To pronounce this Arabic phrase say shirrk. Translated it means to defer to another is an offence to Allah. I learned it some years ago; it rang a bell then and now it makes sense as I find my way though the jungle of phoney guilt so prevelant in our late Medieval culture.

The idea of cultural change

Even a tentative understanding of shirrk gives me scope to explore what happens when we are deferential; why we do it and to whom we do it. Its affect can be denied avoided explained or excused but it is always a drag, a morbid fearful factor in any situation.

I don't know about Allah but I'm offended when I come across people who defer to others who claim dominion over them as though they're in their debt. Alas such monsters dare not be offended nor upset.

As an employer in an earlier life I hired and fired my staff'. If I said go, he went or come and he came. Similarly as a parent my word seemed to prevail. Eventually like Humpty I had a great fall and try as I might could not put it all together again. Al hamdulilla

Like a bull in a china shop the hurt I did myself and others is with hindsight obvious. Learning a better way is a huge task and involves a gradual cultural change but better late than never.

Tantrums and rage

But as late starters our emotional states seem have a life of their own and we probably have no idea that our feelings are manageable.

A child's tantrum is an outburst that happens when she is unable to stop the emotional expression of of what she is feeling. She's probably experiencing the family as dysfunctional. A good enough carer will notice the child's distress and act to calm her fears.

If not she will take her inability to speak of her distress into adult life so that what she does say can't reflect what's on her mind or is going on in her life. In that confused state she will pretend and make it up. And every time she gets away with it will confirm her phoney sense of identity.

As adults in a tantrum we usually make a fuss about nothing or try hard to disguise excuse explain or hope no one will notice our rage but it's the same phenomen - an inability to say what we're feeling. Inevitably it becomes a farce or a crazy nightmare. And it's always stressful and confirms the fear that we're not loveable.

Yet in a safe space (such as shirrk allows) with real friends we can say what's bothering us even hope that someone will want to know how we feel; and we might even be understood. In such a situation we can gradually learn to say what we feel is appopriate or negotiate as it were without prior conditions.

Work in progress

My exploration of shirrk is becoming a primer on cultural change as in can a leopard change his spots or a 'born' worrier become less anxious? The posssibility of such change makes all the difference.

I doubt that leopards waste their time together going on and on about their spots. Yet anxious humans all too often defer to those who seems to matter most or shout loudest. It becomes a sort of slavery to ideas of what ought to be.

(Such an idea to which evangelical christians in particular defer to is that of salvation. Alieu N'Jai is a Moslem who spoke of his abhorrence at such a notion. Even twenty years later the sense of writing of our encounter momentarily takes my breath away. Yet God has not sent a thunderbolt so I'm a survivor. Al hamdulilla)

Why love matters

In her Why Love Matters Sue Gerhart unravels how we started to become the people we are. The infant has no way of managing her emotions and relies on her primary care giver to regulate them for her and on her behalf.

All being well she will learn from that experience of being cared for. At the same time she will 'encode implicit pathways of how intimate relationships work'. In that confidence she will increasingly care for and manage herself.

But if all is not well and her mother is stressed about many things or is none too secure in her own relationships or has difficulty regulating her own emotions her child will know it.

Click for EXAMPLE.

By default the infant will believe that's the way life is. Her experience will shape the way she becomes and unwittingly she'll identitify herself from a host of disturbung memories. She must be a trouble maker or worse.

These memories can become mental habits or core values and are complex. If we find them threatened or of less value than we imagined we can easily find ourselves defending them to make some sense of it all. The bad news is they can last a lifetime.

The anxious child can adopt an identity based on how the world sees him. Example: As a highly strung child with tendency to burst into tears I was known as splasher. No tears now but the hostile intention of that name stuck. It's taken me reading Sue Gerhart to understand my difficulty was primarily an inability to regulate my emotions and to understand how intimate relations work. These disabilities cost me and others dear.

New learning, surprising ideas.

Learning of shirrk rang an immediate bell. Better still I learned that at Mecca in the Haj every man wears a white garment so there's no way of knowing whether your neighbour is a rich or a poor man. And to pilgrims it seems not significant, not to matter.

Corrosive cortisol

Sue Gerhart brings this stinging phrase. We can live with intermittent stress from which we easily recover; but when over a lifetime it is constant and unremitting it is corrosive. That word got to me.

My first thought was of acid or rust eating away at whatever it attacks. Dictionaries suggest a gradual wearing away or destroying or undermining of whatever it is. A matter of fretting or vexing gets closer to hone.

And from my early farming days comes the memory of rats knawing their way a through a corn rick. This gave me the metaphor of malign influences undermining an already fragile sense of credibility or confidence or even of mattering.

It's paradoxical that our own stress and the cortisol we make corrodes a shaky sense of identity and self worth. But we can leave well alone and let sleepng dogs lie. An addict will say its his personality or temporament. And there's always the pull of loyalty, of letting the side down if we even mention the possibility of corrosive cortisol wreaking havoc in our lives; or of being our own worst enemy.

