Mindfulness, Influences on Our Thinking and Political Correctness: Definitions, Reactions and PC Gone Mad
Background to this Hub
Recently I highlighted (in a hub about someone falling into the canal) the importance of being ‘mindful’ of the world around us. Another hub by RTalloni (see link below) relates to the actions or reactions of those who don’t think, or don’t bother to inform themselves of facts, before reacting in a possibly inappropriate manner.
Being aware, mindfulness, self-informing, call it what you will; for the purpose of this discussion I’m calling it ‘mindfulness’ as I think the word best describes this skill.
It is indeed a skill to make oneself aware of what goes on around us, to then take all the information into our mind so that it becomes full of useful, accurate information, albeit still from our own perspective. If we have the facts, our perspective is then informed and we should be able to discuss it, and act on it, intelligently.
Definition of Mindfulness
‘Mindfulness, the principle of gaining a greater awareness of our own thoughts and feelings through meditation and concentration on the world around us, is attracting interest for its health benefits in a number of fields.’
What is Mindfulness?
On Tuesday 21 April 2015 the ‘i’ newspaper (an offshoot of The Independent, considered to be one of the least biased broad-sheets) ran an article by Health Correspondent Charlie Cooper, under the heading
‘Mindfulness ‘good as drugs’ to beat depression’
I’m not saying that all those who aren’t aware or who have a knee-jerk reaction to someone’s actions or to a particular event in society, are manic depressives. It’s the premise and the techniques described in this article that caught my attention and which are relevant to how we deal with social events.
The article refers to a study published by The Lancet (a respected medical journal) which shows that ‘people with recurrent depression who were asked to take part in mindfulness-based group therapy sessions were just as likely to go two years without a relapse as those taking a course of antidepressant drugs’.
The lead author of the study, William Kuyken of Oxford University, explained that, “Recurrent depression is characterised by people who have very negative thoughts about themselves, other people and the world, and those negative thoughts can quickly go into a downward spiral of depressive relapse.”
proponents say mindfulness
- is centred on awareness of our own thoughts, feelings, sensations and the world around us
- can reduce stress levels
- can improve mental wellbeing
- has its roots in ancient Buddhist meditation practices
- is being considered as a therapy to help people overcome the psychological impact of .... long-term medical conditions
- has been trialled in schools to improve children’s attention spans and lower stress levels
Having read that, I thought, ‘Well, couldn’t we all do with some ‘mindfulness’, especially if the techniques described work?” They are not rocket science. We can all practise them. They merely take us to a journey of awareness of our own perceptions of ourselves and our abilities, so that we can rationally analyse our perceptions of others and the world.
Meditation is one of the techniques; some people regularly practise that but I’m not saying everyone should take it up. I am saying that we could all adopt an ‘awareness of ourselves, others and the world around us’.
RTalloni’s hub is about the Kim Davis case in the US. I’m not going into detail here but it deals with people’s reaction to a county employee who took a decision based on her faith. Some of you will know about it.
Knee-jerk reaction condemned her outright; people were vengeful and threatening. How many of those people were mindful of the whole situation, of the facts? How many looked at both sides of that argument? A knee-jerk reaction is emotional rather than analytical. It is the analysis that we need to be able to carry out before we make an informed decision; emotional suppositions and riding on the wave of ‘public’ opinion are not analytical.
Why do some of us ride on that wave? It's a need to have a voice, to be perceived to have an opinion, to be seen as ‘doing something about it’.
Why do we think we should be seen saying or doing something, even if it’s not right?
My opinion is that others are influencing us and we aren’t necessarily aware of that influence. Where does the influence come from? Do we inform ourselves accurately these days? How has the delivery of information changed over the last 50 years or so?
What are they thinking? What should I do?
Here’s a quote, also from the ‘i’, from one of their journalists, Grace Dent, in her column ‘My View’
“... internet tittle-tattle increasingly governs our worldview.”
The following gives you a specific example, from: theweek.com/articles, with reference to the Boston Marathon Bombers. A comment on this particular article states that often it’s just a matter of ‘....marked photos and amateur conjecture,’ but ‘the problem starts when theories go viral or are adopted by the media.’
It is referring to a photo of a ‘suspect’ standing next to another man implicated for not doing much more than wearing a backpack. The ‘New York Post’ splurged the same image on its front page the next day with the cover line "BAG MEN."
The young man in the spotlight turned out to be a high school track star who moved to the US from Morocco. His dream was to one day run in the Olympics.
"I'm not a terrorist… I was just watching the marathon," he told the ‘Daily Mail’ (a British paper). "I was terrified. I have never been in trouble, and I feared for my security."
