My Sister and Myself (April 2007)

Saturday, 02 April 2011 02:26
My Sister and Myself  Saga Magazine April 2007 My sister was the first grandchild on my father’s side of the family and her parents’ only child. According to one of my aunts, my sister took considerable pride in her position. On her sixth birthday, when she was sitting on the birthday chair and her class was singing Happy Birthday to her, someone came and told her that she had a baby sister. Her world fell apart. The psychoanalyst Juliet Mitchell says that, on the birth of the second child, the firstborn suffers a trauma from which the child never recovers. Mindful of this, most parents nowadays spare no effort in preparing their first child for the arrival of the second. There’s much patting of Mummy’s tummy, and conversations about and with the baby inside, and, on the day of the birth, a very special present. Sometimes whatever parents do is not enough. One mother told me that she thought that her four year old daughter had accepted the new baby, but one day the little girl, casting a disparaging look at her sister, said to her, ‘Couldn’t you have kept her inside you for longer?’ My mother never mentioned anything…
Saga February 2007 The Real Causes of Depression How many times have you heard it said, ‘Depression is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain’? If you’ve been depressed and consulted a doctor it’s very likely you’ve been told this in tones of absolute certainty. If you’ve been prescribed one of the SSRI antidepressants like Prozac or Sexoxat you were probably told that this drug would replace the serotonin that was missing from your brain. The SSRI drugs certainly do put serotonin in the brain, but there wasn’t any missing in the first place. There never has been any evidence that any brain chemical was depleted when a person was depressed. However, psychiatrists kept hoping that one day their hypothesis that depression was caused by a chemical imbalance would be proved to be right. Now, thirty years after the hypothesis was first produced, the Royal College of Psychiatrists and the Institute of Psychiatry have accepted that depression isn’t caused by a chemical imbalance. But you’ll find this out only if you visit their websites. They haven’t issued a press release saying, ‘We were wrong.’ On the Institute of Psychiatry’s website there is a lengthy notice about an important conference…

New Illnesses for Sale (January 2007)

Saturday, 02 April 2011 02:25
Saga Magazine January 2007 New Illnesses for Sale Have you bought a new illness lately? We’re being told about them all the time, and what we have to do to keep well. I’m taking fish oil, though I’m not too clear whether it’s to keep my heart healthy, my memory functioning, or my lungs working. It’s nice to think that one small capsule is doing me so much good. However, the fact that a number of people like me ingests some substance regularly and go on to have healthy hearts, brains and lungs doesn’t mean that this substance caused them to be healthy. We’re complex organisms living in complex environments, and so it could be something else that brought about a beneficial result. In good scientific research there is always a control group made up of people who don’t take the drug being tested, but instead some inert substance known as a placebo. If the experimental group do significantly better than the control group we can be reasonably confident that the substance taken does have a beneficial effect. However, some of the people in the control group will show benefit from the placebo they’ve taken. These people believed that what they…
Published in Saga Magazine November 2006 An Explanation is Not an Excuse   I often hurl criticism, even abuse, at my radio and television. Not that I ever get a reply, but doing so relieves my feelings. What I might say has varied over the years, but ever since the destruction of the Twin Towers what I quite often say is, ‘Can’t you tell the difference between an explanation and an excuse?’ The person to whom I direct this criticism is usually someone who ought to know better. For instance, when, in an open letter, a group of leading Muslims, including three Labour MPs, explained that many young Muslims were greatly angered by the government’s policy in the Middle East, the Foreign Secretary Margaret Becket on the BBC said that any link between government policy and the terror threat was ‘the gravest possible error’, and that this was ‘part of a distorted view of the world, a distorted view of life. Let’s put the blame where it belongs: with people who wantonly take innocent lives.’   The Muslims who wrote the letter were trying to explain why some young Muslims behave as they do. Margaret Becket took their explanation as…

How Friendship Hit the Rocks (October 2006)

