  She presented me with information that corroborated her internal suspicions, and she educated me about the reality of the egg industry (which involves shredding up male chicks) and the dairy industry (which involves shipping unwanted males off for veal or just shooting them in the head at birth or a few weeks old).  By the time she was 12 we were vegan.  I couldn’t unknow the facts that she had presented me, and we have been vegan ever since – her more successfully than me as I have had the occasional unvegan day. 

My point is this: up to the age of 30 something, I had believed all the nutritional advice that I’d been taught, never questioned it, did the same as everybody else and didn’t question the status quo.  Having a prophet in the family – somebody who is prepared to stand on the hill and speak truth loudly and clearly – somebody who is prepared to question the status quo and ask:  ‘Is this right?  Does this sit right with who I am on the inside?’ isn’t always convenient but I am deeply grateful for her.  She has brought me to a more ethical life and one that is better for the planet.  Without her, I would undoubtedly not have made those choices all those years ago.  She has also brought most of the family to her way of thinking and made a significant difference to our carbon footprint as a result.  All because she has an internal locus of evaluation.

I have always had a largely external locus of evaluation.  This isn’t to say that I haven’t followed the light of inner knowledge, because I have.  I managed to get a degree, train as a teacher, leave a bad relationship and become a better partner as a result of that, learn as a parent and choose a career path that suits me and my needs.  But there’s still a hell of a lot of worry about what people think of me.  I ask my husband:  ‘Do YOU think this is OK?  Was that BAD?  Should I have said that?  Do you think I upset him/her?’  I sometimes spend bloody hours after a conversation analysing what I said or didn’t say, and worry that the person will think less of me or not want to see me again, regardless of how much or how little of a role they actually play in my life.  I also spent years of life hyper focused on my appearance, which was always, always about how others perceived me because I honestly do not care how I look to myself in the mirror.  I really don’t.    I was always looking at myself through the lens of imaginary other people.

When we have this external locus of evaluation, we become performers for the benefit of others.  We have performative sex instead of loving fun together with our partners.  When we light candles so our partners won’t see the wobbly bits, who are we in this except bodies to be looked at?  A person with an internal locus of evaluation would ask:  ‘How does this feel?  What do I want to do right now in this moment?’  Not, ‘What do I look like?’

And when it comes to food and eating, this has to be the biggest personal one for me.  If we’re counting calories, following a plan, using a food log, tracking fat, macros or carbs, doing the 5/2, intermittent fasting or any other form of rule based eating, what has happened to our inner knowledge?  Our awareness of who we even are?  We were born with an instinct to eat until we were satisfied and then stop and rest and then eat again until satisfied.  As children, we chose an apple sometimes and a piece of cake at other times.  I used to give my kids a plate that they called a picnic, with bits of sandwich, cubes of cheese, little chocolate buttons, a few crisps, some raisins, some slices of apple and a few iced gems.  Sometimes they didn’t even touch the chocolate buttons!  They were using their internal locuses of evaluation – before being whipped into obedience by external expectations about their bodies, their choices and their autonomy.

Our gendered behaviours and expectations are also external.  I didn’t care about being slim, toned and sexy when I was charging around the park like a feral chimpanzee aged 10.  I was fit, strong, happy and full of energy, free of all that expectation.  That all came later and I forgot my identity in a confusing whirlwind of trying to be whatever a girl was supposed to be back in the 80s.  I recall that having a ‘good body’ was a part of that but heaven forbid actually enjoying said body because we weren’t supposed to be a ‘slag’ and I don’t think much of that has changed, sadly, for our teenage girls today.

I just want to be free of all of it now.  I want to be able to look inside and ask myself: ‘What do I want to eat?  How much of it do I want?’  I want to go out without any makeup and not give a crap what anyone else thinks of my face.  It’s a 51 year old face: sometimes its tired and sometimes its pale, and nobody suggests that my husband hide his eye bags or spend time making himself more agreeable for others to look at and I’m damned if I’m going to suggest that to myself.  I have no issue with people wearing makeup, high heels, glamorous styles, nail varnish and fake eyelashes.  I have no issue with people having botox, face lifts, breast implants, tummy tucks or acrylic nails.  Your body, your choice.  Do it if it makes you happy and makes you feel good.  Do it for yourself.  Do it because it makes your heart smile.  Don’t do it for anybody else or for some societal expectations about how a person ‘should look’.

