The family will argue this point but one aspect of my personality that has calmed down with age is my need to control everything and my desire for power.
Some call this ‘wisdom’, and for many of us it takes a long time to get there.
Many of us are guilty of getting so caught up in aspiring to symbols of wealth and power between our twenties to forties, that we forget what’s really important in our lives. It has taken me fifty years to discover that large nugget of wisdom.
I feel morbidly sad these days when I watch the news and witness the latest worldwide atrocities provoked by the need for power and greed, and I defy anyone with a heart not to be affected by them. Only recently in Australia we’ve been shocked by terrible cases of abuse in juvenile detention centres, as well as the death of a young man who was bullied about, and never recovered from, the death of his brother a few years ago at the hands of violence.
Do we feel this level of visceral pain about the plight of others more pertinently as we get older because we become more sensitive to death, because the world’s a more scary place or because we have more time on our hands to seek answers about our own existence and our place on Earth? Perhaps it’s because we have more exposure to the news. I don’t know, but if someone had told me when I was younger that one day I would feel such a pervading fear about what is going on in the world, I’d never have believed them.
This perpetual need for ‘power’ over others seems to be at the root of many of our problems in the modern world, whether the need is driven by a desire for land, to impose faith and relationship rules or by politics. You only have to look at the comparison between the ideals of Trump and Hitler.
Remember when we swore that what had happened in World War 2 would never be allowed to happen again?
It’s easy to blame capitalism for our problems, and the greed which goes hand in hand with that idealism, but modern day warfare is just as prolific in third world countries. Education research this week suggested that teaching children to be competitive in their studies – a strategy once thought to promote thinking – actually encourages the need for one-upmanship in adulthood.
I studied French Literature at university and one French philosopher’s piece of writing always stood out for me when he said that ‘even the working class own dogs’; the analogy being that we all need to have some level of power, and it doesn’t have to emanate from money.
That innate desire to be better than our neighbour will never change. Scientists would argue that competitiveness is in our genes from conception, presumably to aid survival; and history justifies that argument. There have been wars on a macro level for time immemorial – usually to do with increasing power in regard to territory or religion – but the current desire to wield superiority over our fellow human beings on a micro level is very disturbing in a word that is supposed to be progressing.
In spite of everything we have learned about mental health over the past few decades, such as how unfairly sufferers were judged and treated in the past and the effects of trauma on the brain, there are still carers out there, in positions of trust, who use their power to abuse helpless victims.
Evidence of this in relation to the behaviour of Catholic priests, for example, has been heavily documented and the inquiries are still ongoing, but let’s not forget that child abuse occurs daily in our homes and can be verbal, physical and sexual.
And terrorists are now targeting children.
And then there’s the type of bullying that isn’t even publicly recognised as bullying by the majority, where the abuser is more covert in their operations and intentions, such as online bullying or bullying in the workplace, which has to have a correlation with the increase in mental illness and suicide.
When exactly did ‘loving our neighbour’ end?