People were happy to believe he was a terrorist because they wanted answers, they wanted somebody to blame. Of course they did; so would anyone if s/he were caught up in such a terrifying situation; but the reaction is not a rational one. When the dust dies down, we all have to take a deep breath and look at the facts.
So there's my number one influence; the internet and social media
By many, it is presumed that what one reads on the internet is the truth, is fact. It has to be because politicians are saying these things, other public figures are saying these things, celebrities are saying these things.
Just look at the page around this article. How many adverts are there? What are they trying to persuade you to do?
We have to look more deeply into the so-called facts, read experts’ opinions, search out the real background to any given situation. If we don’t, we’re going to act on a false premise and create the potential to cause great harm.
Rupert Murdoch's Politics
Already implicated above as going hand-in-hand with the internet, where else do we search for information about what’s going on in the world, what our leaders are going to do for us, what policies are right or wrong?
Look at the heading above (again from the ‘i’).
Rupert Murdoch owns ‘The Sun’ newspaper, amongst others, and is anti-Labour. He was attempting to influence the outcome of the May 2015 General Election.
What happened to the time when a paper’s editor would have his own column in which to air his personal views and the rest of the reading was factual and true reporting? Murdoch is not the editor but has told his journalists what to say and how to say it, or else. Is that good reporting? Is that good management? Is that a moral, ethical approach? I don’t think so.
Other examples of those who have fallen foul of such treatment are individuals accused of murder, teachers accused of mal-practice, hospitals having higher death statistics or instances of operations going wrong and the decline of standards in the NHS (National Health Service).
Some papers take one statistic and blast it across the headlines as fact. Someone is accused of a crime, his or her name is broadcast for all to see and hear even though they haven’t yet been proven guilty. They are hounded for photos and comments. Is that right?
Two Men Wrongfully Accused
In 2010 a landlord in Bristol was wrongly arrested for the murder of a girl in his block of flats where he also lived. His detention sparked huge press attention and they gave him a hard time. Later, after he’d been questioned and released, a TV documentary was made about it, highlighting, said the man in question, ‘how dangerous the UK press can be’. He successfully sued several newspapers for libel. A Dutch man was later convicted of the murder.
It seems that just because he shunned questions, had long, untidy, grey hair, tended to wear lose-fitting coats and wasn’t too worried what he looked like, then he was presumed to be untrustworthy and suspicious. Talk about judging a book by its cover! Whatever happened to ‘innocent until proven guilty’?
In 2013 a man was beaten and burned to death after wrongly being accused of being a pedophile. A mob acted as vigilantes. It was too late to remedy that one.
How Quickly can a Crowd Turn?
My Second Influence: the Press
The press extends to the internet of course. I admit it is more often the tabloid press who are guilty of such behaviour but the broadsheets are not exempt from such things.
Lets have a look at our politicians, our governments. Are they squeaky clean? Are they reliable? Are they honest? Are they working for our best interests? I’m hard-pushed to say yes to any of those questions. Whilst realising that there exist politicians who do care, who are honest, who have the best intentions, somehow many of them get caught up in the crowd too and lose all vestige of common sense and mindfulness.
They become seekers of power, seekers of fame, seekers of fortune and world renown. They become greedy and they forget what they started out to do with all their best intentions, when their ideals sowed the seed of their wish to serve the electorate. They are not always mindful of what they are doing or of how their electorate might benefit.
Suppport Us or Look Down on Us?
Whose fault is that? Some personal fault, of course, but the newspapers headline their every move, give them disproportionate and unmerited cover. The television correspondents give their own opinions and throw in a few facts along the way.
TV reality shows (cheap voyeuristic television to my mind) demand celebrities do outrageous things. Anyone who is in the limelight is approached to take part: entertainers, politicians, presenters on tv and radio, any well-known figures. They want to make their mark, they want a higher profile, they want to show they can have fun, be human. Is that the way to do it? Television even tried to dictate which politicians and how many should take part in a broadcast live debate before the election.
We watch and we take it all in. Do we question? We don’t, at least not often enough.
You have my Third Influence: Television News Reporting, Political Programmes & Reality TV
I have thought about radio, as reporting on those waves can also be biased. I think the fact that it’s not a visual medium distances it from those who prefer to be ‘visually’ informed, those who perhaps don’t pick up a message delivered purely in words. In its current affairs programmes, I think it is generally more measured and more traditional and it can’t feed visual gratification.
Do we have unbiased media? Do television and press reporters stick to the facts and do their research well in order to explain the background to events? Do they stick out their necks to seek or demand the truth? Are reporters competitive, either because they want to be or because they have to be? Do they wish to be regarded as celebrities?