So, where is your locus of evaluation?  Most people are going to consult others and care somewhat about their opinions.  None of us live in a vacuum.  We do need to consider our loved ones and perhaps our colleagues.  Using deodorant and refraining from unlawful behaviour are pretty useful external expectations that help us all.  But for most of us there is a vast amount of material going on in our minds that we really could shed.  In the words of Gestalt therapist Fritz Perls:  ‘Lose your mind and come to your senses’. 

The enjoyable rationalism of a good atheist.

I am slightly jealous of people who can live without any religious belief at all.  I still carry about the shadows of introjected beliefs from my fundamentalist childhood and, irritatingly, they tend to be the darkest ones.  I find it much easier to believe in eternal Hell, for example, than in a loving and benevolent God.  It’s a childlike fear of demons in the night that makes it unwise to watch a horror film if I’m alone in the house.  Satan is easier to picture than God.  I imagine that’s because it was really scary and traumatic to be afraid of these things as a child.  I really think that it’s helpful to question internalised beliefs and subject them to rational examination and evidence.  So I found it really refreshing, interesting and genuinely hilarious when I found myself asking my pragmatically minded atheist husband for his views.  Here they are.  I hope they prove helpful to someone out there who struggles, like I have, to shed beliefs that no longer serve them. 

Me: How do you know that there isn’t a God?  How do you know that?

Tim:  He’s just a mythical being like werewolves, vampires, ghosts and other things like that. 

Me:  You must know that Christians don’t believe that God is the same as werewolves, vampires and ghosts.

Tim:  I know they don’t believe it’s the same but still – they’re all mythical things and God is too, you know.  They don’t see God.  They tell themselves that they feel his presence or… did I say him?  I don’t know whether he’s a he or a she or a they but for some reason they seem to refer to him as him which is probably because men ruled the church for millennia and they think God is shaped in their image.  But it’s really just a mythical thing.  It’s all made up.  All made up for the convenience of answering these questions for people who don’t know anything else.

Me:  So how do you know that God didn’t create the world?

Tim:  Because we know all about the bloody Big Bang and the explosion in the universe and that there are many universes and we are just a tiny bit of it and over millennia the planet has cooled down and life forms have evolved and then we have evolution and we have evolved as part of that.  We probably won’t be here forever, the rate we’re going anyway.  We’ll probably wipe ourselves out like the dinosaurs went – although they didn’t wipe themselves out – or like the film we watched last night; there’ll be a 10 kilometre meteor hit the world and that’ll be it, bye bye.  But then something will spring out afterwards.

Me:  You must know that some people contest The Big Bang theory

Tim:  Well I know they do but there’s a lot of science and scientific evidence to support it.  Whereas there isn’t any scientific evidence to support God.  It’s all stories.  Dinosaurs aren’t stories.  We found dinosaur skeletons.

Me:  How do you know God didn’t create the dinosaurs, the same as he created people?

Tim:  Well, if he did, then they need to re-write all their books and things, don’t they?  And their stories.  The Bible and so forth. 

Me:  How do you know that there isn’t an afterlife?

Tim:  Why would there be?  We get buried or we get incinerated.

Me:  So that’s our bodies.  How do you know we don’t have a soul?

Tim:  I think we do have a soul while we’re alive but then it expires – disappears – gone.  I mean who would want to be going on in an afterlife?  It would be dreadful.  It would be like eternity.  Sounds like a real punishment sitting around in clouds and things forever.

Me: What do you think the soul is if you say we’ve got one while we’re alive? 

Tim:  I suppose it’s character really.  Some people are described as not having a soul or having a good soul or ‘he’s a good soul, she’s a good soul’ or ‘that person is soulless’ because it’s the way they behave; it’s their character.

Me:  So you think it’s a figure of speech?  It’s not a natural part of the person?

Tim:  It’s not a physical part of the person, no.  It’s part of what makes us who we are individually.

Me:  How do you know that we don’t get reincarnated into another animal?

Tim:  Because it’s just a fucking silly idea.  It’s like kids’ stories.  I mean, if we get reincarnated into other animals, why not into buildings or a lettuce leaf or something?

me:  Because buildings and lettuce leaves don’t have souls.

Tim:  Well, how do you know animals have souls?

Me: Because they’ve got personalities.  Mia has a different personality to Heidi.  Oscar had a different personality to Tilda. 

Tim:  There’s a lot of people who say buildings have got a soul.  Some buildings, not all buildings.

Me:  I’ve never heard anybody say a building has a soul.

