Random Perception: A New Beginning

There can be little doubt that helping others creates an effect that ripples outwards from both the giver and receiver. Often the opportunity turns up unannounced and there is only a split second to decide whether or not to act and allow those ripples the chance to spread….

This is my latest article in Perception Ezine and the first in my new capacity as their Random Acts of Kindness columnist. I highly recommend subscribing, not just because it increases my readership, but because I personally know some of the regular contributors. It is packed full of meaningful and workable insights into the difficulties that we humans face, thrust as we have been into modernity without  giving evolution the courtesy of having time to catch up.

And so, with appetite duly whetted, read on…

Personally, I’m a big fan of Paying It Forward, a concept which has been discussed in previous issues under the Random Acts of Kindness section. To me the key difference between Paying it Forward and Random Acts of Kindness is that Paying It Forward is more deliberate and to some extent acknowledges the benefit to the giver a little more; there’s nothing wrong with a little inner glow.

For me, there’s always been something about a Random Act of Kindness that brings on an expectation of pure altruism whereby the act should be solely for the benefit of the receiver, almost as if feeling good about being a giver of kindness somehow negates its intention: were you performing the act for benefit of the receiver or simply to make yourself feel better? Surely that would be selfish, wouldn’t it?

So there I was, pondering what to write for this issue’s Random Act of Kindness section, not least because in the previous few weeks I hadn’t to my recollection, been particularly altruistic and no wonderful stories of goodness leapt out at me. Surely as a therapist, I ought to be distributing Random Acts of Kindness left, right and centre every day of the week. After all, if a therapist isn’t routinely altruistic, then who will be?

This left me with a dilemma. Do I write about something from my past? Maybe a story about someone else’s Random Act of Kindness? Or do I wait and hope that the opportunity to perform some noteworthy kindness jumps up and bites me so that I can incorporate it here and spread the word? I figured that the latter would be best as oftentimes recent personal experience carries more weight than stories from the dim & distant. As it turned out, it wasn’t that simple.

In the intervening three weeks nothing has cropped up that I would deem worthy of this section. In fact opportunities have been few and far between, so I took to actively seeking them out.

Walking back from the village post office, I dutifully offered to help an elderly lady with her wheelie-bins but was politely refused with a look of mildly confused distrust.

After a full day in London I was boarding the train home and a woman with two young children was lifting two heavy suitcases through the door. My Galahad-esque offer of help was curtly turned down with barely disguised suspicion. I walked on.

It’s as though the Eisenberg Uncertainty Principle is being applied to Random Acts of Kindness. Perhaps the very act of looking takes away the randomness and kindness. It seems that in order to work, spontaneity is key. Perhaps I’m just not especially random.

That said, I often let people through doors ahead of me; I slow down and let cars in at junctions and slip roads; I smile happily at drivers who look as though their progress depends on the ferocity of their glare, (mostly this breaks their state and they grin back); I’m having several blog-related conversations with people who live in constant pain, offering advice and guidance on pain management techniques. I’ve even gifted several of them a copy of my chronic pain relief download to try out. Perhaps they’ll spread the word, you never know. Mind you, they might not like it at all and spread entirely the wrong sort of word. To be honest, I don’t really care. That’s wasn’t the point.

In the past others have helped me and I’m now in a position where I can help in my own way. It’s enough to pass on something that just might turn out to have been of help even though I reckon I’ve long since paid it all back, or is it forwards, if you see what I mean. And I feel good about it. It’s becoming a habit.

Perhaps spontaneity and altruism aren’t key components of Random Acts of Kindness after all. Perhaps that inner glow is there for a reason, encouraging both the giver and receiver of the kindness to seek out more warmth by spreading it further. Perhaps, what I think of as Paying it Forward is someone else’s Random Act of Kindness. Two sides of the same coin?

Think about it, if you’re fortunate enough to be on the receiving end of a Random Act of Kindness and if that makes you feel good enough to want to do the same for someone else, then in essence that’s not a Random Act, you’re Paying it Forward. Or perhaps I tend to over complicate things that are really quite simple.

Anyway, here’s my next Random Act of Paying Kindness Forwards. And I feel pretty good about this one, so maybe that altruistic fire is burning after all.

