Dogs live in the present – they just are! Dogs make the best of each moment uncluttered by the sorts of complex fears and feelings that we humans have. They don’t judge, they simply take the world around them at face value. Yet they have been part of man’s world for an unimaginable time, at least 30,000 years. That makes the domesticated dog the longest animal companion to man, by far!
As man’s companion, protector and helper, history suggests that dogs were critically important in man achieving success as a hunter-gatherer. Dogs ‘teaching’ man to be so successful a hunter enabled evolution, some 20,000 years later, to farming, thence the long journey to modern man. But in the last, say 100 years, that farming spirit has become corrupted to the point where we see the planet’s plant and mineral resources as infinite. Mankind is close to the edge of extinction, literally and spiritually.
Dogs know better, much better! Time again for man to learn from dogs!
Welcome to Learning from Dogs
Aristotle is reputed to have said, “Happiness depends on ourselves.”
For someone born nearly 2,400 years ago, at the time of penning this book, Aristotle’s (384 to 322 BCE) words of wisdom resonate very much with these modern times. Even granting the fact that Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and a scientist, it still has me in awe of the man. Consider, when one thinks about Aristotle’s reflections on mankind so long ago and finds, some 2,400 years later, that in a sense, in a very real sense, nothing much about the aspect of our happiness is new. Certainly when it comes to the behaviours of homo sapiens!
To underpin that last observation, that seeking happiness still fascinates us, just a few days ago (November 2104) I read an item on the BBC website reporting that a Google engineer, Chade-Meng Tan, “claims he has the secret to a contented, stress-free life.” The BBC reporter, David G Allan, author of the article, went on to write, “Deep inside the global tech behemoth Google sits an engineer with an unusual job description: to make people happier and the world more peaceful.”
From Aristotle to Google – Talk about plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose!
Nevertheless, if the source of our happiness is something that has been known for thousands of years, why do we have the sense that happiness is elusive, (I use the word ‘we’ in the broad sense.), why the reason that happiness seems as far away from the common, everyday experience as the white, snowy peak of a magnificent mountain shining out from a dark, blue sky?
How can we understand more about happiness; whether or not it is, indeed, elusive?
Well there’s only one place to start looking for the answer to that question in these modern times and that’s a Google search! Wow! No shortage of places to go looking: that search for the word ‘happiness’ produced the response – About 50,000,000 results (0.15 seconds)! And a bonus: I laughed out aloud when I saw that figure.
50 million results! Happiness doesn’t appears to be that elusive after all!
Let’s come at the question of happiness from a different angle. What about happiness from the perspective of good mental health?
The leading mental health charity in the UK is the organisation MIND. Their website, not surprisingly, poses the question: What do we mean by good mental health? Then offers the response: “Good mental health isn’t something you have, but something you do. To be mentally healthy you must value and accept yourself.”
See there’s the prescience of Aristotle again!
MIND continues the response to the question by underlining how we should “… care about yourself and you care for yourself. …. love yourself, not hate yourself. …. look after your physical health”, reminding us all to “eat well, sleep well, exercise and enjoy yourself.”
Gretchen Rubin, an expert on the topic of happiness and the author of several books on this aspect of us humans, has researched happiness for many years. Her conclusions are the following: that happiness is found in the enjoyment of ordinary things, in the everyday and in cherishing the small things in our lives.
There’s a distinct theme appearing here. All the way from Aristotle: That whether or not I am happy comes down to one person and one person alone: me! Happiness is about my response to my world; my world around me.
It doesn’t take much to see the incredible importance of being good to oneself. That finding happiness is firmly on the same page as self-compassion.
That is reinforced by Ruth Nina Welsh, a freelance writer specialising in lifestyle, wellbeing and self-help, and a former counsellor and coach (and, notwithstanding, an erstwhile musician). Ruth, on her website Be Your Own Counsellor and Coach, reminds us to, “see yourself as being a valuable person in your own right.” Then later, adding: “If you value yourself, you don’t expect people to reject you. You aren’t frightened of other people. You can be open, and so you enjoy good relationships.”
Conclusion: It is totally clear that how we see ourselves is central to every decision we make. People who value and accept themselves, the essence of self-happiness, cope with life in ways that are just not available to people who are not happy with who they are.
