Credibility and connection: personality theory

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It really infuriates me when people dismiss a topic out of hand. It often happens when I mention something I believe in that is slightly off the beaten track, and whoever I’m talking to gets the smug look on their face that precedes their making a definitive statement about a topic they know almost literally nothing about.

“Oh, personality types?” they say. “Well, that’s just putting people in boxes, isn’t it?”

I don’t know, is it? Do you know anything about it, or are you just working off an assumption you’ve made based on a comfort born of ignorance? Have you taken the time to try and understand the topic before assuming you can dismiss it?

The answer is usually, no.

Human nature

Don’t get me wrong, I can see what’s happening – I’m surely guilty of it myself often enough. I understand that we fear new knowledge, and that not everyone possesses a need to analyse and understand everything. Or perhaps lots of people do, but they confine their interest to certain widely-accepted fields of knowledge, such as the natural world, politics, philosophy or general history.

Or perhaps they just want to watch some TV.

My primary area of knowledge is people, which I consider a valid category for understanding in the same way as chemistry or mathematics.

From my observations over my short life so far, there is a human system at work, maybe more than one, and I intend to understand what it consists of. I maintain that understanding people, their motivations, fears and desires, is not simply restricted to the fields of psychology, sociology or psychoanalysis, though one could be forgiven for thinking it was.

Systems thinking

In the same way as I want to understand computer systems, I want to understand human systems.

I think it comes down to labelling. A fear of putting things in boxes, and wanting to stay inside a box of your own making, and so closing your mind to any system that usefully might be able to categorise difference, because it threatens your complacency about yourself and others.

I think the basic problem is a failure to understand that personality typing is a system rather than a set of static definitions – but first, what is a system?

For the explanation of which, we will turn to Wikipedia:

A system is a set of interacting or interdependent components forming an integrated whole.

That is the point of personality typing systems. The purpose of the system is up to us, and therefore it is admittedly open to abuse.

People who are interested in the theories place their own values on using certain labels to justify their actions, find affinity with their ‘type’ or dismiss other types, but that is not the fault of the system.

That is the fault of human nature.

Value versus objectivity

I’ve been thinking about forms of knowledge and the tendency of human beings to create hierarchies. We impose values on systems which are actually just neutral, and therefore risk the integrity of the system.

Typology systems are frequently abused by their own zealous adherents, who for example want to find a link between being a certain personality type and liking a particular flavour of ice cream, or suggest that their type is more ‘intelligent’ than other types.

Hardly anything could be further from the point of Jung’s original personality theory. I think he’d be baffled and amused by the notion, and probably write down some notes about it.

The two main personality systems I’m interested in at the moment are: Jung’s theory of psychological functions, and Riso and Hudson’s Enneagram theory, which is a system of spiritual and emotional development.

Together, they represent mind and spirit respectively, and I believe they are interconnecting systems.

As an aside, I’m also interested in other systems that can help me to understand the rest of the human experience: for example, neurobiology to understand the body, and I’m working on finding one to apply to the external environment.

What’s the point?

But why be interested in systems at all? Why not just accept life as it is, and stumble relatively blindly through it?

It arises from my need to understand my environment and the people in it, and a belief in the greater possibilities for achievement and growth that can be attained if one uses a sensible system. Systems provide appropriate language we can use to understand each other more deeply and effectively, and a roadmap to help us navigate through the quagmire of life.

Unfortunately, many misconceptions arise from mistaking the part for the whole, and mistaken notions about typology – both Enneagram and Jung’s theory – fall into this category.

Labels are a necessary component of a complex system, and are what you could term the language of the system, but are not the system in its entirety.

Labels like ‘INFJ’ and ‘Fours’ are not the purpose of personality systems, but simply a language for people to use to express themselves and communicate these ideas with each other. The reason personality systems can be difficult to penetrate for beginners is the fact that, to use a system, one must first learn its language, which takes time and dedication.