Tim:  You have.  You’ve heard of people walking in somewhere and saying ‘it was so soulless in there’ or the opposite when they walk into a building and they feel it has a soul because it’s magical and wonderful and whatever; it has a presence, an aura.

Me:  How do you know the religious people aren’t the ones that got it all right?

Tim:  Well obviously they haven’t.  Completely mad.  They make it up as they go along and they all contradict each other and they’ve all got different versions of the same thing. Which religious people have got it right?   There are loads of different religions as well.  Before things like Christianity and Islam and so on you had all the bloody Greeks and Romans and all their myriad gods and things and the Aztecs – they had a whole load as well, and the Mayans had a whole load and the Vikings and the Druids.  They’ve all got different gods and different things they worship.  Primitive people worshipped the land and the sun and the sky and the sea and the trees. 

Me:  So why do you think modern people still believe in God?

Tim:  Probably partly as they’ve been brought up that way and it’s been passed down generation after generation but fewer and fewer people do believe in God.  Congregations are shrinking.  There are many that do, especially in churches like the Church of England; it’s a very kind of casual relationship with God – more for convenience and conforming and being part of society and  sometimes the good side of it is that it gives a sense of belonging and getting along to the various activities and things that are associated with churches: whether it’s a mother and toddler group or a choir group or a reading society or whatever.  So I don’t believe churches are bad; in fact, churches are wonderful places to go into – the atmosphere in there and the peacefulness.

Me:  But you know evangelical churches are growing so why do you think that is?

Tim:  Because the world’s going mad.  Because of people like Donald Trump.  People are becoming more extreme and becoming more divided so they look for a more extreme answer to things.  I mean, the evangelical churches in America are just multi million dollar businesses.  The pastors or whatever they’re called that run them are just ripping off their congregations.  It’s obscene.  I mean, if you want to believe the stories of Jesus and things like when he goes into the temple and the money lenders and all that – imagine if he came on earth today and saw all this in his name!

Me:  So do you think Jesus existed and all the stories are true?

Tim:  I think Jesus existed yes.  I don’t see any reason to disbelieve that he existed.

Me:  Do you think he did miracles?

Tim: I doubt he did miracles.  He probably did some good deeds. I suspect the feeding of the 5000 was more likely feeding for 50 or 500 and there was probably a bit more there than was suggested but the story wouldn’t have been as good, so it’s been made yeah like one crust and a fishtail shared amongst 5 million. 

Me:  You know the Bible says that Jesus brought people back from the dead?

Tim:  Well, I don’t believe that. I should think what happened if anything would be that they were not very well when he came to see them and he cheered them up and they said ‘ooh; thank you very much! I’m alive now!’ and then he went onto his next next duty or whatever he was doing and everybody left.

Me:  He was a carpenter

Tim:  He didn’t do much of that though, did he?  He was on tour like a rockstar.  He was busy going around preaching to people. I don’t see when he’d have got time to make anything.  And you know after he’s brought people back to life or whatever supposedly and goes onto the next thing they probably find that person just would have croaked it and it was just a momentary respite because they were so pleased to see him.  He was a nice bloke.

Me:  So how do you think this whole religion built up around him?

Tim:  Because people liked what he was saying.  There were probably a lot of people disillusioned with the Jewish faith and the temples.  I’m not very good on all these Bible stories but I believe that he thought it was all a bit corrupt and they had lost their way.  Certainly I believe the story about the money lenders in the temple.  Can you imagine today if he just popped along to check up on things and found people being charged money to go into cathedrals and things and evangelists raking it in off the congregation?  Obscene. 

Me: What do you think Mohammed is then?

Tim:  He was a very very good boxer.  Very entertaining… Mohammed was a prophet like Jesus.

Me: what do you think a prophet is?

Tim:  Someone who comes and prophesises and declares how they think things will be or should be. 

Me:  Do you think they were deluded when they talked about God then?

Tim:  Probably but then that’s how they were brought up.  I mean Jesus was brought up as a Jew, wasn’t he?  So that’s what he knew and what he believed. 

Me:  Do you have any respect for people’s faith?

Tim:  Yes. that’s what they want to believe that’s what they want to believe – as long as they’re not harming anybody.  Unfortunately, historically they have harmed people – seriously harmed people – butchered and massacred people in the name of Jesus and God.  Those people – no I don’t have any respect for their faith.  Used as a tool to destroy people who they disagree with or who disagree with them. 

Me:  How do you know people don’t go to hell?