That strikes me that being happy with ourself should be the first thing we should say to ourselves in the morning, and the last thing we should think about as we drop off to sleep.
Thus having spent a few paragraphs looking at happiness in its own right, how do we bring happiness into the central proposition of this section of the book: Of change in thoughts and deeds? How can happiness be a positive tool for change?
To put into context the need for change in our thoughts and deeds, let’s look back over our shoulders at the past fifty years or more and realise that despite the relentless growth in incomes, across the vast majority of countries, we are no happier than we were those five decades ago. Indeed, some might argue that we are much less happy. Certainly, in this same period of fifty years, we have seen an increase in wider social issues, including a very worrying rise in anxiety and depression in our young people.
If the premise that change is essential, that there is a growing motivation to turn away from where we, as in mankind, seem to be heading, and seek more peaceful and harmonious times, then finding happiness, as with faith in goodness, is an important ingredient but on its own does not deliver change.
For more years than I care to remember, BBC Radio 4 has been broadcasting a ten-minute programme: A Point of View; usually on a Friday evening if my memory serves me well. Back in 2013, writer and broadcaster, Al Kennedy, presented A Point of View on the theme of Why embracing change is the key to happiness. The ideas behind that programme were also published on the BBC News Magazine website: A Point of View: Why embracing change is the key to happiness. Al Kennedy proposing that, “Human happiness may rely on our ability to conquer a natural fear of upsetting the status quo.”
Al Kennedy touched on a familiar aspect of change, “If you’re like me, you won’t want to change. Even if things aren’t wonderful, but are familiar, I would rather stay with what I know. Why meddle with something for which there is a Latin, and therefore authoritative, term: the status quo.”
Thus, Al reminds us, that seeing happiness as a key to change, may be putting it in the wrong order. We have to welcome change, have it as a fundamental part of who we are and trust that this is the path to happiness. Back to Al Kennedy: “And every analysis of what makes lucky and happy people lucky and happy demonstrates they adapt fast and well to new situations and people, and so are defended by complex social circles and acclimatised to change.”
That BBC article concludes, again with Al Kennedy’s words: “Approaching the changing reality of reality with sensible flexibility is the best strategy for happiness. I don’t believe it, but it’s true. And if I can change my mind, I can change anything else I need to.”
Notions of Rome not being built in a single day come to mind. Or that other one about even the longest journey starting out with a single step.
Silly old me! Still looking for more sayings to crystallise the essence of happiness and the best one is right under my nose. The one that opened this chapter. From the wise Aristotle: “Happiness depends on ourselves.”
1296 words Copyright 2014: Paul Handover
Would make some fabulous Christmas presents.
In my trawling around Learning from Dogs looking for articles that could provide material for ‘the book’, I came across a post from August 2009, that is republished today.
The sharing spirit
(Originally published here on the 29th August, 2009.)
This virtual world has so much to share.
The photography of Patrick Smith is breathtaking. So much so, it seemed important to promote his talents to the widest possible audience.
He has been very generous in giving Learning from Dogs written permission to reproduce his pictures. Thus from time to time, we will do just that.
Thank you, Patrick.
Published with the written permission of Patrick Smith Photography.
Copyright (c) 2009, all rights reserved. Please do not use this picture without permission.
By Paul Handover
Well Patrick continues to present breathtakingly beautiful photographs, such as this one:
Published with the written permission of Patrick Smith Photography.
Copyright (c) 2013, 2014: all rights reserved. Please do not use this picture without permission.
So it seemed a great idea to promote his pictures just in case you were looking for that special present, being that time of the year. Patrick’s portfolio and prices may be viewed here, and his contact details are at the top of his home page.
(Let me quickly add that I have no business or financial connection with Patrick Smith.)
“The roots of all goodness lie in the soil of appreciation for goodness.” So said the Dalai Lama.
In the previous chapter, Compassion for self, I quoted Professor Neff saying that in her view self-compassion consisted of three elements: self-kindness, recognition of our common humanity and mindfulness.
That second element, the recognition of our common humanity, provides a wonderful link from that chapter across to this one. For one very simple reason: The reason being that people are generally good. Now I’m not going to throw statistics around, even if I had them to hand, to support my proposition; that there are more good people in the world than not. For the very straightforward reason that I have enjoyed a wide range of wonderful experiences from many; friends and strangers alike. Backed up from my experience of having been around for a while (I’m way the wrong side of 50!), from having travelled extensively in the last forty years, from having lived in four countries over those same forty years, and from having very, very few letdowns from others over that time.