Saturday, 02 April 2011 02:24
Published in Saga Magazine October 2006 How Friendship Hit the Rocks A common sight on Australian roads is a well polished sedan car with four occupants, two middle-aged or elderly men in the front and two middle-aged or elderly women in the back. It can be assumed that the women are discussing family, friends and shopping while the men are discussing important matters, that is, sport. They are either going to or coming from some social event. The two couples have known one another for many years and they are regarded by themselves and by others as being good friends.  Similar pairs of couples existed widely in Britain, though the minutia of social behaviour might be different from that of couples in Australia. Such friendships can be tremendously rewarding. A shared history means that so much does not have to be explained. An abiding affection means that individual peculiarities are tolerated, and individual disasters result in sympathy and support, not criticism. Alas, not all friendships between couples bring such rewards. Some friendships start off well and remain so for many years, but the changes that increasing age bring can mean that tolerance of one another, even affection for one another…

Son, Father and Man (August 2006)

Saturday, 02 April 2011 02:23
Saga August 2006 Son, Father and Man  Jack had fallen off a ladder and broken his hip. When I went to see him after he’d left hospital he was reclining on a sofa with his wife May tending to his every need. I asked whether his surgeon had given him a programme of exercises to get him back on his feet and walking normally. He responded with a string of expletives which consigned the surgeon and his team to the netherworld. Jack was not going to do what that power-mad doctor and the bossy physiotherapists (Jack called them ‘physioterrorists’) told him to do. May chided him gently, ‘Our GP won’t be pleased with you at all, Jack.’ Jack said defiantly, ‘That doesn’t worry me in the least.’ On a bus I overheard a woman telling the woman beside her about the holiday which she’d booked. She said, ‘I think I deserve a good holiday. I’ve had a really hard year at work, and Mum’s been ill and I’ve had to look after her, and then my son broke his collar bone playing football . . .’ Her description of her selfless devotion to others went on for some minutes, but…

Trying to Forget (June 2006)

Saturday, 02 April 2011 02:23
Saga June 2006 Trying to Forget ‘So easy to remember and so hard to forget’ might be the words of an old romantic song but, alas, we all have memories that we’d prefer to forget. These are the memories that wake us from a deep sleep and fill us with an unnamed dread, or intrude upon the banal thoughts accompanying a simple task, or chill our hearts even when we are at our happiest. The events which we are remembering may have occurred decades ago but for our memory they are as yesterday. We can tell ourselves that we shouldn’t be so silly to waste time thinking of such things, and we can try to turn our minds to happier matters, but the memory will not let us go. Where do these memories come from, and how can we banish them from our minds? When we talk about ourselves we use the words ‘I’, ‘me’, ‘myself’, and feel that somehow inside ourselves is that ‘I’, a person who thinks and acts. Yet this is a fiction, something our brain creates. When the Buddha became enlightened what he had discovered was that there was no little Buddha sitting inside him and…

Things to Remember About Memory (May 2006)

Saturday, 02 April 2011 02:22
Saga May 2006 Things to Remember about Memory As they get older many people complain that they have two problems with their memory. They can’t always remember what they want to remember, and they can’t forget the things that they want to forget. I’ll deal with not remembering here and the problem of not forgetting next month. Nowadays we get lots of advice about how we can keep our memories functioning well for the whole of our life. There can be no doubt that following a programme of daily exercise of the brain with crossword puzzles, Suduko and the like, regular physical exercise, and a well-balanced diet is enormously beneficial, but this will be so only if, as you get older, you do not acquire three interlocked bad habits which will certainly ruin your memory. This is what I’ve found in my many decades long observation of friends, family, and various acquaintances. These bad habits are: giving up taking responsibility for yourself reducing your interests to a small circle of family and friends lying to yourself. Psychologists distinguish four different kinds of memory: episodic memory, ie, memory of personal experiences semantic memory, ie, memory for facts working memory, ie, memory…

Find the Courage to Go On (April 2006)

