Written by Gunnel Minett, psychologist and breathworker
It somehow seems as if the world is getting more and more polarized with more people fighting hard for what they believe is the right way forward. We are fighting about religious beliefs, politics, environment, fake news, education, etc.. The list can be made as long as you want. There are so many things we disagree about. This is of course nothing new in itself. The really new development is perhaps what we have come to know as ‘social media’ – internet forums where we all can express our views and have them broadcast around the world with incredible speed and impact.
One of the negative, not to say dangerous, aspects of this is that we somehow have begun to believe that our views and arguments all have the same weight, just because of the impact they can have. Irrespective as to whether our views are based on our personal emotional reactions, hearsay or years of scientific research, we somehow see them as equally important and valid. There is already a word for this, post-modernism. Very crudely this can be translated as ‘anything goes’. We have experienced this in political debates, in particular in the UK Brexit debate and in the last American election where objectively, anything and everything was presented as equally valid. (Although some of them later had to be changed to ‘alternative facts’ when the evidence got stacked too strongly against them.)
One of the longest ‘fights’ is probably the gender debate. For centuries women have been treated in a way that few men would ever have accepted. Women did not have the right to inherit, or to have their own money, to work, or to vote, just to mention a few of the inequalities. The fight for equal rights has come and gone in waves over time but to this day, women still do not have equal rights to men. In some countries the differences are ‘minor’ such as not being paid equal salaries, whereas in other countries their rights are extremely and humiliatingly limited.
One of the recent major gender battles was fought by women about two generations ago. It was labelled ‘women’s lib’ and focused around sexual equality. Women should have a right to express their sexuality as freely as men. Women threw away their bras and started to dress in more ‘provocative’ ways. (Much to the delight of many men who were also keen on the ‘free love’ aspect).
Today’s gender battle is different: it’s more a question of equality down to the last detail. Now the gender focus is on political correctness; in academia, in public debates and in politics. Many women (and men) want equal rights and an equal say, sometimes in a very forceful way. Part of this striving involves equality for same sex relationships and for their right to form families, with the aim of making the world a better place for all its inhabitants.
A more recent development in the battle for equality is the issue of sex change: some men feel they were born into the wrong sex and want to become women, and, in the opposite direction, some women want to become men. With modern medicine this is possible to achieve. Consequently, there’s been a substantial increase in sex change operations. In particular with children who want to change sex and start the process before they reach puberty.
A more extreme topical side-effect of the gender identity debate has developed over the question of what to call people: it is no longer acceptable everywhere to refer to a person as he or she. Some want a neutral ‘it’ for both men and women. Others prefer ‘them’ for people who are unclear about their gender. Voices have also been heard to argue that it should be made illegal to ask for gender when information is requested by authorities of all kinds.
Why are we fighting?
In many of these situations of struggle, it can seem quite obvious why we are getting ourselves involved. We judge the world from our own perspective and fight for what is best for us. If we are religious we want to fight for our right to keep our religion. Or in more extreme cases we fight to convince others to change to our religion and worldview. Even though it many times is done in the name of peace and love for mankind.
If we care about the environment and see it as essential that we stop destroying our planet, our fight is one of straightforward survival for our species. Still, in extreme cases it may mean killing humans in order to care for animals.
When it comes to politics and ‘fake news’, it is clear that power is a driving force. It’s not a massive exaggeration to claim that politicians sometimes polish the truth to their advantage and are prepared to ‘fight dirty’ to gain or maintain power. Still, even dictators claim that all they care about is to do what is best for the people they decide over and that is why they need power.
It could be argued that the gender debate is simply about equality between sexes. But here too we may need to pause and reflect a bit. Is it really a desire for equality and fairness that’s driving all the varieties of the gender debate? Equal rights as citizens; to vote, to receive equal pay, to have access to all kinds of work, equal rights to express our sexuality etc.., of course. But don’t we also need to look at what this means and what we have achieved so far.
When it comes to the workplace in many countries today, women fight with men for positions, not in an equal way but rather to gain access to a ‘man’s world’. If a woman is to succeed in this ‘man’s world’ she needs to focus on her job, and set aside her wishes to also be a women and a mother. In other words, the equality is more a question of allowing a woman into male territory rather than men opening up to a more feminine approach to life, including time for parenting. It’s only a minority of countries where childcare and children’s needs are supported properly by society. And to this day there are few countries where men who prioritise being with their family are as successful as the men who are totally focused on their career.
