and whilst you had your back turned…

You would think that parenting would be the most important role you could have in life. Without parents you wouldn’t exist and if you don’t become a parent, your genes disappear with you and the evolutionary imperative fades away.

Even so, in our modernist, disparate and especially westernised society, we’re no longer brought up in an emotionally nurturing world. The nuclear family unit breaks up as soon as offspring have the wherewithal to leave and in the current economic climate that brings additional pressures of its own as the financial tipping point to move on becomes ever more distant.

As a young adult, not only have you just dragged yourself through an education system focussed on targets and results and fought off the trauma unintentionally imposed by the underlying system-message that anything less than your best is the same as a lifetime of failure, despite the best efforts of some of the teaching profession, you now find yourself at the point where you simply can’t stay any longer but your bank balance chains you to your parental home. You find yourself standing emotionally apart from your parents, as is right and proper.

It’s one of the main drivers in any species, urging the adolescent young to move on and out. It’s the primary source for conflict with parents. Over a surprisingly short space of time, that well-feathered nest becomes way too small to have all those nearly adult egos in one place. Fighting with parents is just nature’s way of managing scarce resources, ensuring maximum chance for genes to go get themselves propagated and telling you to get the hell out of there.

As soon as you’re old enough to want to start genetic mingling with who-knows-who and occasionally who-knows-what depending on parental viewpoint, then all of a sudden it becomes too much to tolerate any form of interference. It doesn’t matter one iota whether that apparently constant nagging is in fact well-meant advice and guidance. It grates like hell and the outside world beckons with open arms and other limbs.

It’s time to move out, move on, carve your own path in the world. Turn your back on the household of your youth and become your own young adult. Make your own mistakes, graze your own knees and fall on that well-padded backside of your youth, standing tall, better for all the confusion that comes with learning from what later on might appear to be really rather daft decision making. It’s how we learn to properly grow up.

And then miraculously, as if from nowhere, with no warning, rhyme or reason those antagonistic parents suddenly transform into rational human beings whilst you had your back turned, almost becoming friends although that might be pushing it a bit. Whilst you weren’t looking they started to make sense, actually having some sound advice on those difficult problems you find yourself facing.

Now obviously this change can’t possibly be anything to do with your own journey into hard-won maturity, they’ve just started to accept that you are now an adult and therefore deserving of respect. And all of a sudden, without really meaning to, you find yourself giving that respect back. Welcome to your twenties.

Obviously it depends on whether your viewpoint is that of the freshly freed parent or the recently matured offspring as to who’s moved furthest and who changed the most. The reality again is good old Mother Nature flapping her evolutionary butterfly wings and ensuring the best chance of survival of the genes. After all, who better to guide you through your own parenting quagmire than those who enabled you to make such a good job of yourself, (always assuming that you were fortunate enough for that to be true and if not, it illustrates a key area where modern society can fall short).

We evolved to live in extended families, in village or tribal communities where everyone knows everyone. Looking out for each other is what we do best and is probably the fundamental basis of that trait we love to hate, gossip. If we all take a close interest in each other’s affairs, albeit that it has intrusive and irritating nuisance value, then as a group we end up taking care of our own, usually whether it’s wanted want or not. Oh, and it sells newspapers and magazines by the bucket load.

Now, I’ve never been a fan of gossip. I never really saw the point so I opted out. I liked to think it was because I was a self-sufficient, (arrogant?), adolescent and always assumed that others were the same. If they wanted to share or ask for my advice, then they would just go ahead and do that very thing wouldn’t they, just as I would. Except that I didn’t. I let that AD companion of mine chunter away for years trying to help me fix my own thoughts.

As I’ve moved through life, I’ve become self-aware enough to recognise lame excuses when I see them, even if that means taking a long hard look in the mirror every now and then. As it turns out, the main reason I don’t do gossip is because if I do then, according to my logic, I become fair game and somewhere deep inside that somewhat convoluted internalisation of mine I’m quite concerned about what I might hear. Hand in hand with refusing to participate in gossip went that unconscious acceptance that much of my sense of self-worth was derived from what those around me reflected back. As always with avoidance motivations, not taking part precipitated exactly what I was trying to avoid. If you don’t participate, you exclude yourself and being excluded automatically makes you fair game.

Strangely, all this brings me to social media.

In our diverse and spread out global village, as the press love to call it, we have lost touch with those nearest and not quite so dearest who used to form the basis of our chatter laden village of the past. The geographical availability of work, together with the drive to earn and the ease with which we can travel not just to other parts of our own country but throughout the world has led to the localisation of relationships breaking down in almost all cases.