Rather than limiting or restricting the staggering complexity of human experience, labels are signs and symbols with which to express phenomena that is readily observable using basic powers of perception.

We can also use such observations to formulate insights able to predict patterns and behaviour, and hopefully even avoid potential pitfalls.

Where does it come from?

Whether personality systems are embedded in the fabric of our biology, or a pattern we unconsciously choose to see because it’s in our nature to do so, isn’t really important to me.

Divinely ordained? Maybe, maybe not.

Whatever caused a system to exist wouldn’t change my desire to understand it.

All this talk of systems is exhausting, especially as someone who operates primarily based on feelings and whims. But I’m trying to develop my logical capabilities, and hopefully not sounding too mad or stupid in the process.

But why, why try to understand human beings? For a very human reason.

To help with self-development and growth, and try to understand and nurture the complexity of being human. To see where we fit into this cohesive, magnificent whole. The idea of being connected spiritually and mentally to a system of human beings is thrilling to me: not limiting, but expansive.

The need I have  to define and explain this experience is almost impossible to ignore.

Read some more about prejudice against certain types of knowledge, or some nice poetry. 

300x350-catCatherine Julianne is a writer and digital communications professional interested in the field of personality theory. She also likes drawing, meditating and being in nature. 

Tips for creative productivity

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These are general tips for all those secret artists in the world who need a little bit of help to get started. We’ve all been there. Where do you want to go next?

  1. Start small so it gets finished. Long projects are great and necessary too, but the immediate gratification of finishing and showing people something can keep your enthusiasm up.
  2. Do a little bit every day, even just for ten minutes, so you’re always making progress. Protect your time, so on some days you can do more than ten minutes.
  3. Identify what art form makes your heart sing – drawing, writing, poetry, song writing – and go with it.
  4. Get people to look at your work even when you think it’s not perfect or finished. They’ll see things you haven’t yet, and you can start improving it earlier than you would have otherwise.
  5. Ask for help and guidance when you need it. If you’re stuck on where to take your novel, or how to print your postcards, ask someone who knows how for help – everyone is usually really happy to advise other budding artists.
  6. Use visual aids – if you’re writing a story, for instance, find pictures of people who you think are most like your characters so you can see them, or sketch out the room your scene takes place in.
  7. Make friends with other people who produce creative work so their drive can inspire you.
  8. Go to places like DIY art fairs where people are out there actually selling their work and see them in action. It will then be easier to imagine yourself taking the same action.
  9. Tell people about what you’re doing – this is motivates you to actually produce something.
  10. Find other people to work with. Seeing their creative process can spur you on to keep persisting at what you’re doing. You can meet up with someone to draw or write together, and bounce ideas off one other.
  11. Find a place you like to work in that reflects your creativity. That could be coffee shops, parks or a studio space, if that’s available to you.
  12. Think of yourself as a creative person. When this becomes part of your identity, there will be nothing more natural than producing creatively.
  13. Dress creatively – let your creativity permeate every part of you.
  14. Offer your creative services to others. When there is a demand for your work, you’d be surprised at how this ups your drive to produce.
  15. Consider your productions a gift for others. This is motivating as it then comes directly from the heart.
  16. Speak to your friends about how they get their work out there. For example, you can get tips on whether Blogger or Tumblr are the best platforms to use and how they use it. Maybe you can distribute what you create together, such as at art fairs or through various online platforms which they might be able to recommend.
  17. Post your work on free online platforms like WordPress so you can signpost people you meet towards it, and share the links using social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
  18. Collect work that reflects what you’d like to produce. For example, if you’re making a ‘zine, buy some ‘zines like the one you want to produce so you have inspiration and something to reference (if money will allow).
  19. Always remember that each experience gives you something to reflect on and learn from.
  20. Think about the future. Have an idea of what you’d like the outcome of selling/distributing your work to be, but be willing to do less well than you expect. 
  21. Have business cards so people can find you and your work after they’ve met you.
  22. Imagine yourself giving the finished article to people. Visualise their positive feedback and imagine them spreading the word.