Another questionable ‘success’ is equality in sexual behaviour: in many places the women’s lib movement has resulted in women adopting male sexual behaviour, rather than men moving towards a more feminine attitude to sex. This seems particularly bad for young girls today who often have their first sexual experiences with boys who have had their ‘sex education’ from pornography on the internet. ‘Sexual liberation’ may amount to nothing more than a transition from the old attitude that girls should repress their sexual desires to a new one in which girls find it hard to say no, even to unwanted advances. So here again, it is not so much a move to equality but a move to let women in to the male world.
The roots of it all
So, we may need to go deeper in our attempts to understand where we are coming from and what exactly we are fighting for. If not we may end up simply trying to win the fight rather than achieving something better for all of us.
The presence, in modern societies, of different religions creates a deeply challenging situation. Rather than simply opting for a multicultural solution, we need to look deeper at what religion really represents for all of us. The debate should not be about which religious belief system is the best, or how we can allow room for them all in society, but rather what positive beliefs can we extract from all religions. It’s clear that there are common themes in all of them. All religions are concerned with ethical behaviour between human beings: do unto others as you want them to do unto you. Religions also seek to create a world in which we experience harmony, either by feeling embedded in nature or from some higher force or being. And to help us deal with big issues such as death and dying. Not until we start working towards accepting what we have in common, rather than what separates us, can we start talking about a path to real equality.
As regards gender, we need to find the roots that can enable us to go beyond the mere expression of our gender. We need to ask if the wish to change sex can have something to do with a personal feeling that we might be more appreciated if we had the opposite sex. Of course there are a number of people who were biologically born the wrong sex, but it’s important to rigorously investigate if there’s anything in the environment that’s causing the recent increase in such cases. So, rather than debating in social media if a lesbian woman should participate in a dancing competition with a female partner (against her will) or if it is ok for her to dance with a man, or if school boys should be allowed to wear tiara and tutu at school (both recent social media debates) we need to search our souls much more deeply.
This also applies to the debate over ‘alternative’ facts. We need to find ways to regain some form of hierarchical view on how we investigate the world before we present our findings as facts. To simply listen to rumours or emotional feedback from our inner selves can’t be accepted as equal to years of research. This is of course not to say that science can’t be wrong. But we must also recognise that intuition can equally be wrong – even if it feels very right. But if we are to prove others wrong, we need to recognise that facts should be based on equally thorough grounds.
Deep therapies such as breathwork
It may seem a bit far fetched to bring in psychotherapy in this situation. But a major goal of psychotherapy is to help people to find the underlying reasons for their actions. In particular deep therapies, such as Breathwork, can help people to a better understanding of the unconscious and deeper thoughts which underly their worldview. It’s very common in techniques such as Breathwork and Dream therapy, to experience being the opposite sex. These experiences can, momentarily, enable someone to experience being the opposite sex and how that feels. Often the end result is a deeper insight into one’s own sex as well as that of the opposite.
In similar ways a person can get deeper insight into their religious and cultural beliefs and why they have them. Such experiences can enable a genuine re-evaluation of beliefs and outlook on life. Before the emergence of monotheistic religions, the multitude of deities and their special characteristics were also a way of helping people understanding themselves on a deeper level, and helped people to feel more connected with others and the world around them; aversion of psychotherapy.
Responsibility of therapists
There is a sense of urgency and discomfort in the increasing speed with which the world seems to be changing. It’s hard to believe how the internet has change our lives in very short time. There is an ongoing debate as to role the internet has played in altering the very basis of our modern cultures. We now look with some trepidation on how it has had a serious impact on democratic elections, cultures, family life, childhood and so on. It is as if we have unleashed a force we don’t really understand and how this will impact us.
This is an important issue for all of us to consider. It is not a question of turning back time (as some strongly advocate). It is all to do with learning how to adjust to what we have created. To take a step back and reflect on how we are able to adjust without giving up essential aspects of life which are necessary for a contented life. This means, for instance, that although we may be able to live entirely on our own and conduct our social life entirely online, this type of change may have consequences for future generations. Parenting, for instance, is a learnt behaviour. Physical contact is essential for our wellbeing, We still have not trained computers to replace these aspects of our lives. We also feel most at ease when we are surrounded by groups of around 150 people we feel we know a bit better than others. With the intense migration around the globe that has taken place in recent time, we need to find ways to accommodate this need when it comes to integrate groups with different religious and cultural backgrounds.
These issues are important for psychotherapists to look at. Anyone who is devoting their time and skills to help people navigate (back) to a better life, need to be aware of our basic human needs. We are all facing a challenge that we have had very little time to prepare for. And this is possibly the biggest challenge of all. To learn to live in a way where we all have a place where we feel at ease and included, regardless of colour, creed, culture or gender. And in a way where resources are shared so that they will last and be sufficient for all of us.
Keywords; culture, religion, gender debate, psychotherapy, breathwork, dream therapy