On behalf of Perception I’ve set up a brand new Twitter account called ‘@RAK_UK’ which we’d love you to follow. If you’re not yet on Twitter, you might find it was worth joining in, just for this. Even Tina, our hard-working editor overcame her Twitter-phobia to become the very first follower!

 You’re invited to share anything and everything you come across about Random Acts of Kindness or Paying it Forward.

Why not join in? This really is the gift that keeps on giving.

Related Links:

Perception Ezine link

Perception subscription link

@RAK_UK Twitter Link

Tony Burkinshaw Cognitive Hypnotherapy link

Random Acts Of Kindness, Paying It Forward

That’s not random
© Tony Burkinshaw 2013

So how come frozen sperm smells like dope?

Well this is historic.

When I started this blog in August, I was part way through my Cognitive Hypnotherapy training and I began blogging because I was so keen to share the weird and wonderful way my thoughts were flying through my head, (note the AD tendencies – no mention of emotions) and I wasn’t at all sure that I’d carry on writing this blog once I had qualified.

As it happens, I did qualify and am now a practising Cognitive Hypnotherapist. It’s fantastic. Not only that, here I am still blogging. (Hooray! I hear you shout – if I listen hard enough).

I’ll be specialising in chronic pain management and fertility issues as, for a variety of reasons, it just seems like the right thing to do and if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the last year, it’s to follow when the right thing calls.

Unsurprisingly, I’ve read many posts by other bloggers about fertility and pain management as well as writing my own. This one grabbed my attention and I figured you’d be interested enough to read it. It has a properly attention gabbing title as I suppose you’d realise as it did that very thing to me.

So sit back, read on and enjoy Thomasina Marshall’s Diary:

it gets everywhere© Tony Burkinshaw 2013

it gets everywhere
© Tony Burkinshaw 2013

Why Intentions Don’t Matter That Much

In the end, right at the end, it’s what you did that counts. At least that’s the premise.

You set out to achieve. You plan. You intend to do. There is no try. There is only do or don’t do. If you keep track of where you’re headed, you might even arrive.

If you’re not careful, you are of course simply paving the way to the cliché of your choice.

I found a blog this week that not only wraps this concept up really neatly, it does so via a less well known and particularly favourite film of mine. It might also shed light on why those anti-globalisation protesters insist on wearing Guy Fawkes masks…

Why Intentions Don’t Matter That Much

Should I turn it down now?© Tony Burkinshaw 2012

Should I turn it down now?
© Tony Burkinshaw 2012

Over 1000 views from the UK !

I’ve just reached over 1000 views from the UK alone

Many Thanks, I’m really pleased and grateful for your support! It feels like an early Xmas present and it’s good to get there before the Mayan calendar runs out!

Just so you are up to date:

  • 1712 views in total
  • 38 countries
  • 115 WordPress followers
  • over 200 likes
1712 views38 countries

38 countries

I don’t do random

Well I don’t.

Neither did Jason Bourne but as I’m not a highly trained fictitious US assassin, I’ll need another excuse. Mine is just that I’m  AD, so random doesn’t sit well. (Click on ‘So who’s Narrating My Life‘ for more on AD). Impulsive decisions are not a normal feature of my life. I can take days just to decide what to do at the weekend, ask Gill, so for me it really is a good job that a working week is five days long or I’d never get anything done. It’s not that I’m lazy or can’t be bothered, it’s just that unless there’s a clear winner, (and being AD means that almost never happens), then seeing both sides of any choice simply means that as it makes no difference, I don’t decide. I’d be Procrastination Champion of the World if I ever got around to entering the competition.

Do you remember that cat food commercial where 8 out of ten owners who expressed a preference etc.? I didn’t express. I didn’t have a preference. As it happens I didn’t have a cat either, but you get my meaning.

There is, however, more than one way of cooking with random and my AD tendencies aren’t really the issue here. As my sciency mathematician friends will know, random is a fundamental feature of the universe and the world that we know. We take it for granted and usually get it wrong. We aren’t really hard-wired for random. Understanding random doesn’t save your life or propagate your genes.