JessJessica Marie is an aspiring novelist living in London. She’s inspired by new experiences, ideas and music. 

It would be amazing if these tips spurred you on to do something creative. Now, take a look at some webcomics.

Image: Unsplash

Writing tips for budding authors

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Here are some writing tips from guest contributor Jessica Marie. These are aimed at those skilled, budding authors out there. Remember, you’re not alone!

  1. Finish what you start. If you can’t think of an ending, a middle or even a beginning, make it bad. At least it will be finished, and then you’ll have something to bounce off and improve.
  2. Don’t wait for perfection. It doesn’t strike, but is crafted. You have to push through all the less great ideas/words/characters/settings/images and refine. If you’re waiting for that inspiration that hasn’t struck yet, do something useful in the meantime and write anyway. It’s good practice.
  3. Develop your narrative voice. For me, I go for a poetic-come-philosophical narrative voice/style, with a view of the horizon as well as an anchor in the present that emerges from the past. Go for mundane details, then polish them into something with a flavour of the narrator that interweaves perspective, opinion and observation.
  4. Make use of imagery. Make me see everything.
  5. Think about your own reaction. If you’re bored, the reader will be bored.
  6. Look around you at the world, take note of things. Your characters can then take notice of these things. Take notice of people. Your characters can become more real. Perhaps sit in a cafe to write: people-watching really is good inspiration.
  7. Use Enneagram/Myers-Briggs Type Indicator/any credible personality typing system to flesh out character.
  8. Take time out. Leave it for a bit and then come back to it.
  9. Make time for writing. Even just fifteen minutes a day is a good habit to get into.
  10. Put your heart into it. Put your self into it
  11. Have confidence – dream big, be fierce, and also be a sensitive storyteller. Look for examples of this kind of story-telling in films and books.
  12. Create beautiful scenes which you would like to be in, live out, feel out.
  13. Enlighten. Tell the reader things they already know but have not yet found the words to express themselves.
  14. Know what excites people.
  15. Move away from speech. Dialogue and setting are great, but scenes with no dialogue – that incorporate action and movement instead – have complementary charm. The keywords are: wittiness, action, emotion, revelations, growth, philosophy, mistakes, fallibility, heart.
  16. Show people your work, get feedback, and listen to some of it. Ask them to put smiley faces next to bits they like, which will become good indicators of what to keep in during the editing process.
  17. Write with others. Perhaps start a weekly writing club with a friend that takes place in a favourite spot.
  18. Work through night if inspiration strikes.
  19. Find a cheap way of printing drafts. Work is a good place. Don’t leave copies lying around the printer, though – it might raise awkward questions.
  20. Read books that are like those you want to write. Read books that are different. Read about writing.
  21. Imagine. Imagine people reading your book. Imagine the whole process from writing to dissemination. Imagine people telling you they’ve really enjoyed it and that they’re dying to read another one of your novels!

Jess

Jessica Marie is an aspiring novelist living in London. She’s inspired by new experiences, ideas and music. 

We hope these tips are in some way helpful and inspire you to start (or keep) writing. Now, have a read of some poetry.

Image: Unsplash

Hackney to Holborn: from feminism to wedding fever

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I enjoyed going to Caitlin Moran’s recent talk immensely, which took place in a tiered Hackney theatre full of sweating bodies on the hottest day of the year so far.

Not surprisingly, it was about feminism, shame and insecurity, as well as her new book How to build a girl. Standing up and proclaiming the power of my womb with a room of a thousand other women and a few dozen men was a highlight of the evening.

Perhaps it revived the feminist in me, who went to sleep when I left the intellectual battleground of university and started working in my most recent job in Holborn, which is the least misogynistic place ever (apart from perhaps the Feminist Society).

Every single director in my office is female, and every one of them is currently off on maternity leave, having all recently had babies.

