In a week that has seen a day dedicated to mental health, the world has been plunged into yet another existential crisis, with thousands of innocent people being killed in the Middle East. This is on top of the on-going war by Russia in the Ukraine and other alarming disturbances throughout the world.
Such tragedies of human behaviour have a significant effect on the mental health of so many of us. Having devoted by life to the welfare and education of children, I am sure that I am not alone in finding myself with tears in my eyes and a mixture of emotions, hearing about and seeing on the TV the bodies of children brutally killed.
A young person asked me recently why human beings with all their knowledge and technical resources continue to hate each other? A complex question with no simple answer. Suffice it to say that when human beings enter what philosophy calls dualism, which includes the polarisation of people and their behaviour, an ‘us’ and ‘them’ is created, as though the ‘them’ is a sub-specie of humanity.
Donald Trump is skilled at using polarisation to further his politics. In his ‘Let’s make America great again’ he ‘outed’ anyone who disagreed with him, including members of his own party. Implying that you are either with me or you are the enemy. This tactic led to mantra’s being chanted, such as ‘lock her up’, referring to Hilary Clinton. The public is often seduced by such rhetoric, having to choose if they are in the ‘in-group’ or not. Trump, of course is not the only one to use this technique. The recent party conferences in the UK gave many examples of those outside the room being outed for their differences of views.
Dualism is highly dangerous and marginalises reasonably minded people, as Hitler did in the 1930’s. Create an enemy and then focus the reason for all ills on them! My life’s experience of meeting people in many countries has shown me that most human beings are like you and me, with the same range of feelings, desires and emotions. Neuroscience teaches us that we all have common ancestors, which have endowed us with ways of seeing the world that do not always suit us in our modern context. We often find it difficult to self-regulate our behaviour and control our brain’s limbic system, which was designed to save us from attacks from wild animals.
Is there hope for us? I am optimistic, as I believe that if the silent majority were to become more active in forming our culture, then we would be ruled by the wise, those who would use what I have termed ethical intelligence — the ability to ethically self-regulate behaviour. This is what I called for when I address the United Nations in Geneva in May when I talked about the need for our leaders to have ethical intelligence.
Therefore, may I reach out to you and join me in taking action today, to ensure the security and mental health of our children’s and ourselves. We influence others mostly by our own behaviour. So, let us be the role models for a just, fair and inclusive world.
Dr Neil Hawkes