But there’s more. From those many friends and acquaintances over those forty years, again in many parts of the world, I have found it extremely rare to hear of someone speak of knowing another person who they believed was intrinsically nasty.
So, reflecting that this chapter is called faith in goodness, that my experiences support and affirm a faith in the widespread goodness of people, that us human beings are fundamentally loving and good, and will help and care for each other when given the chance, it is easy to see this faith under the banner of another word: trust. Trust in human beings being fundamentally good! (And to make it clear as to where I am coming from, I use the word faith not with any religious or spiritual connotations.)
Now it is time to be firm with myself and remember that this is a chapter in a section of the book about change: change in thoughts and deeds. It is not a chapter about goodness in and of itself, however commendable such a chapter might be.
What is the link, therefore, between goodness and change? Put better, what is the power of goodness in bringing about change?
I guess one way of answering that question is to remind ourselves that whatever we believe about the local circumstances, our local world in which we live, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we trust that those around us are fundamentally good and we offer goodness out to those around us then we all create a local zone of peace.
Ergo, by extension, if we really want to create a global world of peace, and who would eschew that dream, we truly have to believe that it is possible. Not only possible, we have to believe in the certainty that simply by impacting another person’s life in a positive way, thence, just one person at a time, that one other person becomes a stone of change spreading ripples of peace across the waters of the world.
Margaret Wheatley, the author of a number of books on the human condition, offers in an essay Relying on Human Goodness, this pertinent view: “Noticing our beliefs about human goodness is not a philosophical inquiry. Our beliefs are critical influences for what we do in the world. They lead us either to action or retreat.”
In other words, what we believe, how we see ourselves, holds real power of change. Those critical influences in Margaret Wheatley’s words. Such is the importance of our faith in goodness as being an agent of change.
The other fundamental message that comes out from Margaret Wheatley’s essay is that, “Oppression never occurs between equals. Tyranny always arises from the belief that some people are more human than others. There is no other way to justify inhumane treatment, except to assume that the pain inflicted on the oppressed is not the same as ours.”
The old saying of only treating others as you would wish yourself to be treated sums it up: perfectly!
So why oh why does the reality of the human condition, almost as far back as one can look, seem so ghastly at times? Maybe, just maybe, because we only get to hear of all the things that are wrong and that this has been a weakness of mankind since time immemorial.
For one core reason, one ancient truth, one very significant challenge to seeing goodness in all directions. I am referring to the fact that bad news sells! As in spreads like wildfire!
It’s common knowledge that since the days of early man, our survival has depended on great sensitivity to danger. We instinctively pick up on danger, on any danger, on anything that we interpret, often half-consciously, as threatening to us and our loved ones. And these are times when we seem to be faced with a plethora of ‘threats’ to us and our loved ones and our immediate community.
The news media; TV, newspapers, radio and, now the internet, offer us on an almost hourly basis torrents of evidence of the harm, the great harm, that some people seem so easily to do to other people. So many examples of anger, distrust, deceit, greed, ethnic hatred, frequent genocide, terrorism and violence, apparently committed daily in the world. Of the 196 independent countries (The figure varies depending on the reference source being used, but the number is within the range of 189 to 196) or so in the world, sixty-four are at war. Nearly a third of all the countries on this planet are at war (and don’t even start to think of the hundreds of militias, guerrillas and separatist groups involved in fighting!).
Thus it would be so easy to despair, to turn inwards and metaphorically hug oneself in a dark corner, to allow oneself to become more withdrawn and distrustful than ever, to let our worst natures prevail, but a strong, resolute faith in goodness prevents that. Indeed, the more we see examples, primarily from the world’s media, of the worst in mankind, the more essential it is to believe, to have trust, to have faith, in the goodness of people.
To hold in one’s heart, like a glowing beacon of hope, all those wonderful aspects of our fellow humans. The creativity, the caring, the generosity, the open-heartedness and the love; yes the love. Behaviours that are exhibited on a daily basis. Just look around at your friends and neighbours, notice the people you come across in your daily lives, often complete strangers, and you will see so many who, just like you, are offering goodness, being friendly, trying to be useful to others; metaphorically, leaving a clean wake.
