2nd July 2015 Written by Katrina Williams Trending Conversation

Us and Them

There's not much that stops you in your tracks these days, the world moves at a faster pace than ever and we’ve been too busy to notice the acceleration. It seems that now all we can do is try to just keep up the pace.

The way we* relate to the world around us and others in our world has been slowly but surely reduced to mostly superficial interactions as we move from one thing to the next, pedalling hard and wondering where the day went. The valuable time we do have, we invest selectively and unfortunately it doesn't often get given to someone or something not connected to our immediate needs.

*And who is 'we'? 'We' is an imperative word in a world context and for the purposes of this writing, important to reflect on. 'We' usually refers to your own. That is, your family, your friends and you. However, this ideology was challenged in an excerpt from 'Love Over Hate, Finding Life by the Wayside' by Graham Long which talked about the homeless who are disconnected from society and defines 'we' as finding the joy of being human by simply being together.

That is together, as a world community and not as isolated masses.

Furthering the distance between us as individuals, is the amplified notion cooked up by the powers that be that ‘ourselves and our own’ should have more than we actually need. When we’re made to believe one of our main purposes in life is to build up assets and a small fortune of our own and that we must endeavour to do so at a break-neck pace, we can only afford to look out for ourselves and this effectively creates ‘us’ and ‘them’.

While we've taken care of 'us', we've looked on at the bad and good happening to 'them' and for some time now we've been conditioned to look away from the misfortunes happening to 'them'. It doesn't seem to occur to us that including others in 'we' could be easily done and that it could be a win-win scenario for all.

Kenneth Branagh recently highlighted the distinct yet common lack of empathy and kindness in society when discussing his direction of the new film remake of Cinderella. In his new version he says he has aimed to emphasise how the fairytale character demonstrates 'kindness as a super power'.

Cate 'Queen of the World' Blanchett, (I’m not a fan of the phrase 'girl crush' but if I had to admit to one, mine would be on Cate) who plays Cinderella's evil stepmother recently elaborated on Branagh's declaration of kindness as a superpower when discussing how the movie had been brought into contemporary context. “In this cut-throat world where economics is everything, if you stop and pause, have empathy and kindness towards someone, then people can walk all over you. The fact that [Cinderella's] goodness and kindness triumphs, that it really truly is a super power, is a wonderful message in the contemporary world” said Blanchett.

Needless to say, fairytales by definition don’t provide the most realistic expectations for actual life but some do have important messages and morals to their stories and in this instance, Branagh's and Blanchett's perspective and commentary on this fairytale make a vital point.

The question is, how does this idea play out in real life? Any act of kindness is invaluable and not to be measured for its magnitude but there are ways of making a simple act more powerful with the same amount of effort. Again, how? Well, there are many ways...

The phrase 'paying it forward' might sound familiar to some as a plot for a B-grade movie based on a plot for a book. However, the phrase is actually an age-old concept that has appeared in texts over time, even dating back to the plot of an Athens play in Ancient Grecian times. 'Paying it forward' is the idea of the beneficiary of a good deed repaying this deed to another instead of the original helper, for those of you who didn't end up watching a bunch of Haley Joel Osment movies in the late 90's and early 00's (it really wasn't avoidable), including the eponymously named, Pay it Forward.

Contrary to what some cynics reading this might think, there are people successfully carrying out this notion through conscious actions as you read this. Once upon a time, I was mindlessly trawling my Facebook feed and came across something that made me think about how I relate to the people who make up this little place we know as the world. What I stumbled upon was a story about a couple who had built a not-for-profit based on the 'paying it forward' concept. This couple had suffered through one of life's unexplainable tragedies, the loss of their young child, Rees Specht. The Specht's were overwhelmed with emotion when their community rallied around them during this tough time by bringing them supplies and offering services with no charge. As a result, they were inspired to show the same kindness they received to others in society and at the same time, found a way to carry their child's memory and name on. How they did this was via using the 'pay it forward' concept and spreading the word about it through the creation of The Rees Specht Life Foundation.

They kick-started this project when they were in a fast food drive-through and paid for the car behind them. The car they paid for then paid for the car behind them and the chain reaction continued until the morning rush was over and there were no more cars for a time. Their foundation's mission is to 'cultivate kindness' through promoting community, compassion and respect.After the drive-through success, the couple created 'pay it forward' cards which they issue to people whenever they carry out an act of kindness with the hope that each person in turn will carry out their own act of kindness and a chain reaction will ensue (as the card instructs).

This project isn't an isolated occurrence; a very successful 'pay it forward' scheme is in place at a pizza parlour in Philadelphia, incidentally the poorest large city in the U.S.A. One day a customer walked into Rosa's Fresh Pizza and surprised owner, Mason Wartman when they placed an order and also pre-paid a slice of pizza ($1) for the next homeless or needy person to walk into the store. Wartman wrote the pre-paid receipt on a post-it note and put it on a wall behind the register and since this act, word soon spread and now the wall has become a mosaic of countless post-it notes and a symbol of compassion. Rosa's has provided over 10,000 slices to those in need since that day and is a prime example of what good comes from relating to one another as 'we'.