Saturday, 02 April 2011 02:22
Saga Magazine April 2006 Find the Courage to Go On Amongst the presents for my seventieth-fifth birthday that my son gave me was an actual copy of the Sydney Morning Herald for Wednesday, December 17, 1930, the day I was born. It made very interesting reading because, for all the changes that have taken place over my life, it showed that some things remain the same. In the classified advertisements there were plenty of horses for sale, while at Vaucluse Heights there was a five-roomed cottage with harbour views for £1295. To buy a similar property in Vaucluse today you’d need to add three noughts to that figure and then some. However, the forecast was for hot weather and Athol Bell, aged thirty, was charged with drunk driving. So nothing’s changed there then. On the same page where Don Bradman reported on the thousand runs he’d made in England in May (‘We had the honour of being received by the King and Queen. They made us feel entirely at home.’) is a short report which reads WOMAN AND BABY Drowned in a Dam Finley, Tuesday Mrs Thomas Masters, aged 34, drowned her three-month-old baby and herself in a dam on…

A Significant Life (October 2005)

Saturday, 02 April 2011 02:21
October 2005 A Significant Life Dorothy Rowe Before the suicide bombers were even identified the question was being asked, ‘Why did they do it?’ Most of the answers from the experts and the people in the street came in only two versions, ‘They were evil’ or ‘They’d been brain washed.’ Such answers may relieve anger and frustration but they don’t explain why. To find the answer we have to ask ourselves, ‘What is the absolute top priority in my life?’ As we get older and find ourselves reviewing our life we can see clearly that what matters most is that our life should have significance, that our existence has been acknowledged by others and in some way has made a difference. To die and disappear, seemingly never to have existed, makes just the thought of death utterly unbearable. In old age we can articulate this clearly but when we were younger we may have striven for significance without understanding exactly why. As small children we did what we could to get the adults’ attention, and then, to achieve this even more effectively, we learned to be good in the way our parents and teachers defined ‘good’. If, as we got…

The Way to Wisdom (July 2005)

Saturday, 02 April 2011 02:21
The Way to Wisdom Dorothy Rowe Calling ourselves homo sapiens, the intelligent people, is an act of extreme vanity. Certainly our language skills, our science and technology attest to our high intelligence, but our destruction of our planet does not. This destruction, the suffering we’ve inflicted on other species and on ourselves, and the general unhappiness and dissatisfaction which many people feel all result from a lack of understanding of ourselves so great that we should really call ourselves homo stupidus, the stupid people. As a psychologist and writer all my work has always been concerned with explaining why we behave as we do. There are many people who have a good understanding of why we behave as we do, but even more people, many of whom would regard themselves as well-educated, find what I have to say incomprehensible. Some of these people don’t want to learn about themselves because they are frightened of what they might discover if they looked inside themselves, but others lack the skills needed to examine the motives and actions of people, themselves included. Everyone can be a scientist. All you need are the skills of mathematics and scientific method. Everyone can create technology. All…

Two Kinds of Change (May 2005)

Saturday, 02 April 2011 02:21
May 2005 Two Kinds of Change Dorothy Rowe When I was doing my Diploma of Clinical Psychology at Sydney University in 1966 my lecturer Jack Lyle was wont to remark, ‘The older people get the more like themselves they become.’ At the time I thought that this was just one of Jack’s many endearing idiosyncrasies but as the years have gone by I’ve realised how right he was. The people I’ve known for many decades have become more like themselves. When they were young they were trying out different ideas and activities but, following what they learned from this, they discarded some ideas and activities and kept others. Their personal style of dealing with events remained the same. Some continued to deal with a new situation by looking at it as a whole and responding carefully: others in their usual manner responded immediately and with great passion. Their particular kind of sense of humour didn’t change. The ironists still enjoyed the ironic: the lovers of the homely joke still collected them: those who’d taken everything totally seriously still asked, ‘What are you laughing at?’ Over time these particular approaches and skills have been honed fine by each person’s experiences. Every…

Happiness is now Compulsory (April 2005)