There are good ones and bad ones but what I see daily is a tendency for the sensational, for showmanship, for the chattiness of a group of friends. The professionalism has slipped, the standards have declined. I see bias and I see competition.
Is it partly to do with having so much thrown at us that we become immune, that we only listen to something because it’s louder, flashier, ‘in ya’ face’? We have a multitude of information thrown at us. Familiarity breeds contempt, or familiarity breeds apathy? Therefore, the style has to change and become more dramatic to feed our lagging imaginations. I don’t know; what do you think?
Human Rights and Political Correctness
These are shouted at us from the roof-tops. Everyone demands their human rights, and certainly these should exist, but do they also recognise their responsibilities? It seems to me that it’s often someone else’s fault or someone else’s problem. Others should provide and expect nothing in return. ‘I have a right to live here and claim benefits.’ You have a right to be welcomed here, to work for your living and to contribute to the common good but not to sit on your back-side and wait for it all to come to you. Asylum seekers have a right to ask for shelter but the preferred country also has the right to consider its own and the effect a large number of immigrants might have on conditions in that country; there has to be a balance.
We are allowed freedom of speech. We can all have our opinions as long as we abide by the law and don’t use those opinions to incite prejudice and hatred.
Kim Davis was accused of breaching Political Correctness.
So let’s look at the words in that phrase, as they appear, according to the Oxford Dictionary: Oxford Dictionaries, Language matters (OUP - Oxford University Press)
Definition of political in English (British): (adjective)
Of or relating to the government or public affairs of a country
Relating to the ideas or strategies of a particular party or group in politics
Definition of correctness in English (British): (noun)
The quality or state of being free from error; accuracy
The quality of being right in an opinion or judgement
Conformity to accepted social standards
So we have:
- ‘relating to government or public affairs of a country’
- ‘relating to the ideas or strategies of a particular party or group in politics’
- ‘the quality or state of being free from error; accuracy’
- ‘the quality of being right in an opinion or judgement’
- ‘conformity to accepted social standards’
Now the two together: 'political correctness'
Definition of political correctness in English (British): (noun)
The avoidance of forms of expression or action that are perceived to exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against.
This definition doesn’t mention government, public affairs, ideas or strategies of a party or group in politics. Also, does this definition ignore being free from error or accuracy, does it ignore being right in an opinion or judgement?
It should imply conformity to accepted social standards. Whose acceptance? Whose social standards? Do we have a definitive set of social standards?
‘Perceived to exclude.....’ perceived by anyone at all? perceived by government?
Politic is often regarded as the derivative of the first word in the term ‘Political Correctness’, as the root word of ‘political’.
Let’s look at various dictionary definitions of ‘politic’. We generally use the word to mean ‘shrewd’ or ‘tactful’.
I found various definitions (sources below) which you can see to the right.
What does that tell us?
We have a mixture of the sensible and wise, shrewd and ingenious, contriving and unscrupulous. Which is it? We can choose. So can the politicians and other groups who use the phrase, seemingly to their own advantage or just to hurl accusation.
Definitions of 'politic'
- adjective: (of an action) seeming sensible and judicious in the circumstances.
- verb: engage in political activity.
- showing good judgment especially in dealing with other people
- characterized by shrewdness in managing, contriving, or dealing
- sagacious in promoting a policy
- shrewdly tactful
- artful or shrewd; ingenious
- crafty or unscrupulous; cunning;
- sagacious, wise, or prudent, esp in statesmanship
- an archaic word for political
Who coined the phrase 'political correctness'?
Again, sources vary: some mention Mao Zedong, one says Leon Trotsky (one had to agree with him or else!) and Stalin also used the phrase to refer to those who towed the party line.
Various political groups have used it since. All sources agree that it is a pejorative term used by one ‘political’ group against their opponents.
So what purpose does it serve? There is no clear meaning, it is always a political mud-slinger and that gets us nowhere.
It’s all very wobbly. Yes, I accept that we should not discriminate against or disadvantage people on the grounds of race, creed, disability and so on. We have laws to deal with that already, as well as those who murder us, assault us, libel us, slander us, defame our characters, commit fraud, abuse children... the list goes on. Why do we need ‘political correctness’ to throw in people's faces when we have laws which deal already with unacceptable behaviour.
If we offend people, is it really always our fault? Is it possible that people are over-sensitive, are disposed to challenge another because they are vindictive or think they can benefit from it, or are just downright aggressive and enjoy stirring up trouble. Can we not tell a joke, even if that joke is against ourselves, if it is a religious one, or refers to the colour of our skin? If we don’t tell it with malice or use defamatory words, what is wrong with it?