Wedding fever

At work, every time someone gets engaged, married or has a baby, we celebrate. I’m not an idiot; I can appreciate people getting exciting by these rites of passage, but I usually find it hard to muster the same enthusiasm.

Give me a gorgeous piece of poetry, a truly heart-wrenching story, or a thrilling new personality typing system, and then I’ll start waxing lyrical.

I’m happy if other people are happy, but the idea of wanting to get married so much amazes me. I’m wondering if this notion will fade over time, when the real possibility of dying alone filters properly down to my subconscious.

Right now, though, while the jury’s still out for me, wedding fever seems to have gripped my small team of nine. There have been two engagements in the past couple of weeks and another looms imminent.

I hope I don’t sound bitter but I’ve never *truly* appreciated how keen girls are to get married until now – though I’ve dimly noticed it through the diatribes of feminist rhetoric.

A classic game

It’s almost like a set of dominoes. Obviously, once one is knocked over, the rest soon follow in an unstoppable chain reaction. Perhaps it’s conditioning, and perhaps I have an unadmirable need just to be different from the herd.

Despite personal doubts about the authenticity of my opinion, I still have an unshaken conviction that I don’t want to find a boyfriend and get hitched – but a negation is not the same as a desire.

So what I really desire is to be independent and free, free to choose exactly where I move to, how to spend my days and exactly when and how to follow my countless passions.

I suppose one would say that if you find the perfect partner, they could do those things with you, but then they wouldn’t be your passions anymore, would they? Further, why is a romantic union the highest ideal we can aspire to? Certainly they are incredibly fun, at least for a while (in my experience).

Following your passion

This could be the bitterness of a recent dumping talking, or my youthful age of 25, but I feel that even though as a society we prize getting married and settling down as an ideal, when really there are many more worthy things you could be spending your time doing.

You could find a complete cure for all disease. This idea is terrifying, because we all need something to fight against, and surely eradicating disease would result in a new problem for humanity. We’d probably implode in nuclear fashion, instantly.

But truly, the idea of having a ring and buying a house and a wedding doesn’t fill me with any particular longing, though maybe I’m in denial.

What I can say is that publishing a book that changes someone’s life and touches their heart does. Living in Brighton and owning a teashop does, as does the prospect of spending days by the sea with the wind in my hair.

Hoping your sister ends up alone, too

Perhaps romance does fit into that. I certainly would like to think I won’t end up totally wizened and alone, but I don’t envision a typical path to getting there. Wedding fever really has baffled me; I am both intrigued and a little terrified.

Maybe all girls are secretly waiting for their handsome prince to come and rescue them from fading, slowly, on the shelf. Fuck changing the world; it’s doomed anyway…! Or perhaps not as important as self-gratification.

In terms of my work, I wonder what will happen next? Will someone soon announce their pregnancy and group conception will follow like wildfire, in some kind of fertility osmosis? The possibilities are endless, surely.

Read this incredible article from my favourite website Brain Pickings about how love and sex don’t always go together.

Re-watching nineties teen movies as an adult: Drive Me Crazy (1999)

Drive Me Crazy (1999)

So you know when you re-watch films from your childhood and you get that feeling of, wow, I did not get this film when I was a kid. I wasn’t quite expecting to have that feeling about Drive Me Crazy (1999), ostensibly a romantic teen comedy about two neighbours who pretend to fall in love as a way to manipulate their respective love interests (both have been spurned). Essentially, it stars Melissa Joan Hart, the actress who played Sabrina the teenage witch, and some other people.

Whilst I remember being distinctly unimpressed when I watched this film all those years ago, it turns out I may have just been confused. This time, I loved it. Aside from being side-splittingly funny and satisfying my feminine craving for a dose of romance, it imparted a deeply resonating moral that I simply wasn’t expecting.

As a writer, one dimension of character development (whether that be in book, film or on TV) that particularly interests me is how two people can have a transformative effect on one another – especially if the two characters are complementary opposites. Though this is probably most simply described as ‘character tension’, I am interested in how one can go beyond simply creating dramatic tension and instead exploring how two people, ostensibly clashing, can actually enrich one another, given fertile circumstances.