Of course there are people around us doing kind things everyday. If you tune in and look up, you’ll likely find that you will witness random acts of kindness and realise how these moments are the magic of everyday life. Many of us can say that we try to do our part to make the world a better place through small yet meaningful acts. However, just like any world aid initiative, imparting skills and knowledge to people to pass forward to others in their community is what creates real change and empowerment. Bridging the divide between 'us' and 'them' and growing a more compassionate and connected community will only happen in the same way, where a world of 'we' is created through a chain reaction effect. So how do you impart this message to others and cultivate this effect without ostracizing or shaming people while sounding like a self-righteous TV evangelist? Don’t just talk about it; do something with your own superpower. Carry out a random act of kindness simply because you can and not necessarily because a noticeable opportunity presented itself. The next time you’re on the receiving end of some kindness, pay it forward with no agenda. Your compassion could inspire another compassionate act and a chain reaction will ensue.

Image: Katrina Williams

13th October 2014 Written by Tina Hasiotis Dangerous Ideas

The Empathy Deficit and Books: Why Reading Books Can Make Us Better People

In 1909 psychologist Edward Titchener introduced the term empathy into the English language as the translation of the German term Einfühlung, meaning “feeling into”. At this time in the 19th century, however, the term pertained to the thinking of philosophical aesthetics. Romantic thinkers viewed empathy as one’s ability to “feel into” nature and art, proposing that it was a remedy for the scientific attitude of impassively dissecting nature into its elements.

 

It was then the work of Professor Theodor Lipps which transformed empathy from a concept of philosophical aesthetics into a more psychological concept.

 

For Lipps, empathy also had to be understood as being the primary basis for recognising other people as minded creatures. From here, the idea of the imaginative act of stepping in another’s shoes and understanding the world from their point of view comes into fruition.

 

While psychological studies and development on empathy continues to this day, the actual practise of empathy seems to be dwindling.

 

As a human population, we’re losing empathy. Research by Jean M. Twenge, a psychologist at San Diego State University found that students’ self-reported narcissism has reached new heights. Her book The Narcissism Epidemic: The Age of Living in Entitlement, shows us that there is a relentless rise in narcissism (me, me, me instead of oh I don’t know, consideration of other people) in current culture. Between the examples of bullying YouTube videos and something as disturbing as Selfies at Funerals, there was one really standout example of a girl who was planning her sweet 16th party and wanted a major road blocked off to have a marching band walk down a red carpet to her home.

 

Even out of this sample size research is still yielding similar findings. Research by the Scanlon Foundation in Australia surfaces some interesting insights regarding the current state of mind of Australians regarding social cohesion. Their national report, Mapping Social Cohesionmeasured five domains of attitude by interviewing Australians nationally.

 

The results indicated that acceptance/rejection fell by 9.8 points (which reflected increased reported experiences of discrimination), belonging and worth both fell by 4.1 and 2.7 points respectively, and social justice and equity rose by 2.9 points. What is to note, however, is that all five domains are all below their 2007 benchmark level.

But it’s not all that bad. The truth is just that we’re not really living up to our empathic potential. For most of us empathy is an innate part of our psychological and mental foundation.

Neuroscientists have discovered that almost all of us have a ten-section empathy circuit wired into our brains. But just how can we tap into empathy?

Well, you’re in luck. Recent studies have found that reading fiction can make you a better person. Research by Raymond Mar has shown that transporting yourself into narrative can lend better abilities to empathise and improve Theory of Mind (ToM) – which refers to how we develop theories about other people’s mind, particularly their mental states. 

 

Another study in Science, found that reading literary fiction improves ToM. Through their study, the authors showed that literary fiction affects ToM processes because it forces us to engage in mind-reading and character construction.

Reading a story about the struggles of another’s life, the injustices they may suffer, and the mental states they may traverse, depicts a reality that we might have never otherwise contemplated. A story can depict another reality through the consciousness of protagonists in a story, forcing a reader to perceive the world simultaneously from different viewpoints.

 

Slate’s Mark O'Connell agrees. He writes that “the consensus among writers has generally been that imaging ourselves into fictional minds and lives is something that increases our moral faculties, a practise that grows our capacity for empathic engagement with the minds and lives of actually existing other humans.”

 

Look to George Orwell. In his book – based on true events – Down and Out in Paris and London,Orwell roughed it on the streets of East London, after a month of employment he had confirmed fell through. He had to spend 1 month with only 30 shillings. Or in To Kill A Mockingbird, readers see the consequences of racial discrimination sadly unfold. Even Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath takes us through the times of The Great Depression.

 

Throughout these novels, readers experience life from a different viewpoint which they might not have experienced otherwise. These stories and their characters start to form a mini-reality for us that we can become a part of, albeit temporarily, and develop some new sensitivities that we can incorporate into our real lives.

 

Instead of disregarding people for being a certain way, maybe try to figure out why.

If the studies show anything, it’s evidence that is in accordance with the empathy circuit finding. We’re all hard-wired for potential; we’re just not living up to it, yet, and books appear to be a simple way in which we can all start to tap into that empathy goodness.

