If Americans are trigger-happy, then so would we be.

There is a lot of debate on gun control. Recently, there was this ironic bit of news where a poster girl against the gun control laws, was accidentally shot in the back by her son.

As much as I agree that seeing what’s happening to our weapons is important, that’s simply not all. India does not have such a strong debate on gun control. We cannot afford one most times, be it legally or financially. We still manage to do a lot of killing though, don’t we? Be it as mobs or because of our silence on what’s happening.

Everyone has the ability to be violent, and the means of doing so are but a small story. The bigger issue is what our minds allow and what our environments promote.

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Violence is a very primal solution to aggression and problems. While it was useful in the jungles, there is reason we grew an entire part of the brain called a prefrontal cortex, in order to have higher order thinking, problem solving and negotiating skills.

If our children are raised with the dual weapon (pun intended) of empathy and strategic thinking, I am pretty sure, they would not resort to physical violence for every little thing.

Then there’s our environment. Right from the food we eat or the medication (especially psychiatric) we take and how it may make us hot headed, to the cues in environment that make violence ‘okay’, all matter when it comes to our ultimate social violent behaviour.

Allowing little violations give a subliminal cue, that larger crimes are also okay. Something as simple or small scale as graffiti vandalism or jumping ticket cues can matter. Malcolm Gladwell points out that in the 90s in New York, the police was able to bring down the crime rate by addressing these two small but very visible signs of disobedience. It gave a signal to the antisocial elements in the city that if such small things are being eliminated, bigger ones definitely will be.

Therefore, Gun control is important, but will not work unless we change the way violence is allowed through our upbringing and environment.

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Brown Skin: The role of abuse of power in Law Enforcement

The case of 14-year old school-boy Ahmed is all over the social media recently. He constructed an alarm clock at home and bought it to school, but instead of getting recognition, he was arrested. It was suspected that having brown skin and being a Muslim made it more likely that he would have constructed a bomb and not an alarm clock. If this racial profiling it itself was not provoking enough, there were parallel and subsequent news reports which added fuel to fire.

Ahmed Mohammed

Ahmed Mohammed

( http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/sep/22/ahmed-mohamed-withdraws-from-texas-school-that-suspended-him-over-clock)

In an alternative case scenario, a Caucasian school boy of thirteen years of age was applauded for building a nuclear fission reactor with the help of his school. More and more people are asking how this is justified considering a nuclear reactor is much more lethal than an alarm clock. Reports also stated that Ahmed or the alarm clock were not isolated which would be the case if he were really with a bomb. None of the usual bomb safety protocol was followed. It is being suggested that it is very likely that everyone knew this was not a bomb. It seemed like an avenue for harassment.

Which raises a puzzling question: why does law enforcement fall prey to confirming and acting by societal stereotypes? Is it the fact that there isn’t enough training to sensitize them to the effects of their unchecked beliefs and social biases that they may not only be carrying but also reinforcing? That is true, but there is more to the story. According to Feminist Theory, Law, Marriage, Religion and Police are some of the many institutions that work to maintain the status quo. Their language, hierarchy and functioning in structured in such a way that they are given power to replicate what they grew up learning, and use policing and justice systems to reinforce it.

Further, the role of power itself may add to the whole problem. In the iconic Stanford Prison Experiment, a team of researchers found that when everyday people were arbitrarily put in the role of prisoner and guard, those in the role of the guards enforced authoritarian measures and ultimately subjected some of the prisoners to psychological torture. Many of the prisoners passively accepted psychological abuse and, at the request of the guards, readily harassed other prisoners who attempted to prevent it. The experiment even affected head of the study Dr, Zimbardo himself, who, in his role as the superintendent, permitted the abuse to continue.

Stanford Prison Experiment

(http://www.prisonexp.org/)

In the highlights of these findings, we really have to question the incomplete training of our law enforcement officials as well as the absolute power we invest in them. Cases of misuse of power are rampant in India too, with high rates of communal crime, non-minority criminals, celebrities getting softer sentences and less punishment, crimes on women and corruption.