So spread the word. For your faith in goodness will bring about the change all of humanity needs.
1130 words Copyright © 2014 Paul Handover
A grim reminder of these mad times.
I am conscious that in thirty minutes, my latest draft chapter of the book of the same name as this blog is published. Published under the heading of Faith in goodness.
It seems entirely at odds with the theme of today’s post, the reposting of a recent essay from George Monbiot. But in a sense the two posts are compatible. Because what George Monbiot writes about, so elegantly in my opinion, is a window into the lives of those in power, politics, and in money. Whereas, down at street level, so to speak, down where ordinary people lead ordinary lives, one finds a huge gap between the ambitions of the ‘top table’ and decent, everyday folk who are basically good people.
So with that in mind, on to George Monbiot’s essay of the 18th November, published in this place with his kind permission.
The Insatiable God
The blind pursuit of economic growth stokes a cycle of financial crisis, and wrecks our world.
By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 19th November 2014
Another crash is coming. We all know it, now even David Cameron acknowledges it (1). The only questions are what the immediate catalyst will be, and when it begins.
You can take your pick. The Financial Times reports today that China now resembles the US in 2007 (2). Domestic bank loans have risen 40% since 2008, while “the ability to repay that debt has deteriorated dramatically”. Property prices are falling and the companies that run China’s shadow banking system provide “virtually no disclosure” of their liabilities. Just two days ago, the G20 leaders announced that growth in China “is robust and is becoming more sustainable” (3). You can judge the value of their assurances for yourself.
Housing bubbles in several countries, including Britain, could pop at any time. A report in September revealed that total world debt (public and private) has reached 212% of GDP (4). In 2008, when it helped to cause the last crash, it stood at 174%. The Telegraph notes that this threatens to cause “renewed financial crisis … and eventual mass default.” (5) Shadow banking has gone beserk, stocks appear to be wildly overvalued, the Eurozone is bust again. Which will blow first?
Or perhaps it’s inaccurate to describe this as another crash. Perhaps it’s a continuation of the last one, the latest phase in a permanent cycle of crisis, exacerbated by the measures (credit bubbles, deregulation, the curtailment of state spending) which were supposed to deliver uninterrupted growth. The system the world’s governments have sought to stabilise is inherently unstable, built on debt, fuelled by speculation, run by sharks.
If it goes down soon, as Cameron fears, in a world of empty coffers and hobbled public services, it will precipitate an ideological crisis graver than the blow to Keynesianism in 1970s. The problem that then arises – and which explains the longevity of the discredited ideology that caused the last crash – is that there is no alternative policy, accepted by mainstream political parties, with which to replace it. They will keep making the same mistakes while expecting a different outcome.
To try to stabilise this system, governments behave like soldiers billeted in an ancient manor, who burn the furniture, the panelling, the paintings and the stairs to keep themselves warm for a night. They are breaking up the post-war settlement, our public health services and social safety nets, above all the living world, to produce ephemeral spurts of growth. Magnificent habitats, the benign and fragile climate in which we have prospered, species that have lived on earth for millions of years, all are being stacked onto the fire, their protection characterised as an impediment to growth.
David Cameron boasted on Monday that he will revive the economy by “scrapping red tape” (6). This “red tape” consists in many cases of the safeguards defending both people and places from predatory corporations. Today, the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill is passing through the House of Commons (7), spinelessly supported, as ever, by Labour. The bill seeks to pull down our protective rules to “reduce costs for business”, even if that means increasing costs for everyone else, while threatening our health and happiness. But why? As the government boasted last week, the UK already has “the least restrictive product market regulation and the most supportive regulatory and institutional environment for business across the G20.” (8) And it still doesn’t work. So let’s burn what remains.
This bonfire of regulation is accompanied by a reckless abandonment of democratic principles, not least of equality before the law. In the House of Commons on Monday, Cameron spoke for the first time about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (9). If this treaty between the EU and the US goes ahead, it will grant corporations a separate legal system to which no one else has access, through which they can sue governments passing laws that might affect their profits. Cameron insisted that “it does not in any way have to affect our national health service” (10). (Note those words “have to”.) Pressed to explain this, he cited the former EU trade commissioner, who claimed that “public services are always exempted” (11).