Saturday, 02 April 2011 02:20
April 2005 Happiness Is Now Compulsory Dorothy Rowe The American magazine Time recently ran an issue on ‘The Science of Happiness’, or positive psychology, the study of how many of us are happy and why. The popularity of this kind of psychology in the media can be measured by the fact that Time devoted 45 pages to it. Time also commissioned a poll of 1009 American adults of whom 78 per cent assessed themselves as being happy all or most of the time. Only 16 per cent said that they were happy some of the time, and 5 per cent said that they were rarely happy. More rich people claimed to be happy than people with incomes less than $35,000 p.a., but the difference was only 88 per cent as against 68 per cent. How these results square with the steep rise in the incidence of depression over recent years Time did not explain. I would suggest that the difference is a matter of appearances, not a matter of accurate statistics. The society we live in always contains messages about what sort of people we should be, and these messages relate not so much to morality as to the benefit…
March 2005 Sorry Is the Hardest Word to Say Dorothy Rowe Apologies are frequently in the news with politicians showing a remarkable ability to apologise for events about which they had no direct responsibility while at the same time steadfastly refusing to apologise for something for which they were directly responsible. Of course with the first kind of apology come no painful feelings, no guilt and none of the ache of being unable to put right what you have caused to go wrong, that is, the feelings which come with the second kind of apology. No wonder we all try to avoid this kind of apology. However, if you’re a therapist or if you seek therapy you cannot avoid having to confront in one way or other the second kind of apology. People come into therapy when they’re profoundly dissatisfied with themselves. They enter therapy asking, ‘Why am I such a bad person?’ but, as the conversation with the therapist proceeds over weeks and months, they gradually discover that they were not born intrinsically bad but rather this was the conclusion that they as children had drawn from their experiences. They then start to feel angry about what had been…

The Purpose of Paranoia (February 2005)

Saturday, 02 April 2011 02:19
February 2005 The Purpose of Paranoia Dorothy Rowe Last November I was speaker at the Anarchist Book Fair in London. Three nights before I had been speaking at the Royal Society for the Arts. These were two very different audiences, but with both, as ever, there was a queue of people wanting to speak to me after my talk. Some of these people simply wanted to tell me that they had found my books helpful which, as you can imagine, is enormously heartening, but there were also several people who wanted to ask me something quite personal about themselves. This is always difficult for me as we are never in a private situation. The person usually introduces the subject haltingly, often in a way which takes me a while to understand. It slowly dawns on me that I am being asked something huge, something which, if I were presented with it in the privacy of my study, would cause me to pause, consider, and answer slowly and carefully. Yet here I am presented with one of life’s greatest problems in a totally personal form and in a public space. I stumble through some kind of answer, and afterwards ponder, worry,…

Our Need for Hatred (December 2004)

Saturday, 02 April 2011 02:19
December 2004 Our Need for Hatred Dorothy Rowe In October 2003 the government announced that much tougher sentences would be imposed on offenders convicted of assaults motivated by a hatred of homosexual men. A year on and there has been no significant reduction in these crimes. Perhaps if the government published an account of why people commit such crimes the offenders would become very reluctant to commit further assaults because they would know that through these assaults they were revealing something about themselves which they wished to keep hidden. Indeed, we should all be careful about revealing whom we hate because in doing so we disclose what we see as our own despicable weakness. When someone attacks us either physically or psychologically by denigrating and humiliating us our first response is fear, the emotion which says, ‘I am in danger.’ If the attack is repeated again and again and we can find no defence which makes us feel safe we say to ourselves, ‘I shall destroy this person because he is trying to destroy me.’ Actually we don’t have to say these words to ourselves because we feel them, and we call this feeling hatred. The source of our hatred…

What Is A Beautiful Mind? (November 2004)

Saturday, 02 April 2011 02:18
November 2004 What Is A Beautiful Mind? Dorothy Rowe The film The Beautiful Mind tells a simplified version of the life of the brilliant mathematician John Nash who at 31 found his life taken over by the delusional belief that he was involved in a Cold War spy operation where he was dominated by the spy chief and alternatively encouraged and harassed by an old friend and his young niece. Many people have such a psychotic experience, but John Nash was remarkable in that he recovered from the psychosis without taking psychiatric drugs because he learned how to deal with the kind of intrusive thoughts which can wake us from our sleep and torment us during the day. At first John Nash’s reactions to this ongoing imaginary drama led to his incarceration in a psychiatric hospital where the frequent administrations of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and mind-clogging drugs matched in terror the drama in his mind. When he returned home he found that his treatment prevented him from working, loving his wife, and caring for his child. He decided to deal with the persecutors in his head by facing them and telling them that from now on he would ignore them.…