Two measures that must take place are intensive training to sensitize officers to the biases they carry and the effect it can have, and the other is that there should be stringent punishment if an officer uses his post for satisfying bias-led harassment and torture.

Law_Enforcement

(http://www.crunchwear.com/law-enforcement-tech-top-5/)

From Dichotomies to Continuums

The title may illicit interests of people with a philosophical/physicist bend of mind, and while I take my principles from there, I’m actually talking about something much more commonplace. People.

We were taught intelligence testing during this first semester of Clinical Psych course. And we were repeatedly cautioned : IQ is just a number, a snapshot of the person, do not think that you know the person entirely just by knowing their I.Q. Why? I.Q falls on the bell curve, a continuum, although it has most people around the centre, but there are people towards the other two ends too – subnormal and supernormal intelligence – NORMAL is decided by what MOST people are. But its not as if normal is good and anything else is bad.

But we do think in those ways. We think in dichotomies. I SHOULD get the best. Or, I am a TOTAL loser. Or, He is completely EVIL. A brilliant new therapy we are learning, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, talks about how such rigid, dichotomous thinking leads to stress, depression, and then the less garden variety type things like OCDs, panic, anxiety and so on. At some level, we know these dichotomies are not real. We could be telling ourselves, “Oh, I do good so I would prefer getting good in return, but since I can’t control everything, I may not get good each time, but that’s ok, I’m not a bad person if that happens’.

So many years of gloating about ourselves, pages and pages written, as proof of our versatality, and yet we can’t think in continuums. Why?

1. It’s shorter to think in dichotomies (I’m stupid) than (I’m a worthy person but seemed to have made a mistake in this situation)

2. It’s simple. this is just an extension of the above, but dichotomies create water-tight compartments, where it is easier to place people. Imagine if you had to meet each new person with a blank mind and did not have categories like ‘indian’ ‘woman’ ‘single’ which have their own stereotypes attached. It would be a lot of work! And we are inherently lazy (or cost-efficient, for a better world)

3. It’s the better option during emergency situations. If you broke your arm, its much easier to make instant noodles, rather than some grand, drawn out lamp chops recipe. But her its ok because a broken arm is not a permanent situation (hopefully). But what would happen if you were to eat instant noodles all the time? Not gastronomical fitness, or delight, definitely. Similarly, it is easier to resort to dichotomies when we are too sad or distressed, and we can’t think clearly. But these situations can keep happening over and over. So we have to train our mind to think in continuums so much, that tha becomes the basic, first, primary response.

Are dichotomies only about adjectives? No, they’re about all yes-no categories. Talented-nottalented, smart-dumb, thin-fat, love-hate, single-committed, and even male-female. There are many in-betweens among each of these. There have to be! Because we are humans, and so goddamn versatile. We could not agree on facts, to save our lives, how can we agree on something so subjective as traits?

So let’s try to not only accept the differences, but the degree of differences.

Let’s go from dichotomies to continuums.

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From the heart (read: mind) of a Psychology student.

Yeah, I was asserting in the title, that be it a lament, like the one which you will endure in the text below, or spurts of joy, all originate from the mind, and not the heart. It just pumps blood, and being the Shahrukh Khan of the body, by being at the right place at the right time, has stolen the show. Anyway, so what’s on my mind right now ? Lot’s of stuff apparently  and it falls into categories too – reflection, angst, frustration, and maybe, insight.

Although, please do not think that when I bang my toe against pieces of furniture (which happens rather often) I yell, ‘Oh damn you, Mistaken Visual Perception!’ No. I just say ‘Damn’. Or, ‘Hey Ram‘ if I’m feeling theatrical. So I’m approaching the last year of my Bachelors and will definitely continue studying psychology in my Masters, and so, as usual, I reflect. And then I have the dumb idea that with so much reflection, I might find employment as a mirror if Psychology fails me. But then I realize that I’d make a bad mirror because being stuck on a wall would turn my usual straightforward-ness into acid sarcasm that wouldn’t procure the best reply when asked, ‘Who is the prettiest of them all?’