So, in this case, Melissa Joan Hart’s character is nicknamed “Miss School Spirit.” A girl called Nicole, her passion is high school and her ambition is to stage the centenary alumni dance (alumni are graduates of a school or university).

The story kicks off when her bitchy friend indirectly causes her love interest, Brad, to ask a cheerleader to the dance instead of Nicole. Now, while the concept of teenagers asking each other to dances is distinctly American, I think we can overlook this bizarre cultural convention in the interests of narrative analysis.

Paralleling this turn of events, Nicole’s neighbour, Chase, is dumped by his girlfriend for refusing to attend a protest against animal testing. In contrast to Nicole, Chase is a self-consciously-styled social anarchist who enjoys disrupting and mocking mainstream high school life. Nicole and Chase are neighbours, and in order to save face, Nicole insists that Chase take her to the upcoming dance – which will also serve as a way to make his ex-girlfriend jealous, and hopefully take him back.

So, to cut to the chase, whilst the two main characters initially hook up with one another as a means to an end, [spoiler alert] they ultimately end up transforming one another, and enabling each other to live more authentic, happier lives. I particularly like the character dynamic of Chase as a complex, brooding, disaffected youth being ‘loosened up’ by the peppy Nicole, who nevertheless has a slightly ironic, quirky, edgy side to her. She shows him the value of participating in wider society, whilst he imparts a sense of pride in the individual and being true to oneself.

The conclusion of the film, after the prerequisite emotional drama, is that Nicole and Chase’s mutual respect and trust for one another can override traditional social cliques, fostering a genuine human connection. Humanity and kindness are shown to be more important than tribalism, though the film displays unusual depth in that the ‘jocks’ and cheerleaders are not presented as sociopathic – rather, slightly unthinking and moronic but relatively good-natured.

Another moral of the film is that individual identity is not shackled to the temporal traits of personality; rather, the self is fluid and ever-changing. I think it’s incredible that the filmmakers manage to express this idea through a teen romantic comedy, which I spectacularly failed to grasp at the age of twelve.

The sophistication of this film, I think it’s fair to say, is breathtaking. I love characters – especially in romantic contexts – who relate to one another through tension and opposing worldviews. This opens the doorway for a reconciliation of opposites, through the medium of paradox: a process which I find uniquely satisfying.

Some of my other favourite literary and cinematic examples of this character dynamic are:

  • Eliza Bennett and Mr Darcy from Pride and Prejudice (eighteenth-century novel by Jane Austen)
  • Lyra and Will from His Dark Materials (children’s fantasy series by Phillip Pullmann)
  • Kat and Patrick from Ten Things I Hate about you (romantic comedy film by Gil Junger)
  • Suki and Eric from True Blood (vampire TV series by Alan Ball)
  • Rick Castle and Kate Beckett from Castle (comedy detective TV series from NBC)

The core of the relationship between the characters in Drive Me Crazy, and similar narratives, is based not on mutual reinforcement of familiar values but unswerving challenge of each other’s status quo. Neither character will compromise their independence, but both are willing to grow through a mutual exchange of ideas and support. I strongly recommend this film to everyone, though I may have oversold it a bit.

I’d really like more suggestions of films, TV shows or books where this transformative character dynamic is done really well. Any ideas?

NB: This blogger didn’t agree with my analysis in 2011. I’m not particularly surprised!

New Age Hippies in 2015

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It seems reasonably common for people to be quite sceptical of what they perceive as ‘new age’ practices. I certainly was the same as a teenager, considering activities like meditation, yoga, vegetarianism and spiritual development as mainly for kind of crazy people. A few years ago, anything to do with ‘spirituality’ was generally rather negatively portrayed in the media, and associated with rather unflattering stereotypes like ‘hippies’ and ‘spiritualists’.