My Last Guru (October 2004)

Saturday, 02 April 2011 02:18
October 2004 My Last Guru Dorothy Rowe An ancient Zen story tells how there was a monk who, on his travels from place to place, had abandoned each of his possessions until he was left with nothing but a pottery bowl. One day when he was crossing a stream the bowl slipped from his fingers and lay broken on the pebbles. The monk looked at the bowl and said, ‘That was my last guru.’ A guru is somebody or something from which we learn. The monk’s last lesson was that we do not need possessions in order to survive. I read this story a long time ago when I was discovering the wisdom of Zen, Taoism and Buddhism. I read it again told in another way in an email sent to me by a Saga reader whom I’ll call Jacqui. She told me how her mother had been moved to a residential home as she now needed 24 hour care. Jacqui wrote, ‘Surrounded now by strangers, and strange furniture in an area she has never visited before, she is happier than I have seen her for a long time. During her moves she has lost pictures, photographs, records, ornaments and…
September 2004 Is Debt a Vice or a Virtue? Dorothy Rowe Personal debt in the UK is nearly a trillion pounds. It’s made up of what we owe on credit cards and other loans and, most of all, on what we owe on our mortgages. I find such an amount of debt very troubling but then I grew up in the years when to be in debt was shameful. I saw my mother put a shilling or so aside each week until she had enough to buy some new linoleum for the kitchen, or, if she saw some small item she needed but could not immediately afford, she would put it on lay-by. At the shop the item would be wrapped in brown paper and put in a cupboard beside other such parcels, all waiting for their would-be owners to pay the full amount. It was a great day when the last few shillings were paid and the parcel given to the new owner. After World War Two governments tried to stimulate the economy by allowing expensive items to be bought with hire purchase. However women were not considered capable of managing their own finances. A woman wanting to use…

We're Not Robots (July 2004)

Saturday, 02 April 2011 02:17
July 2004 We’re Not Robots Dorothy Rowe Ever since Dr Frankenstein created his monster we’ve been fascinated by robots, machines that can do everything that humans can do and more. Human-like robots feature in cartoons, in science fiction novels and television series, and in sober accounts of what life will be like in the future. However, while Frankenstein’s monster felt loneliness, pain and hatred, the robots of more modern fantasies are deemed to have no feelings. Operating with absolute logic and reason, and with an intelligence far superior to ours, these imaginary machines achieve feats of which we can only dream. Of course robot replicas of human beings are only a dream. There are now millions of robot machines which build and operate other machines but these robots don’t replicate people. Building a robot human being is an extremely difficult task, something which no one as yet achieved. The study of robotics has produced some limbs and hands which work quite well, and scientists working in Artificial Intelligence have created computer software which can mimic a good chess player or a particularly stupid therapist but no one has produced a computer which thinks as we do. In scientific and philosophical…

The Pleasures of Martyrdom (May 2004)

Saturday, 02 April 2011 02:16
May 2004 The Pleasures of Martyrdom Dorothy Rowe Martyrs have been very much in the news. We respond with horror when we learn that yet another suicide bomber has brought death and injury, and we feel great sorrow for the victims. We puzzle over why a young man or woman would willingly relinquish their life and all possibility of future happiness. How could a young woman give up the joy of being close to her children? Yet this was what Reem Riyashi, mother of two small children did. A clue to the reasons for such actions lay in her statement made in a video just before her death. She said that, as much as she loved her children, she loved Allah more. Such a statement reproves us all. People of superior virtue place greater value on higher things – love of God, love of country, love of their national or religious group – while we poor, misguided creatures place value on family and friends and the simple pleasures of the flesh. The lives of the Christian saints and martyrs record many instances when onlookers to a martyrdom were reproved for their lack of virtue. The fashion for Christian martyrs to…