So I leave the ideas of alternate employment and wonder about the pros and cons of being a Psy student. First of all, I would offer an affectionate smack to the teachers who went all ‘Psychology is about people, and people are everywhere, so imagine how awesome it would be to study it!!’ First of all, even sanitation is about people, and people are everywhere etc. Secondly, they did not tell that understanding people would not automatically be accompanied by acceptance. And so, although I could not blame someone for something (maybe it’s his genes, maybe its his environment – the Psy version of Maybelline), I wanted to blame them so bad, because, well, people do act rather abashedly stupid at times. And now, you can’t even call them stupid! Great! Because now you Know, with a capital K. Or, N, rather.

So now I understand people a little better, which leads to all the more impatience. Thus, when a girl in Aerobics class complains she didn’t stop eating the pastries until it was just too much because she didn’t realize when she got full, I want to say to her, ‘No, I’m sure your hypothalamus told you to stop when you were full, but you have issues when it comes to pleasure seeking sensations and you happen to find it in food!’, but of course, I don’t. I just give a sympathetic nod indicating that an indulgence once in a while is fine, after all, our Aerobics instructor’s income depends on it.

Then there are those people who get all starry eyed when you tell them you’re studying Psychology, and ask you if you could read their mind. You want to tell them that there’s nothing to read if they are asking such dumb questions, but you just say ‘I think, right now you’re curious about psychology and want to use it to get some unresolved questions answered’, and they gape at you like you pulled a rabbit out of your hat. You shake your head as if you’ve lost all hope and just let it go.

Then, there are some really questionable things within Psychology itself. One example is experimentation on animals, surely, unconditional positive regard just went flying out the window?

Secondly, the almost annoying interference that border on fanatic righteousness of what constitutes in being human. I’ll illustrate with this disorder we studied in Abnormal Psy, called schizotypal personality disorder. A person having it is cold and keeps to himself, but, isn’t antisocial, and does not harm others.If he is happy in being away from human contact, and he isn’t killing people, what the fuzzy flipflop is your problem? It looks to me that YOU are the one who has an OCD of diagnozing and simply can’t leave people alone. And what is the justification? That as a human, emotions are a primary, basic deciding factor, and if a person has an absence of those, why, he has a disorder, of course. Interestingly, homosexuality was a disorder once upon a time too, till they all had an AHA moment, where apparently, who you get coital with doesn’t matter as long as it’s human, consensual and adult. Happy realization!

And then,  there’s the frustration where you know what’s wrong but beyond the explanation, you have little. Like, we know that The Bystander Effect occurs, wherein, during an attack situation, everyone feels someone else will help the victim, but no one does. Now that I know this, maybe i will rush to help, but what of other situations where I’m not? Can you publish about the by-stander effect and make sure that people act in a less awestruck and more pro-active manner? It’s a rosy picture, but I don’t think that will happen.

The frustration isn’t just pertaining to others, but to oneself too. When you catch yourself thinking Dark Broody Thoughts, and the Psy Self tells you that worry is useless and so on, you just want to give the Psy Self a hard kick on its behind. Can’t you even brood in peace, you wonder?

But since I’m in a good mood right now, I’ll end this on a positive note, by saying that Psy has made me wiser, maybe acceptance is something I should learn from somewhere else. Over and out, before the Psy Self takes over and tries to convert me into a Willing Learner or some such crap.

Lost and Confused Signpost

Busy-ness is bliss?

This post happens about 20 days later after the last one. I’m actually surprised the gap isn’t wider, for Third Year or Majors year has completely taken over my time!