If you watch old TV programmes like Jonathan Creek now, it becomes even more clear just how negatively these kinds of quasi-religious people used to be seen in society – ranging from morally bankrupt fraudsters to complete idiots. And yet, well into the twenty-first century, perhaps what would have formerly been called ‘new age’ practices (at least they were when we studied them in sociology) display an even more diverse and rich variety.

Whereas once I saw no distinction between extreme religious cults – whose members believed in the supernatural, and the second coming of the prophet (actually, perhaps not so extreme) – I am now able to recognise a whole subculture of spiritual activities.

I recently started attending a meditation class at a centre called Inner Space, which is located near my work in Covent Garden, literally in the centre of London, and run by the Brahma Kumaris. It’s incredibly popular, and attendees are overwhelmingly composed of white female professionals in their twenties and thirties, apparently all interested in attaining peace of mind and inner calm. There are a few men, too.

I am shocked at the popularity of something that, I feel just a few short years ago, one would have been too embarrassed to go to, for fear of being thought rather eccentric. Indeed, religion is currently getting an extremely bad rap – at least, in the form of Judaism, Roman Catholicism and Islam.

I’d be interested to know the cause of this shift against religion, which has nevertheless revealed a persistent need for ‘something more’. As is typically opined, could it be that the rise of digital technology – and the consequent acceleration of the pace of life – may have caused people to seek some way of releasing the pressure? Perhaps our exposure to alternative cultures through television and the web, particularly ones in Asia (where meditation originated), makes us more tolerant of and open to these kinds of practices.

Vegetarianism also seems to be on the rise, with lots of my friends already foregoing meat, or intending to try going veggie, and is probably partly to do with concern for environmental issues, health consciousness and the availability of different types of food. Yoga classes abound in every gym in London, and most other people would know the meaning of the phrase ‘downward dog’. Books on the topic of spiritual healing and self-exploration (not just traditionally ‘religious’ texts like the Bible or the Qu’ran) are taking up quite a bit of space in most bookshops/on internet shopping pages.

I could spend a lot of time exploring particular factors that have caused these trends, but is there some kind of over-arching shift that has taken place? With a lack of any kind of empirical research, I’d guess that perhaps the recession, and our hangover from the eighties, has made people disillusioned with purely material satisfaction.

So, all things considered, I definitely think we need a new word for this kind of lifestyle – what I would define as an interest in pursuing something off the beaten track, in activities formerly the preserve of both hippies, and actresses living in LA. New Age? Spiritual? Self-development, maybe.

Perhaps I’m just late coming to the party, but it seems to me that where religion once served the purpose of nourishing our inner lives, its mighty influence has now mostly receded, at least in Britain. Those who openly confess to being religious are deemed rather unusual (am I wrong?), and, in consequence, something else had to evolve to take its place.

I’m now a staunch believer that, if you neglect your inner life, you’ll end up regretting it. Whether it results in something definable like depression, anxiety, or generally feeling unfulfilled, the undesirability of these states of mind means it pays to spend more time on yourself.

Perhaps it’s maturity (I’d like to think!), but I feel a lot happier since I worked out that we not only have to develop our outer selves, but the inner self is just as important, and alternative practices can really help with that goal. Now, just what to call it?

Black Friday, Indeed

PresentsThis is my run-up-to-Christmas post.

Stop reading now if you wanted to read a fluffy article about the importance of family and being together in the festive season – and presents. You’ll be disappointed.

This is the culmination of a few weeks’ worth of observations and opinion-forming. I’ve never been a huge fan of Christmas, since my parents split up on Boxing Day when I was ten years old – but let’s not let personal experience get in the way of truly rigorous analysis.

Sometimes my blog posts, to put a very grand spin on things, are like weeks’ or months’ worth of preparation (or, gestation), that eventually result in the birth of an idea (not in any kind of weird or inappropriate way). I’ve been thinking about this one for ages. Usually the time to write occurs whilst I am on my way to work, and if I don’t write the post down instantly, I’ll forget the words in a kind of creative stillbirth (not a real one).