But I have read the EU’s negotiating mandate(12), and it contains no such exemption, just plenty of waffle and ambiguity on this issue. When the Scottish government asked Cameron’s officials for an “unequivocal assurance” that the NHS would not be exposed to such litigation, they refused to provide it(13). This treaty could rip our public services to shreds for the sake of a short and (studies suggest (14,15)) insignificant fizzle of economic growth.
Is it not time to think again? To stop sacrificing our working lives, our prospects, our surroundings to an insatiable god (16)? To consider a different economic model, which does not demand endless pain while generating repeated crises?
Amazingly, this consideration begins on Thursday. For the first time in 170 years, parliament will debate one aspect of the problem: the creation of money (17). Few people know that 97% of our money supply is created not by the government (or the central bank), but by commercial banks in the form of the loans they issue (18). At no point was a democratic decision made to allow banks to do this. So why do we let it happen? This, as Martin Wolf has explained in the Financial Times (19), “is the source of much of the instability of our economies”. The parliamentary debate won’t stop the practice, but it represents the opening of a long-neglected question.
This, though, is just the beginning. Is it not also time for a government commission on post-growth economics? Drawing on the work of thinkers like Herman Daly, Tim Jackson, Peter Victor, Kate Raworth, Rob Dietz and Dan O’Neill, it would investigate the possibility of moving towards a steady state economy: one that seeks distribution rather than blind expansion; that does not demand infinite growth on a finite planet. It would ask the question that never gets asked: why?
Why are we wrecking the natural world and public services to generate growth when that growth is not delivering contentment, security or even, for most of us, greater prosperity? Why have we enthroned growth, regardless of its utility, above all over outcomes? Why, despite failures so great and so frequent, have we not changed the model? When the next crash comes, these questions will be inescapable.
3. G20, November 2014. Brisbane Action Plan. http://bit.ly/1xk6mLR
4. Luigi Buttiglione et al, September 2014. Deleveraging? What Deleveraging? Geneva Reports on the World Economy 16. http://www.voxeu.org/content/deleveraging-what-deleveraging-16th-geneva-report-world-economy
8. G20, November 2014. Comprehensive Growth Strategy – United Kingdom. http://bit.ly/1yPuIv7
That one can not truly love another until you love yourself is a truism that is well-known.
If only it was that simple!
As an earlier chapter, The process of change, illustrated, albeit in a anecdotal manner, loving who one is rests fundamentally on knowing who one is and that, for a sizeable chunk of people, I don’t doubt, is a significant journey of self-awareness.
Stepping lightly over that last sentence, for this section is about change in thoughts and deeds, and focussing on the title to this specific chapter, compassion for self, leads one to pause and ask two questions: exactly what do we mean by self-compassion, and how is self-compassion different to self-esteem?
To be perfectly honest, until I started thinking about the answers to those questions, the differences between self-esteem and self-compassion had previously never occurred to me in the many (too many) years of my life. Yet another surprise that has been visited upon me as a result of writing this book!
But, of course, as soon as one thinks about it, there is a difference between self-esteem and self-compassion! Almost as though the former is an outward-looking perspective of oneself and the latter is the diametric opposite; an inward-looking perspective
Or as Kristin Neff, an associate professor in human development and culture at the University of Texas, Austin, puts it in an article published online by the The Greater Good Science Center, University of California:
Most of us are incredibly hard on ourselves when we finally admit some flaw or shortcoming: “I’m not good enough. I’m worthless.”
And of course, the goalposts for what counts as “good enough” seem always to remain out of reach. No matter how well we do, someone else always seems to be doing it better. The result of this line of thinking is sobering: Millions of people need to take pharmaceuticals every day just to cope with daily life. Insecurity, anxiety, and depression are incredibly common in our society, and much of this is due to self-judgment, to beating ourselves up when we feel we aren’t winning in the game of life.
So if self-esteem is the judgement or evaluation of oneself, self-judgment in other words, and may only be measured, by definition, through comparing oneself to others, then what is self-compassion?
An article published in February, 2011 by Tara Parker-Pope of The New York Times offers an insight that isn’t immediately obvious to one. It opens:
Do you treat yourself as well as you treat your friends and family?