Tim:  Because I don’t believe in hell.  I think they get incinerated or buried just like everybody else.  Heaven and hell are used just like so many other things in religion to threaten people to get them to toe the line.  They had to make hell sound like a dastardly place so that people would fear it and then that was the threat: ‘If you don’t do this this and this you’ll go to hell.  Fall in line’.  And they do. 

So there we have it.  I think the man has some fine theology and that it’s worthy of a share.  If you are an aspiring atheist, like me, feel free to take notes!

 

 

The New Year Pledge

‘I want’ is usually false crap.
I am not all that I lack.
There is a light hidden within
webs, masks, mazes and locks.
Until the day I die,
I will silence the distractions,
and self improvement dictats,
let her fill the hollows
and feel what she feels.
I am not all that I lack.
Already, I am all that I ever needed,
And all that I will ever need.

The Great Unvaccinated

The next great scapegoat

I am vaccinated and boosted before anybody starts yelling at me. I believe in it. Saying this as a prequel summons up the zeitgeist on social media whereby the unvaccinated are the latest recipients of national shaming, summed up by Sajid Javid who blamed this tenth of the population for the impending onslaught of the NHS. Reminding the nation that people awaiting surgery will be unable to access a hospital bed because the unvaccinated are ‘littering’ the beds was a masterstroke of governmental scapegoating, because it works. I felt momentary fury at the apparent selfishness that Javid portrayed in that statement. Thinking of my elderly parents and friends with life-threatening conditions prompted the righteous rage that they want.

As I write, I hear the news in the background of bottles of wine, parties, Downing Street hypocrisy and a silenced Prime Minister who has lost all credibility within his own party now after losing it with everybody else years ago. This government cannot be taken seriously any more. Bojo can’t face the nation and be met with anything other than derision. His disrespect towards the NHS staff was evident in his smirking, unmasked face at a hospital visit last month and his own amoral lawlessness beggars belief. This government have got it wrong again and again. Yes, the vaccine was well managed but was also hugely necessary because of previous ignorance and indifference as Boris missed vital meetings, told everybody to carry on regardless, kept the borders open for months, ignored calls to lock down earlier and stopped mask requirements way too soon.

As Omicron makes its way through the nation, and once again we live with the horrible reality that seriously ill people will have less access to hospital care, the easiest thing in the world is to point the finger at the unvaccinated. After all, 90% of us have had the jabs, felt the righteous satisfaction of doing the correct thing and being responsible citizens. It is the easiest thing in the world to follow the flow and do as we are told. To me, it is the obvious thing to do. I trust the vast majority of the scientists and I don’t know enough about the medical research process to invest my time and attention into the small percentage of naysayers that talk of gene alteration and lack of animal testing or whatever their argument might be. However, people do have the right to choose what they wish to put into their own body.

I can all too easily imagine a country where people are forced or coerced into medical decisions without their consent and that isn’t a place that I would want to be a part of. As for whether the unvaccinated should be ‘littering’ hospital beds, is this the way we talk about our fellow humans? The NHS was set up to provide medical care for all those who need it. Are we going to stop performing heart surgery on smokers, stop providing hospice care for alcoholics with liver disease, refuse to treat injuries in marathon runners or let speeding drivers die where they lie on the road?

We are all angry, anxious and stressed as the news headlines scream at us with unnecessarily emotive language: violent verbs like ‘ravaging’ and ‘raging’ and adjectives that include ‘terrifying’ and ‘alarming’. This isn’t helpful at all. We could actually be presented with factual information but sadly that doesn’t sell. Our fear makes editors rich as they feed us these headlines and we blindly swallow them, making ourselves unwell with the weight of the words. I prefer facts, choices, logic and reason and the news just makes me angry. In the context of these headlines, it is understandable that we want to rage at the unvaccinated and blame them.

I know a few people who haven’t been vaccinated and here’s their reason. Fear. Fear hits us all in different ways with different outcomes. My fear is assuaged by taking the jab. A mum of a boy I teach feels safer to remain unvaccinated because she believes that it will cause a blood clot. I could argue with her until I’m blue in the face but it wouldn’t change the fear that she experiences. She would rather have Covid than have a jab, and she doesn’t believe that it would make her ill enough to go to hospital. It probably wouldn’t. It is her body, her choice. This applies to all of us.

And before we listen to another blaming speech from the government, or another shame-inducing rant about the unvaccinated, let’s just remember that what they are doing is deflecting from their own embarrassing inconsistencies, selfishness and failure. If we want to be angry at anyone, which isn’t especially helpful in any case, let’s be directing it at the correct source, and put an actual adult in charge of this chaos.