It doesn’t sell iPods either. Young Mr Jobs, (nice man, good ideas, shame he’s not around any more), thought that a random shuffle should be random, you know, play the next track, well, at random. Unfortunately it didn’t go down too well with the Apple afficianado listeners of those early iPods. You see, if you play the next track at random, then every track is just as likely to come up as any other including another track off the same album as the last track. Seeing as early iPods didn’t come as fully loaded with as many multi-Gigs as they pack in now, there wasn’t enough space for hundreds of albums. So if you had a 20 album iPod, then on average, about every 20 tracks, you’d get 2 tracks played one after the other from the same album and because that’s only an average about half the time it’d turn up more often. Now that doesn’t sound like random to me. That sounds like a mistake. I mean, how can a random shuffle play two tracks from the same album one after another?

Our unconscious can’t cope with that. It looks too much like a pattern and a pattern can’t be coincidence it must be causal, according to the life-saving pattern-hunting sections of our unconscious mind. This lead to so many complaints that the so-called random shuffle wasn’t really random that legend has it Apple changed their shuffle programming to make the shuffle ‘less random so that it felt more random’. It actively deselects tracks if the previous track was from the same album. Are we odd, or what?

Periodically some newspaper, (sorry about the pun, it was accidental), or other will spot a cluster of supposedly non-infectious illnesses in a small geographical location and assert that there must be a link, an underlying cause. They’ll go looking for the nearest environmentally unfriendly site and promptly declare that there must be some link between the wind turbine farm and leukaemia. Random events aren’t evenly spread. If they were evenly spread then they wouldn’t be random, (well they could be but if you’re following all this, you’ll know that it’s extremely rare). Take that thought one stage further and a direct consequence is that random event absolutely will produce clusters for no other reason than that is what random does, unless of course it doesn’t because it’s one of those million to one chances when random decides to act even handedly.

Whether its three tracks from the same album in a row or several apparently unrelated people in the same area contracting the same illness, that’s just how random behaves. Not that this human obsession with patterns is always a bad thing. It was one of the early indicators that alerted the medical community to the dangers of thalidomide. Up until then, it was incorrectly assumed that drugs could not cross the placenta. They were wrong.

Mind you it can work the other way. The recent MMR scare, irrespective of whether there actually is a causal link between MMR vaccine and Aspergers, (the debate for that one has been closed by medicine but there still remains quite a level of disquiet out there), meant that the take up rate was low enough to stop what’s known as herd immunity, that’s the level of communal immunity which prevents one or two cases spreading into an epidemic. It doesn’t protect every individual but it does protect the ‘herd’. Many children who should have been protected caught measles as a result. We had a mini epidemic. As an aside, is it coincidence or cause that we call it ‘herd’ immunity and the word ‘vaccine’ is derived from the Latin for a cow?

Predicting the future can absolutely save your life. Best guesses become critical. If more humans make good predictions than a bad ones then more people survive and the species staggers along into the next millennium. It’s worked for us so far. Evolution designed us to recognise patterns. We notice order amongst chaos, (another favourite theory of those sciency maths geeks I know and which may well be something for a later post). How often have you thought you could see a face in the pattern of the floor tiles, or in the curtains in the moon light? How often have you jumped at a threat that just wasn’t there, no more than a passing shadow?

Leaping out of the way of a passing shadow that’s no more harmful than a breath of air keeps you alive. You never know, it just might have been that mythical long-toothed cat that keeps cropping up in these posts. (I really must develop another evolutionary protagonist, this one’s getting weary and losing motivation). Humans being humans, it just might have been the nearest and dearest of that man that got killed (cause) when you raided the next village and they’re out for revenge, (effect). Of course, depending on which rain forest you were in, it might just be Sunday and time to cook the roast dinner.

As it turns out, the direction I’m headed off in, hopefully with you still in tow, is towards that blurred area of confusion where Random meets Cause and Effect. You see, whilst we don’t do random, we definitely do do cause and effect (and, just to keep Trevor happy, Complex Equivalence as well). Intuitively, humans don’t get the random nature of our world. Mostly because an awful lot happens in it that isn’t random, least while concerning those things that we really can influence.

If you were going to design a brain to keep its multi-celled host organism alive, which would be more important? To have a full and deep seated understanding of random events, which by their very nature can’t be predicted and if one of them is going to kill you, the very fact that it’s a random event means that you won’t see it coming. Or would you concentrate on those causal patterns which give you some measure of prescience so you can take steps to avoid what might be happening even if it does have you jumping at shadows?

Personally, I’d go for shadow jumping every time when it comes down to that tradition of life or death decision making, otherwise you’d have to be actively calculating the standard deviation of all the possible random futures to work out which of the multiple potential nasties is most likely to turn up and even then you’d have a 32% chance of being wrong.