I had taken up a freelance writing job, but had to leave it because I could not manage it all. My academics include anew psychological experiment every two weeks (and believe me, the two weeks are not enough to prepare!), group calculations of these findings, making notes, studying, conducting research, submitting project proposals (that will eventually culminate into projects, hopefully!), attending lectures, and lastly, travelling to and fro to college! What? It takes up quite some time, the travelling. Besides, it’s tiring.

So, my 10k per month job went down the drain. But, not only that, I have to make other sacrifices too! I hardly paint these days and the ink in my calligraphy pens has dried due to lack of use. The blog receives less attention. In fact, so does social networking in general. Except Twitter, because it is convenient to access on the move.

And being social with anyone except those in college has taken a back seat. I really hope my friends outside college will understand.

But then, would I be comfortable not working so hard in an important academic year? I have chosen to study something I love and dedication is probably not questioned on those grounds. But I have to deal with a lot of people these days, whose general level of pea-brain-ness appals and disappoints me. Besides that is the fact that, perhaps I need better time management.

Also, not all is lost. For example, even though slowly, I did complete the painting for my room, “The Royal Escape“. I am also able to try some new fonts each weekend.

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Another good thing that’s happening these days is that I’m catching up on my reading. In trains or during meals, it’s easier to read a book as compared to my other hobbies. Since I haven’t gotten time to update my playlist, music is a second priority now (I still have 818 unassorted tracks on the phone though 😀 )

And lastly, I do get new insight regarding psychology each day. I will have a career in this field someday, and this is definitely a start. Besides, this hectic year will be over before I know it. And there is also the College trip to Kashmir. Maybe I will enjoy it all the more because of the being busy for so long? Who knows, maybe busy-ness is bliss!?

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The truth about prayer

I am a theist. I do believe in God. Sometimes people tend to ask me, how can I, despite studying Psychology? Because, according to psy, seeing and talking to something that does not exist in objective reality, is psychotic. And yet, religion is an exception, because it is largely accepted as a culturally prevalent and widespread phenomenon.

However, my prayer has nothing to do with religion. I sometimes pray in the form of Namaz, or I just sit and talk. This is not irrational behaviour, however. I always find out if there is a logic behind some practise and only then do I follow it. For instance, I know that fasting in Ramzan is good for the metabolism, and so I do it. And I have also found that most religious practices do have reasons, or at least had in the beginning, but they were not or could not be passed down the gnerations for some reason or other.

Sometimes, not everyone will understand the logic behind each practise, so they are not told. Sometimes, they are told, but it gets distorted through the times. Therefore, we are left with a mechanical set of actions that we do follow as rituals, but we have no idea why. That is not how my take on prayer is, however.

Whenever we pray, we are asked to clear our minds of other things, and concentrate solely on the prayer. People have misinterpreted this to think that it is the words of the prayer that are to be concentrated on. No, its the action. Words are made such that may rhyme easily and can be remembered well SO that we can easily concentrate on the act of praying.

The act of praying (or meditation) will include movements or counting that is repetative. That is characteristic across all cultures. The reason for the action being repetitive is the same. So that the process gets automatized, so you don’t go off to sleep as you have something to do. But, at the same time, you concentrate not on the movements, but the actual prayer.

So what is the actual prayer? It is when you clear your mind of all else, and try to harness your energy. Now you of course want this to be positive energy and not negative, so all things related to happiness, health and well-being are said as a part of the prayer. I also remember reading somewhere that when we join our hands and align them vertically, our energy gets a proper direction to be generated in.

As I was researching about Islam, I came across a website who have interpreted it very well. They say that God is nothing but a great source of energy. Our souls are minuscule parts of this energy. (So the “har kisi me bhagwan hai” saying deems true). And when we die, we have to face this huge body of energy and our soul is too weak for that. When we pray or meditate we strengthen our soul. This is not only helpful in the supposed after life, but in this one too.

After a prayer or a meditation session that has been done properly, one feels unburdened and ready to face the world. This is why I pray.

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