What Children Learn

Saturday, 02 April 2011 02:16
Saga May 2007 (not published) What Children Learn  Small children have to learn a great many very complicated things. They have to learn that some marks on a piece of paper are nothing more than that, while other marks stand for certain sounds, and that these sounds together can make a word. They have to learn the mysteries of counting and dividing things into groups. Then there are the rules being good – doing as you are told, being clean, not being aggressive, sharing, and taking your turn. It is often hard to understand why some things are good and others bad. Even harder can be learning about how to keep yourself safe. It is easy to see why running on to a busy road is dangerous but why is it important to wear a hat?  Past generations of parents did not spend much time thinking about how best to explain these matters to small children. Children were told what to do, and when they failed to do as they were told, they were punished, often with a slap. Nowadays parents are taught, quite correctly, that punishing a child for not doing what he should is the least efficient way…

What Syndrome Have You Got?

Saturday, 02 April 2011 02:15
June 2007 (not published)  What Syndrome Have You Got?   Nobuo Kurokawa has discovered a medical syndrome which afflicts 60 percent of older Japanese women – Retired Husband Syndrome (RHS). The symptoms include depression, rashes, ulcers, asthma, and high blood pressure. Meanwhile in Australia some 27 percent of children were found to be doing paid work even during school term. A psychologist, who shall be nameless, thought that this was good because paid work was an excellent cure for children suffering from Slothful Child Syndrome. Every day, it seems, a psychiatrist or psychologist discovers some previously unknown syndrome which affects a surprising number of people.  These psychiatrists and psychologists take their diagnoses very seriously. They seem to be unaware of the number of jokes and witty remarks based on the notion of a syndrome which are in circulation. When the Australian cricketer Shane Warne retired from first class cricket there were many speculations about how well he would deal with retirement. One commentator said that he feared that Shane would soon be suffering from SDS – Spotlight Deprivation Syndrome. Devotees of magazines like Hello and fans who crowd the pavements in order to see their favourite film stars are said to suffer from…

Sunday Life Magazine Australia (Jun 08)

Saturday, 02 April 2011 01:53
Misconceptions about Depression If you’ve been depressed and you consulted a GP or a psychiatrist very likely you were told that your depression was caused by a chemical imbalance in your brain. If the doctor prescribed an antidepressant like Prozac or Zoloft he’d have told you that the drug would replace the missing serotonin in your brain, and this would cure your depression. Many doctors would still say the same thing, not because they’re right, but because they don’t read the research, they don’t consult the depression website beyondblue (www.beyondblue.org.au ), and they hate having to change their mind. However, if you become depressed and you consult a doctor who does keep up with the research, you’ll find that the doctor doesn’t mention “chemical imbalance”. Instead, they’ll ask you about the stressful events in your life and how you’ve interpreted these events. Do you see these events as challenges which you’ll master, or another defeat in a long line of defeats, or the punishment you deserve for being such a bad person. Psychiatrists have always known that there has never been any scientific evidence for the theory that depression is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. The imbalance is supposed…

Vive Magazine Australia (Apr 08)

Saturday, 02 April 2011 01:52
Perspectives Emma is one of the brightest of her generation of lawyers. She can anticipate the different interpretations of the evidence likely to be made by an opposing lawyer in a case, and she is very shrewd in her assessment of what motivates her client to tell his story in a particular way. In short, as a lawyer she knows that different people interpret events or circumstances in their own individual way. She knows too that individuals can choose to change how they interpret an event or a circumstance. Yet she doesn’t apply this knowledge to her own life. She lives in fear of her mother’s criticism, just as she has ever done since she was a child. Her friends tell her to stand up to her mother, and not to feel guilty when her mother complains, but Emma insists that she’s been like this since she was a small child and that she can’t change. Emma learned about alternative interpretations as part of her legal training. She never studied human physiology, and so she has no idea where these alternative interpretations come from. She’s not alone in this. When I lecture to people who consider themselves to be very…
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