There are still cultures where family is everything and the core values of life surround it. Some are matriarchal others patriarchal, yet more revere the elders, hanging upon their every word, (at least, once the young get old enough to realise that one day they too will become an elder, if only they can avoid their innate cheek being the death of them).

Most Westernised nations have all but abandoned this ancient and evolutionarily secure path. It’s very much a sweeping statement based only on the facts assumed from my not that extensive travels and therefore no more reliable than other meanderings but in my no-so-humble opinion, lack of close family ties as a fundamental societal issue bears a close relationship to the concentration and reliance on fast food outlets. (Co-incidence or Cause and Effect?). Think about it. If Family were an important part of life, then a direct consequence is large family gatherings at which the central feature tends to be food. People got to eat.

Now, despite what those commercials may want you to believe, a home cooked feast sits higher up the scale of gastronomic satisfaction than a cooling burger or apparently freshly cooked chicken bits, coated in highly secret ingredients. Isn’t it fascinating how ‘for God’s sake don’t tell them what’s in it’ gets gift-wrapped as ‘Secret Ingredients’. Hooray for Advertising. (Unless of course you’re Rachael, in which case, please substitute the following sentence; Advertising is a vital part of any venture and essential in ensuring that quality products and ideas are able to stand head and shoulders above less reliable pretenders to the purse of the common man, woman or sexually ambivalent human of your choice).

Swiftly getting of that particular soap box and back on the track of the day, it’s my contention that despite its obvious and well publicised drawbacks, social media has become the Village of our age. It is because it is so necessary for our well-being to be able to indulge in casual chat about the non essentials in life, (as well, of course, as the deep and meaningful), and on occasion deliver those gleefully spiteful remarks, that technology has charged to the rescue.

Social media has escalated exponentially since its inception back in 1980 with the launch of USENET. (Social media a recent phenomenon? No way! It’s been around for thirty years or more). All that’s happened since then is that technology has broadened its accessibility and dramatically enhanced ease of use. Via whatever media suits you best, you can now reconnect with a network of individuals and post, read and receive comment about whatever you like, whenever you like. We re-access that automatic support network we don’t really ask for but can’t avoid the urge to indulge in.

The healing basis of gossip is that if everything is on view and trivia is automatically dealt with, then when something important turns up as it surely will and you start to struggle as you surely do, those closest to you will notice no matter how hard you try to conceal it. Before you know it your online community has folded itself around you and either wrapped you in a nurturing blanket to help you get through it or exposed the self-doubt and told you to get over it, usually in fairly explicit terms.

The downside of course, is that the younger you are the more your social media community tends to be a narrow slice of society and this lack of diversity and experience leads to insular views which haven’t  yet developed the experience to handle unbridled critique. Emotional content is injected by the unprepared and socially sensitive reader in the absence of any meaningful body language. Posts are automatically overlaid with the highly personal self-doubt of the reader. That can hurt. But the older you get, the wider your audience becomes in age, geographical and social background. You’re able to give and receive comment from a wide variety of motivations and cultures. Social media comes into its own.

As a result of this thought process and unintended journeying of mine, I’ve taken two of my most prevalent avoidance motivations and reworked them. Throughout my career, time off has been precious. Family is at the core of what I do. After being made redundant last year, a prime objective was to work less often so that I had more time off. I succeeded but still felt as though this time was not yet, well, free. The paradigm shift, (wonderful phrase – I couldn’t work out what it meant for years), came about a month ago. I was so concerned with having time off, days when I wasn’t working, that I was defining them by what I didn’t do. I was marking them by ‘not working’. You can’t judge whether you’re ‘not doing’ something unless you constantly check your success by measuring up against the thing you’re trying to not do.

In effect I was spending all my free time thinking about work. In a jump which was much harder to do than it sounds, I simply changed to having days where I now do whatever I choose, whatever that may turn out to be. And yes, occasionally those days do involve work but only if I choose. I now work two or three days a week. The others are totally my own. Don’t tell Gill.

My other avoidance motivation is the one where I didn’t put my head above the social parapet. In my desire to sense worth by avoiding the potential for negative reflection, to ensure that I only got positive feedback, I missed out on that very thing that gets you accepted. Ten weeks ago I climbed the ladder, raised my head and peered over the top, putting my thoughts down in this blog and waiting to see what happened.

I think it’s a measure of where I now find myself that I am starting to realise a previously unfounded conviction that I could write. Even more so that I’m doing it through the world of social media.

At the tender young age of 52, I’ve finally joined in.

what’s down there…
© Tony Burkinshaw 2012