However the good news is that it an old dog can learn new tricks even if a leopard can't change his spots. I heard Mary Beattie tell how in researching life narratives she gets her subjects to invite her as it were into their lives. In subsequent encounters there is a reciprocal meeting of minds.

In effect I invited Professor Beattie to sort me out in that brief encounter at a University of Sussex seminar. Similarly I allowed Sue Gerhart with her Why Love Matters to help me make sense of a pile of perplexing stuff I had lived with all my life. Such meetings of minds are out there waiting to happen and with new connections things will never be the same again; but it can be a slow process with inevitable bumps crises and hiccups along the way.

Alexithymic - a not so rare breed

Another gift from Sue Gerhart is this word coined by one Peter Sifneos for those who have no words to describe their feelings. That's an extreme condition but I'll use it as a metaphor to include very nice people who seem never to lose their cool.

But this note is for those who find it difficult to identify their feelings or to distinguish them from the sensations they experience when they're aroused in some form of conflict. At such times they're probably not able to say how they really do feel. Click for EXAMPLE

Being unable to say how you feel is a disability. If your leg is in a plaster cast you can't hide it. But if your heart is broken or whatever it's all too easy to deny your feelings particularly if you insist that you're a nice or a good or a strong person. But such apparent virtue is cosmetic skin deep and not real.

Real feelings, even sore feelings are essentially indicators of what is going on and need to flow around the body regulating the whole system and keeping the show on the road. In that way we take care of ourselves and handle the ups and downs of everyday experience.

Now for the feelings of an eleven year old.

11+ child expressing her feelings

This child is able to illustrate stuff that otherwise she might suppress. Good for her; pity anyone who can't get to their feelings.

Carlos Casoni's cartoons.

Please have a look at the Carlos presentation.

PAL per Olli Glass @ Sussex

When we're drowning, not waving.

Olli writes of "a student who finds it hard to ask a basic question that she (or he) did not understand at the start of her study". Maybe such a student is in an incipient crisis. Seeing her predicament as such she may take her situation seriously rather than hoping it will go away or get better on its own.

With Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) encouragement the student automatically enrols herself as it were into a cognitive recovery process which can only function in an essentially non deferential (or shirrk) reasoning environment.

In this space a friend can ask the student how she feels every time she hesitates to ask the basic question. Gradually she will find herself as it were pulling herself up by her own bootstraps but doing this through friendships with those who care for her and won’t run out

Maybe we are all in an incipient crisis when ever we're unable to ask a pertinent question or read the small print or find the skeletons in the cupboard or get secrets disclosed; as when we're anxious but can't put our finger on what's really bothering us.

Similarly a voluntary organisation which finds it hard to ask a basic question of itself is probably in an incipient crisis. To recover it must ask itself of the anxiety which prevents it understanding its own predicament - its deference to those who refuse to look at its own anxiety!

When a firm wants to introduce what it sees as well meaning changes to its staff it will do well to rely less of the sound of it's own rhetoric and employ human terriers to root out the bottom up questions of those who may not understand what's happening and are threatened by what might affect them.

Since most employers like others intent on maintaining their grip will keep something up their sleeve to foist on the situation at a later stage. But those versed in shirrk can sense if not smell such a rat and won't let up in their search for whoever seeks to deny their autonomy and keep them deferential.

Repair shop

More from Sue Gerhart p110 "It isn't possible to generate the attitude of self care and awareness of one's own feelings if someone else hasn't first done it for you. (That's why self help books are if little use.) You need to have an experience with someone else first - then you can reproduce it."

It's easy to say to another 'take care' aware of the penalty of getting it wrong, of seeming inadequate, of upsetting whoever must not be upset whether at work in the family or out and about.

We seem beset with rules and regulations, of what ought to happen or ought to be or of what God wants. In time with a new friend we might realise we've adopted them only to give ourselves a rough time when we get it all wrong. Even then in a crisis hitting a brick wall can be a useful opportunity to sort whatever it is out and feeling better we can switch off the cortisol for a brief respite.

Recovering from a life time of self imposed sress is a tall order; one fraught with difficulty and misunderstanding. However it can be done and we find ourselves in relationships which make sense, where we don't have to try let alone try too hard nor take on too much nor make a good impression nor be good nor put a brave face on it. et cetera ... try writing that paragraph for yourself.

Cultural change in management


Top down management is inevitably deferential with layers of lesser top dogs down to the bottom rung; and having struggled to get there spends a lot of its time checking out its power and authority.

I've run out of energy to write more except that I'm hoping to get a photo of the late Arthur Bishop as an example of a man who whilst working in a relatively flat mangement hierarchy made a difference as he went about his work in a most difficult aspect of the firm.

I bring to mind Robert Hardy's Tess who speaking as a social inferior to the vicar says 'don't you speak to me as a saint to a sinner...the real you talk to the real me'

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