Programmed to spend

The capitalist propaganda that we need to deconstruct

From the morning’s news where Dominic Raab attempted to justify Boris Johnson strolling around hospitals, insulting hard-working NHS staff by breathing his hot air all over them without a mask on, while they stood graciously by, masked and probably pissed off, to almost being obliterated by a lorry emblazoned with ‘Prettylittlething’ and ‘Buy Happiness’ on its side, I had a very unwelcome capitalist start to my day.

I can only assume that Johnson refuses to wear a mask because he is all for personal freedoms in an Arthur Birling-esque ‘every man for himself’ kind of way. I find him excruciatingly annoying but I’m not against capitalism per se. It’s the way our economy works and, as I’ve never lived under any other regime, I’m used to it. I understand that businesses need to thrive if we are to thrive as a nation. Going completely communist would surely be worse. I would like the last surviving bastion of former socialist glory, our NHS, to survive, but I fear it’s too late for that, as thousands flock to private hospitals for lifesaving treatment because otherwise they’ll perish on the waiting list. I exaggerate, I know, but only slightly.

Within this ‘money makes the world go round’ paradigm, though, advertising slogans are true indicators of how much we are being brainwashed into supporting the economy, at the cost of our autonomy, the developing world and the actual planet. ‘Buying happiness’. Really? I know that particular slogan was deliberately cheesy and exaggerated, but when I see people on the news flocking to Primark and Next for the Boxing Day sales, it’s clear that there’s some belief in the possibility that buying exactly the right shoes, boots, hoody, phone, jumper, winter coat or shiny lipstick will make a positive difference to our lives. We are buying and driving massive cars that are polluting the environment, hundreds and thousands of toys that kids play with for a week or so, chairs, tables, TVs, laptops and, by the looks of IKEA on a Sunday, millions of household items. I know it’s all been said before, but why do we continue?

I’m not talking about essentials or even items that we love but don’t strictly ‘need’. I’m talking about wardrobes stuffed with clothes that wear out after six months or go out of fashion and sit on a hanger, only to end up in landfill. Or stupid things we buy thinking that we’ll use them – in my case a Shakti mat. For those not in the know, it’s a spiky mat that feels like hell for two minutes and then becomes strangely relaxing, but who is really going to lie on a spiky mat every day? Clearly not me. I sold it on Ebay and now wish I’d bought it there, too.

The reason we buy stuff is because we’ve been conditioned to do so by the propaganda that we see all around us every day. Smiling happy people, delighted that they are driving the car, or using the face cream, or wearing the fashion. Adverts use a ‘problem-solution’ structure – it’s a discourse that is taught on copywriting courses and studied in A Level language. In order to sell a product, a copywriter needs to present the audience with a perceived problem. Bad skin, problem areas, stained teeth, no time. Or more subtly, the problem is implied. We are made to feel that our cars are not modern enough, that our vacuum cleaner isn’t technologically advanced enough or, as happened to me recently, that my penis isn’t big enough. Some problems with the marketing there. Just a quick look through my Instagram reveals that my tights don’t fit, my bras are uncomfortable and my garden is plain and needs a metal bird. As it happens, the Snag tights do look great and I’ll probably try them when my current tights actually don’t fit. My bras are fine thanks – they’ve mistakenly assumed that I actually have boobs – and the metal bird is not as nice as the actual robin that I see every day at the allotment.

I would like to think that when I buy things it’s because I choose to, not because I feel compelled to. What do I really need? 3 jumpers, 4 tops, 2 skirts, 2 pairs of trousers, one winter coat, 50 running outfits and 3 pairs of shoes or boots. That’s it. Might vary from person to person but no I am not going to queue up outside Primark on Boxing Day because I probably already have all that I need and, if I need more, I’ll buy responsibly. It’s not even expensive. Ebay has amazing finds when it comes to good quality clothing and ‘White Rose’ in Newark is my favourite pre-loved clothes shop ever. I recently watched ‘The True Cost’ on Youtube and, after learning about the hundreds of Bangladeshi factory workers who have suffered as a result of awful working conditions and poor safety measures, I really feel that enough is enough.

If we are to survive as a species, which is a questionable goal given what we’ve done to the planet, we need to change willingly before we are forced to by circumstances beyond our control. Yes the economy matters but we have to slow down and buy less and buy more responsibly. The propaganda, once we see through it, becomes meaningless jumble, and if you can see an ad on my WordPress, that’s because I chose not to spend the money for the option to remove it!

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