I can already hear the maths and science chappies jumping up and down about how useful our current understanding of random chance is and they are absolutely correct. It is vital in our current technological world to help us take steps beyond deterministic prediction and into the world of the quantum. Back in the day, when building even bigger nuclear bombs was all the rage and got you a Nobel prize, (why is the Peace Prize named after the chap who invented dynamite?), it was the development of a mathematical technique which took into account all possible variations of random uranium decay to predict the most likely fission chain-reaction which accurately allowed the bomb to be designed without destroying the lab during the test runs. They even called it the Monte Carlo Simulation, naming it after… well, it’s obvious really.

However, despite its scientific and technological usefulness, people don’t naturally recognise random events as random. Think about it. Do you ever do the lottery? It’s truly random. But people still feel they have lucky numbers. They still talk about numbers becoming over-due, as if there’s a natural pressure on them to turn up soon. Particularly difficult to get your head around is that you’re just as likely to win using last week’s jackpot numbers as any other set you may care to choose. Hold on, I can hear your objections already. The jackpot numbers have never turned up twice! I know.

Look at it this way, there’s a one in fourteen million chance, (actually it’s precisely 1 in 13,983,816 not that it makes much difference at these odds), of any particular set of numbers actually turning up and there have been less than two thousand draws, so statistically we haven’t even scratched the surface yet. To put it in perspective, if these odds were a flight in Trevor’s private Quest helicopter from Regent’s College in London to Sydney then we’d only have been in the air for a minute and a half. If it were a sneeze, you wouldn’t have felt the first twitch of your nose yet. And, yes, legend has it that you’re more likely to get struck by lightning than win the lottery.

Bill Isles famously bought 3 lottery tickets in Witchita for the mega-millions prize draw. He got struck by lightening. And didn’t win the lottery. You’d think that would prove my theory, however as always, there is a twist. It turns out that our Bill is a Storm Spotter with the National Weather Service, so maybe the odds were stacked against him and he’s not good example of random after all.

The issue is that our brains keep on trying to see the sense in our environment and for our brains, random just isn’t sense. It remains invisible to our senses which insist that everything must happen for a reason and the reason it does this is to give us the illusion that we can control our destiny. If we maintain that illusion, then we’ll try to control our world. And if we try, then we really will spot the stuff we can control or influence and we’ll manipulate the situation to our advantage if we can, make it through another day. If of course it really was a random event, then we don’t actually influence it at all. It just happens the way it would have anyway. We survive or we don’t.

Here’s the catch. If we try to deal with a random event and don’t die, (sorry to be morbid here), then our brain slots another survival behaviour pattern into our memory. The first time you jumped in a swimming pool, you got a mouth full of water and choked. The first time you asked your teacher a question, she told you to stop being a nuisance. When you picked your first lottery numbers back in 1994, you chose your family’s birthdays and you so nearly won the jackpot! Guess what you still do.

If it’s a good consequence we do it again, if it’s bad we try to avoid it, to behave in a way to make-it-not-happen-please. And because our brains like certainty, whatever our original unconscious conclusion was it will look for evidence to support it, reinforce it. It’ll ignore everything else because everything else is now irrelevant. It’s made up your mind for you and you’re still alive. What more proof does it need.

Before you know it, if the original random event or consequence was strong enough, you have your very own superstition. Ever heard of Halloween? Or if you were unlucky, your very own a phobia or anxiety uniquely and painfully tailored to your very personal triggers. The problem you face is that your unconscious will run your standard behaviour pattern whenever that trigger turns up, no matter what social consequence it might have because its fundamental design is to keep you safe. If you’re still alive at the end then it’s working thank-you-very-much-for-your-concern. No matter how hard you try, you’re unconscious absolutely will do it again.

Unless, that is, you’re lucky enough to find something or someone to shine a light bright enough to make your unconscious sit up, take notice and see clearly. Then it has a chance to recognise new information. It doesn’t want to, so you’ll have to convince it. Take it back to where it all began. Look at it again in that new light. Fortunately, all memory is plastic and if you can find someone to help you remodel your memories, you might stand a chance.

I used to make models as a child. I’d melt them, mould them, refine them into something new. In a way, I still do. Come and see me. I’ll show you.

They must be very large chickens
© Tony Burkinshaw 2012