If we remove everything which offends someone, we will have nothing left to say.
Taken to Extremes
Interestingly, the US English definition of political correctness has an extra clause:
'The avoidance, often considered as taken to extremes, of forms of expression or action that are perceived to exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against.'
It certainly is often taken to extremes. Here are some examples of human rights and political correctness gone mad.
A report from The Guardian, reporting the facts, tells us of a classroom assistant who was cleared of assaulting a pupil after a nine-month ordeal. He was fingerprinted, held in a cell and banned from living with his own children. He said that he had been "hung out to dry" by the authorities and that teachers ‘were working in a climate of fear’.
He was told by the chairman of the local magistrates to "restart your life" and "forget [your] nightmare". The man helped deal with children who had been removed from class because of bad behaviour and had asked a 15-year-old boy to take off his jacket and put away his mobile phone. The pupil responded by threatening to stab him. "I will have you killed," he was told.
A former kick-boxing champion, the assistant removed the child from the classroom. When the boy kicked him in the shin he ‘gently’ swept the boy to the floor without injuring him. Within weeks he had been charged with common assault and social services had removed him from his home, which he shared with his wife and two teenage daughters. He had to sleep on a gym floor for two weeks before he was allowed to return home.
Teachers are Wary
It is not just the personal angst caused by made-up accusations that is troubling teachers. The whole teacher-pupil relationship can be affected; there is a risk that the proper authority teachers should have, to discipline children and to create a calm and orderly atmosphere for teaching, might go.
This man was cleared of the accusations but still had his name and his wife’s cited in the papers and was severely penalised, all because he reacted, reasonably, to a threat and was falsely accused. Where’s the justice in that? Where’s the ‘correctness’ in that?
Another case cited a teacher who had been in the profession for 15 years; he felt that he could not carry on as a teacher after ‘the system had chewed me up and spat me out’. False allegations are extremely common. I know of colleagues who have been wrongly accused. In my opinion that is Political Correctness gone mad, the cry of ‘It’s my Human Right” misused.
How to Combat such Influences
We could, of course, not use the internet, not read the papers, not watch television, not listen to the radio. I know some people who don’t. However, we need to inform ourselves somehow - don’t we? Or should we just concentrate on talking to our neighbours, helping them out, interacting with family and friends to spread kindness, charity, concern and love within our own? If we all did that, would that be the answer?
I’m not sure. I think we should know what’s going on in the world around us, what’s really going on, then form our own fact-based, educated opinions.
What Criteria should we Use?
Those who study history for their GCSEs in Britain are encouraged to question sources of information, under the following criteria:
- is the source reliable (proven), i.e. is it a respected and qualified source?
- is the source biased?
- how old is the information?
- who wrote it? are they qualified, out of touch, up-to-date?
- are the details plausible? are the details correct? what are their origins?
- is the language emotive?
- is the source stating fact or is it inciteful?
We would do well to heed those criteria when listening to or reading any report.
What about friends and family?
Do we listen to and discuss issues with our family and friends? Of course we do. Would we condemn a brother or a mother or a well-trusted friend without finding out the facts? Highly unlikely.
So why do we condemn others when
a) we don’t know them, have no idea of their character and
b) we don’t know the facts regarding what they are ‘supposed’ to have done?
We’re all thinking, ‘Well, we wouldn’t!” But it happens! It happens when a crowd of people are incited by others, go with the flow, get caught up in the heat of the moment. Ordinarily rational, pleasant, law-abiding citizens react like lynch mobs and vigilantes and do it in the name of ‘justice’ and ‘human rights’.
What is this Man Doing?!
Laws of the Land
There are laws which govern our actions. There are laws which protect people. There are laws which have been rationally worked out, written down and used in courts throughout most lands in the world (there are corrupt systems, yes, but that’s a whole new hub!).
Look more closely at the presentation of events, listen to the language used when reporters tell you about a person or his actions, ask yourself the questions the history student uses. Maybe you will then be in a better position to argue the situation.
Listen to both sides of an argument. Do your own research using reliable sources before you join the crowd banging on someone’s door. Think carefully about both sides in this war before you make your stand. Make sure you have an informed, educated opinion. Above all, make sure you have all the facts before you hit out, do someone harm, with actions or with words. It will probably be too late to say, “I’m sorry, I didn’t realise.”
Please be mindful of yourself, others and the world around you.
Links & Sources
Do you think PC has gone mad?
© 2015 Ann Carr