Character

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File:Battle Between Greed and Generosity.jpgZimbardo would not have stopped the Stanford Prison Experiment on the sixth day but for an argument with his girlfriend. When the guards took the prisoners to the toilet at 10pm, hooded and abused, he said, “Isn’t this interesting?” And she told him it was disgusting. “They are not prisoners or guards, they are just boys!”

I think it likely she helped him to see, rather than merely he wanted to keep dating her. He was a victim of his own experiment.

I noticed that when someone was generous to me while driving- letting me pull out into heavy traffic, say- I would drive more generously after that than if someone cut me up. So sometimes I intentionally sought to drive more generously, and if there were a ripple effect that would delight me. It is possible to practice generosity, and sometimes I would still be mean. When a beggar told me a long, wheedling lie, and I told him I recognised him from last time and remembered it- sudden disaster, urgently need transport to Sheffield- I did not give, and am unsure that was the Right response. Good enough, I think.

There might be an innate predisposition to generosity, which is dependent on the situation. Or, it might be more constant. Or it might be an active choice, but still variable; or a rigorous, long practised choice which is fairly constant. The last is the good character which stands up to the Stanford Prison Experiment, which we would admire as Good Character.

File:Break the Wall of Distrust sculpture, Cannon Street, London.JPGAnd now, a paradox. It seems to me that a trusting nature is part of that Good Character which is worthy of cultivation- don’t fear the dog will bite unless it shows clear signs of that, deal with the bad situation when it comes rather than imagining possible bad situations, think the best of people. And- in childhood and in less mature people and in me I notice a desire to find the rules, and follow them. That is trust in authority simply because it is authority. I think it is that trust in authority, the disconnect which made the dupe obey Milgram’s researchers (Milgram and Zimbardo go together like a horse and carriage) that corrupted them rather than lack of fellow-feeling.

An example from a blog I cannot find again: one trusts Bible translators to be scholars, doing their best to interpret its meaning, surely? Well, no, they incorporate their prejudices. That blog looked at 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 of which the NIV is only one of the more egregious examples: the Greek and the meaning is not “men who have sex with men”, it is far more restricted than that.

I can mould myself, and be different from how I might otherwise have been. Am I therefore in some way a different person from how I was before all this practice of generosity and questioning authority?

Pearl of great worth

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/15/Portrait_de_Caterina_Sagredo_Barbarigo_par_Rosalba_Carriera.jpgJanet was a pioneer of caring for dementia patients without sedation. Well, you would not want sedated, yourself.

Was it a carer I met, or on the telly? She told of a man who regularly wet himself, and given that he had been moved to a care home and been unable to learn where the toilets were, she could sympathise with him doing this, and his distress.

I met a woman who wept bitterly as she told me of her inability to care for her mother, her mother’s random and damaging acts, how her mother could get up in the night and wander off. Now I read of a man who talks to his wife in his love for her as she keeps up a wordless muttering, then, still holding her hand, talks to another as if she were not there. So relatives can mourn for a loved one even as the body survives; at the funeral they are not sad as they have done their mourning; yet they care for that living body as if it were still the loved one.

Janet believes in a “Pearl” at the centre of the human being, which is utterly Them. Peeling the onion, one peels off more and more layers but at the centre is a tiny part which can no longer be peeled. Julian Baggini, whose book The Ego Trick I got from Terry, says that modern theorists give no credence to this pearl idea- the self has no fixed essence, it is in part a construction and the autobiographical narratives we tell ourselves invent an order and cohesion that real lives lack, p.83. Though on meeting friends from undergraduate days he finds them fitting together as they had twenty years ago, the same mannerisms coming out; and writes of threads of memory connecting the child, the man, the old man.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/b/be/CdM%2C_intaglio_di_giulia%2C_figlia_di_tito%2C_seconda_met%C3%A0_del_I_secolo_dc.%2C_acquamarina_firmata_da_Evodos%2C_montatura_carolingia_%28IX_sec.%29_con_9_zaffiri_e_6_perle.JPG/470px-thumbnail.jpgI remember as an undergraduate arguing passionately that a gay man- with a partner, forsooth!- should not be serving at the altar of the Episcopal cathedral; and that it is not choice but responsibility to the child growing in her womb that the mother should think of. These arguments I find despicable now, but if you think no decent person could ever have thought that, well, walk a mile in my shoes. One is flat, the other high-heeled.

My morality may change from conservative to liberal (proving I have no heart and no head) but I see characteristics in my nephew as a baby, child and young adult which look consistent. And I think of my Femaleness as my core, which does not change. I add to that my feeling-intuitive nature. I was not conscious of them as an undergraduate but other people may have been, and I think of them as suppressed rather than as not there.

The Pearl would fit Carl Rogers’s “Organismic Self”, and perhaps I construct my understanding of my experience around that theory. Had I read Julian Baggini first, and loved it as I love Rogers, would I see myself as more changeable now? Some parents who seemed always peaceable in dementia become violently angry- “My mother never used to swear”- but then, if you do not know where you are and people you do not know want to tell you what to do in such a confusing manner, well-