One of the most poignant pieces of advice that Atticus gives to Scout in To Kill a Mocking Bird is that “…you’ll never understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” How true it is, but we have to tap into and exercise this potential, or else we might be requesting to have major roads blocked off for our own personal marching bands, and it may not even be our birthday.

Image: Hannah Greethead

24th September 2012 Written by Michelle Liu. The Instructions

8 REASONS WHY GUYS MAKE SHITTY FRIENDS

Image credit: Michelle calls these floral leggings ‘the man repeller’ based purley upon the reaction of her ‘guy’ friends, she has a pair; we like them,go figure…

 In response to Jade’s reasons why females make shitty friends I thought it’d only be fair to contend with reasons why dudes aren’t exactly the friendliest of friends a friend could have either. Now, before you guys send me abusive emails (Am I suddenly hot shit now that I get abusive emails? I wish. Please send me abusive emails!), my guy friends are great – they taught me how to play… Skyrim (that’s Sir Winterbourne to you), made me watch Chuck, let me paint their nails and they eat my leftovers; but they can be just as bad as any bad ‘girlfriend’. So…if girls make shitty friends, and dudes make shitty friends, we’re all just shitty people, doing shitty things together! Moral of the story: Choose that special shitty someone you don’t mind being shitty with.

1. ‘Go back to the kitchen where you belong, hur hur hur’ Where all the knives are so I can stab you in the face? Nothing frustrates me more than sandwich and kitchen jokes/comebacks - the scum of all things ‘funny’. It’s made even worse when you guys start howling and high fiving and fist bumping and dry humping (I mean what) each other as if you’ve made the most clever, burn worthy comment ever. You want a joke? Why did the mushroom go to the party? Because he’s a fungi. Boom. There’s your joke.

2. Guys don’t laugh at your jokes Oh wait, that’s just me? Got it. Okay, one more. Why did the fungi leave the party? Because there wasn’t mushroom. …No? Okay, moving on.

3. ‘It wasn’t over, it still isn’t over!’ Boy friends are generally pretty bad at keeping in touch, where the extent of our communication is through ‘favoriting’ each other’s tweets and ‘liking’ some half assed comment I made on Facebook as a token of agreement, and posting some funny cat video on my profile. Why won’t you write me a letter everyday, telling me about your hopes and dreams, damn it!

4. ‘Be my wingman’ Guy friends seem to just assume girls can be their ‘wingman’, because, sure, I can tell that hot chick over there that you’re interested and we can talk about girly things right? Sorry buddy, I have no game. Opposite of game is what I have. I can’t even order at Maccas without having a nervous breakdown. Unless you want me to tell her jokes, girls like jokes about eukaryotic organisms right?

5. Friend zoned So there’s this thing you guys made up when girls turn you down, a ‘friend zone’, was it? Yeah, that’s got to go. Let me make this clear: Yeah, it’s a bummer to be rejected, but girls do not owe you anything. Just because you’re my friend, and you listen to my ex boyfriend problems, and you’re nice to me doesn’t give you guaranteed access to my vagina. How ridiculous does that sound when I put it that way? In fact, purely from expecting something in return for you being ‘my friend’ makes you not all that nice anyway. Wow, was what harsh? Please don’t hurt me, I just want to be your friend!

6. Guys are secretly camwhores Guys actually work under the guise (see what I did there) of always complaining about how girls take their cameras everywhere and take photos of everything, but lo and behold! They love having their picture taken with their ‘bros’, and complain when you don’t upload photos straight away. Oh, make sure you tag me, they said. Fine…wait, how do I have 534 photos of you?!

7. Boys will be boys Simply put, guys (or my friends at least) are endearingly and also annoyingly immature. From using my toothbrush, taking 80 unflattering photos of me when I’m eating, to moving my car (actually very impressed, the engine wasn’t on – I could never let them know though) and floating our homemade cupcakes away in a pool…good times. No, NOT GOOD TIMES. YOU FUCKING ANNOYING ME AND I HATE YOU.

 

8. Don’t, guys don’t think that’s attractive’ Dude friends have told me this countless times, when I’m pulling a duck face (inevitable in a drunken hour), when I put on tacky floral leggings (what up Supre), when I curse, when I pierced my eyebrow…that I should stop doing something because other dudes won’t find it attractive. I’m sorry, did I miss something here? Did I miss the annual chick meeting, that everything we do revolves around impressing boys and wanting to be attractive?

I can be a tacky, sailor mouthed slut if I wanted to, and just hope you’ll like my jokes okay?!

6th August 2012 Written by warholst Hipster Life

HATE MAIL TO BARBIE: BARBIE: YOU HAVE MY SYMPATHY

This is Venus Palermo. She’s famous for looking like a doll. She dresses up like a doll then she sits still for long periods of time. Maybe we can all pitch in and buy her a box. Barbie, you have a lot to answer for. Introducing our second in the series of Hate Mail to Barbie by Warhol’s Children’s Sarah Pritchard Dear Barbie, You have my sympathy. I admit I hated you at first but I’ve been thinking about you and your predicament, you poor old woman trapped in a girl’s body. I can picture you in your fancy beach house with your adopted children and your estranged boyfriend Ken…
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