Walking between Waterloo and Holborn helps to stimulate my creativity, and I also see a lot of homeless people on the way. As the temperature relentlessly drops, and having any bare skin on show in the icy wind is unacceptable, I am struck by the fact that there are still so many homeless people living on the streets. Some of them sell The Big Issue – a magazine published on behalf of and sold by homeless or vulnerably-housed people.

I bought one today, although I’ve been meaning to for ages. I have to stop and hunt through my bag for my wallet, so naturally that’s an excuse not to buy one, and I don’t always have cash. This week’s edition touches on one of the topics I’ve been thinking about: the consumerist nature of Christmas and of life in general. I didn’t realise that the Christmas Big Issue costs £3 – 50p more than usual – and it seems that the vendor was too polite to correct me, so I accidentally underpaid him. Luckily, I know where he works, so I can find him tomorrow.

As I write this, someone has just sent me a code for a free six-month trial of Amazon Prime – next-day delivery on all items – which I’m ashamed to say I did not turn down. This just shows that human beings – including myself – will usually take the easiest and most beneficial option available to them, and not necessarily live up to their own ideals. Christmas can also be fun, and I wouldn’t want to be the one to tell small children that they won’t be getting any presents this year.

It’s a topic that has been done to death, but this year is the first time I’ve been aware of Black Friday’s consumer dash. The media coverage was quite shocking, along with the grainy phone videos of people in shops literally fighting each other. This witty article by James Dyke on academic news website The Conversation aptly compares it to a zombie attack.

The context behind Black Friday is it’s the first Friday after Thanksgiving in the U.S., which means it is now widely regarded as the beginning of the Christmas shopping period. Retailers slash their prices and a huge sense of anticipation greets this largely made-up day. Ironically, it’s actually rooted in an economic crash in the 1800’s. Wikipedia mainly focuses on the social significance of Black Friday in the U.S., but it’s now reached British shores. Police were called to the Surrey Quays Tesco Extra, my local Tesco, among others, due to overcrowding.

What I want to know is how people can fight each other over a flat-screen television when there are so many people without a home? It’s hardly surprising that people turn into animals in this kind of hyper-consumer environment, in the midst of the crowds, faced with products that have been relentlessly marketed at them wherever they look.

Consumer bullying is excessive. My heart sank when the extremely popular Frozen song, ‘Let it Go’, sung by children everywhere, was used on a Christmas advert for Virgin Media. Well done, Disney – still getting ‘em young. We’re trained from a young age to value “stuff”, and treated as ‘consumers’ rather than people, or citizens. We’re then all emotionally blackmailed into spending money at Christmas in order to show how much we love each other.

I’m not an economist, but I understand our capitalist model of economic growth is heavily dependent on the amount of money people spend on stuff – especially at Christmas. But this model is not sustainable– especially considering all the carbon emissions and waste that are produced every Christmas. Suddenly, it’s not so heartwarming.

It’s up to the individual to break out of this vicious cycle, and become more mindful.

Something I find particularly hard is how we’re only supposed to show how much we love our family and friends at Christmas, which is an exclusive inner circle restricted to a few individuals, and actually diminishes our connection to society as a whole. You could donate some money to a homeless charity instead of buying presents… but why don’t we? It doesn’t make quite as picturesque a scene as exchanging presents under the tree, but at least it really does mean something.

Being anti-consumer a difficult position to hold at this time of year, not least because celebrating Christmas is so value-laden. The day is strongly associated with childhood traditions, as well as notions of family and belonging. Zen Buddhist, blogger and author, Leo Babauta, shares this inspiring set of tips on how to give thoughtful presents at Christmas that don’t cost a thing. My own goal is to be more mindful about the presents I’m giving – perhaps affirming my relationships in different ways – rather than heading online for a bargain.

Image: “A Sack Of Christmas Gifts” by Mister GC