That simple question is the basis for a burgeoning new area of psychological research called self-compassion — how kindly people view themselves. People who find it easy to be supportive and understanding to others, it turns out, often score surprisingly low on self-compassion tests, berating themselves for perceived failures like being overweight or not exercising.
Tara Parker-Pope then refers to Professor Kristin Neff; as follows:
But Kristin Neff, a pioneer in the field, says self-compassion is not to be confused with self-indulgence or lower standards.
“I found in my research that the biggest reason people aren’t more self-compassionate is that they are afraid they’ll become self-indulgent,” said Dr. Neff, an associate professor of human development at the University of Texas at Austin. “They believe self-criticism is what keeps them in line. Most people have gotten it wrong because our culture says being hard on yourself is the way to be.”
Fear of becoming self-indulgent restrains people from being more self-compassionate! I find that counter-intuitive but readily admit that it had never crossed my mind. The article then continues:
Imagine your reaction to a child struggling in school or eating too much junk food. Many parents would offer support, like tutoring or making an effort to find healthful foods the child will enjoy. But when adults find themselves in a similar situation — struggling at work, or overeating and gaining weight — many fall into a cycle of self-criticism and negativity. That leaves them feeling even less motivated to change.
“Self-compassion is really conducive to motivation,” Dr. Neff said. “The reason you don’t let your children eat five big tubs of ice cream is because you care about them. With self-compassion, if you care about yourself, you do what’s healthy for you rather than what’s harmful to you.”
Now that started to make sense to me. Still, if at this point in my learning journey I had been challenged to define precisely what I understood by self-compassion, I would have been bound to display some lingering uncertainties.
Therefore, how does one understand self-compassion in a clear and easily understood manner? Thank goodness for more guidance from the good Professor Neff. Back to that article published by the University of California.
As I’ve defined it, self-compassion entails three core components. First, it requires self-kindness, that we be gentle and understanding with ourselves rather than harshly critical and judgmental. Second, it requires recognition of our common humanity, feeling connected with others in the experience of life rather than feeling isolated and alienated by our suffering. Third, it requires mindfulness — that we hold our experience in balanced awareness, rather than ignoring our pain or exaggerating it. We must achieve and combine these three essential elements in order to be truly self-compassionate.
Self-kindness, recognition of our common humanity and mindfulness. Wow! What a trio of wonderful components.
I took a writing break at this point and went across to our living-room where some of our dogs were larking around. To my eyes, the group of five dogs, from old man Pharaoh, he of the front cover, down to young Oliver of less than a year old, were displaying kindness for themselves, an obvious recognition of their common doggyness and what seemed to me as mindfulness!
Then when I returned to ‘the book’, I couldn’t resist Kristin Neff’s concluding words from the above-mentioned article:
An island of calm
Taken together, this research suggests that self-compassion provides an island of calm, a refuge from the stormy seas of endless positive and negative self-judgment, so that we can finally stop asking, “Am I as good as they are? Am I good enough?” By tapping into our inner wellsprings of kindness, acknowledging the shared nature of our imperfect human condition, we can start to feel more secure, accepted, and alive.
It does take work to break the self-criticizing habits of a lifetime, but at the end of the day, you are only being asked to relax, allow life to be as it is, and open your heart to yourself. It’s easier than you might think, and it could change your life.
Relax, allow life to be as it is, and open your heart to yourself.
Those words should be framed and hung on the walls of every house in the land.
For they provide passionate reasons for changing how we think and, inevitably, how we act.
1,185 words. Copyright © 2014 Paul Handover
A video courtesy of Dognition.
In my research travels across the internet, yesterday I came across this piece that had been aired on CBS back on October 5th.
I came to the video clip after visiting the home page of Dognition, a company that offers a way of learning how your dog sees the world through your dog’s eyes.
Despite the clip only being eight minutes long, it offers incredible evidence of the benefits, to man and dog, of the shared evolution of both species over thousands of years.
Not going to say any more because I don’t want to spoil your enjoyment of what is presented.
So, here’s the video.
Published on Oct 7, 2014
Anderson Cooper meets Chaser, a dog who can identify over a thousand toys, and the scientists who are studying the brain of man’s best friend.
Love to get any comments from you.