April 02, 2018

The importance of reciprocity

‘Reciprocity’ is the daily ability to engage in our relations with others on a ‘give and take’ basis.

It is about accepting what others are able to do for us and letting them know that it is enough; it is also about recognising that others need to take us as we are, too, and accept what we can do for them.

It is quite a ‘grown up’ concept – as adults, we often behave like children, sulk and are easily offended when something happens that is not to our liking, and point the finger when things go wrong. Often we seem to do that more than children do.

The skill of reciprocity appears to develop in early childhood and is one of the key tenets of a healthy, nurturing relationship. It is closely linked to attachment. If we have difficulties in attaching, there is a tendency either for us to ‘use’ others or to allow others to ‘use’ us. In these circumstances the ‘give’ and ‘take’ can disappear and we either do all the giving, or all the taking, with nothing in the middle.

Reciprocity is an important skill to foster and develop in the work place. It enables us to value ourselves even if we get little recognition for what we do, it also helps us to recognise the value of what others bring to the team, even if they have a different approach, and it helps us to understand where problems occur in communication, and how we can resolve them.

The nurturing effect of reciprocity is often lessened or lost altogether through over-competitive environments, the cult of perfectionism, the inability to accept that people can and do make mistakes that can be learned from, the simplistic apportioning of ‘blame’ when things go wrong, the difficult in seeing that we ourselves also slip up and that we may be part of the problem, and the use of un-nuanced language like ‘fault’ and ‘fail’.

But if reciprocity can be encouraged, it can do a lot for our (self)-respect – it helps us to respect ourselves, and ultimately, those that we live and work with. and this has to be a good thing wherever we are – in the workplace, in the home environment or when interacting with friends.

That doesn’t mean that others’ behaviour is always right and we should not challenge or question it – but there are ways of doing this that do not mean we have to feel defensive or aggressive. If we can remain proud of who we are, we can stand up for what we believe is right, safe in the knowledge that we are doing the best we can.

Social media is another area where reciprocity is badly needed – the ability to understand that others have different views from ourselves, that it is not always about ‘winning’ the argument or being ‘right’, and that process is as important as product. Things can go seriously wrong on social media – flame wars, abuse or even worse – when there is a lack of ability to see things from all sides and to consider a spectrum of views.

One useful skill might be to do an inventory of our relationships and ask ourselves what we give and take in each situation. This helps us to develop and adjust our behaviour over time and makes us happier, because we not only accept others, but allow others to accept us too, and ultimately – and perhaps hardest of all – we manage to accept ourselves, as we are, with all our limitations, but still proud of who we are.

January 30, 2011

The problem of the term 'hard–working family'

A not-so-recent media trend which I have grown to dislike is the ubiquitous reference to the idea of ‘hard working family’. This mediatised metonymic label which seems to have received its birth in some murky area between the tabloid and broadhseet press, intends to designate the ‘hard working family, as a primarily exploited, marginalised group, thwarted at every turn by money-grabbing (mainly Labour) governments, benefit cheats and all manner of villains and tricksters, intent on bringing down the very fabric of decent and upstanding society. What I find most intriguing and annoying, however, is the exclusive ‘club’ that this term designates by default. Indeed, it suggests many default options that have not been questioned: for instance, that there are families that are not hard working (i.e. those where the adults are not in paid employment); that it is possible to be hard working, in fact, but not part of a family. It also presupposes that all adults that do go out to work are, of necessity, hard-working (which we know to be untrue). What is clear is that this label forms part of a conservative-based (note, wiith a small ‘c’) rhetoric which seeks to establish binary opposites, denigrates in any case the hard work involved in being a parent in the frst place, and which, instead, views success as engaging in paid employement at the expense of caring for one’s family and children. I am a parent of two children, and I work hard; however, I would have to come very far over to the right in ideology to want to label myself as a ‘hard working family!’

March 01, 2008

Reflections on teaching Artaud

For many years now I have been giving visiting lectures on Antonin Artaud.

I have been fascinated by Artaud’s life and works for many years, since the time I write my MA dissertation on him back in 1994. At first, it was mainly the mental health issues that he experienced and the electro-shock treatments that interested me most.

Then, I progressivley came to be interested in the very real possibility, articulated by Artaud, of a ‘new’ theatrical language that bypassed the need for words and could bring other aspects of theatre into the forefront of the imagination – for example, gestures, especially those associated with Eastern theatre (Chinese and Japanese).

Throughout my academic life I have studied women characters in Artaud’s theatre and I have tried to read his works in the light of the psychoanalysis of Freud and others.

Just lately, though, I realise that my thoughts about Artaud have changed quite significantly, so much so that I had to admit in my last lecture, in January, that I had probably misjudged and underestimated the importance of Artaud’s use of verbal language.

Far from being an insignificant relic of logocentrism, which he seeks to displace, I am starting to believe once again that verbal language is somehow central and pivotal in Artaud’s works.

Take le theatre et son double (The theatre and its double), for example. Some see this as a manifesto for introducing a new kind of language to the theatre. This is more or less the traditional view of Artaud. However, I see it increasingly as a playing with words, or logopoeia , which is not specifically referential but which enjoys enticing the reader down dead ends and closed off pathways.

Why should we always assume that Artaud is serious when he makes proclamations about the theatre? Couldn’t he just be enjoying playing with language and having’ intellectual fun?’ Maybe there is a bit more humour in Artaud’s works than people realise?

I went through this book again some months ago, and found that Artaud seems to take the greatest pleasure in building up the categorising force of language, only to destroy it again. For example, what does Artaud mean when he says that ‘the actor is the athlete of the heart’. Sounds impressive, but really it means little or nothing. His writing is full of these apparent gems of wisdom that mean nothing. At once, such phrases mean everything and nothing. Language is inflated to categorising and classifying proportions, and then bursts rather like an overblown balloon. Or perhaps, to use another image, the sandcastle, constructed on shaky foundations, collapses and falls apart.

This ‘building up and self-destruction’ of language on Artaud’s part is relevant for us in the twenty-first century because, as we all know, verbal language cannot equate with truth. There is always an approximate and tenuous link between words and their reality, and we cannot represent the ‘world’ through the wor(l)d.

Rather like a lifelong illness, I have been obsessed with the issue of how we can be what we are, and how we can go on, given that language does not ‘work’ and betrays us at every turn? Language is not a mere reflecting device, innocently mirroring some objective reality, but plays a role in letting us down just at the time when we need it most. But what are the solutions to this? We can either side with Artaud and show a sense of misplaced confidence in the ability of language to convey meaning; or we have to remain filled with self-doubt that nothing says what we want it to say.

For me, these issues mainly manifest themselves in the following way:

- Finding it hard to express my real meaning through language;
- Worrying about whether others are expressing their real meaning to me;
- (In fact) anxieties and self-doubts about most things;

The beauty of Artaud’s writing is that one never really knows what his intentions are. Which is why I will keep studying him for some time to come!

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  • Thanks for this, Gerard, very helpful and perhaps something to consider across the University as a w… by Helen Ireland on this entry

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