Fat Cat in a Hat – What’s Wrong with that?

Lyrics

From MeetVille

Have you noticed how often people are blaming ‘those who are in charge’, ‘the bigwigs’, ‘the CEOs’, ‘the fat cats’ for all sorts of things? I had a few such comments on my blog in recent months, which made me think a bit more about that. Are all ‘bigwigs’ and ‘fat cats’ so bad?

Cat1From FuturityFirst

Stereotyping (i.e. putting people into groups and categories) is based on a normal cognitive process: the tendency to group things together. In doing so we tend to exaggerate:

  • the differences between groups
  • the similarities of things in the same group

Stereotyping

From Stereotyping

I never trusted faceless stereotypes and generalisations when people get assigned to a particular group on the basis of one characteristic or one of their identities. The group of ‘the bigwigs’, ‘the CEOs’, ‘the fat cats’ might in fact include very different people with varied life experiences, values, beliefs and views. Take, as an example, Sir Angus Tait, the founder of Tait Communications and The Tait Foundation that donated millions of dollars over the years to a variety of causes. As Michael Chick, Tait’s former CEO, said: “Angus was an immensely determined yet compassionate man, a great innovator and mentor for so many.” He might have been the ‘bigwig’ in his company but a truly admirable one.

angus-taitSir Angus Tait

The same in the past. Among wealthy people from the noble class there were some who cared about others and were trying very hard to push for changes in the society. In Russian history, there were Decembrists – noblemen united in an attempt to release their motherland from the chains of autocratic oppression, that was keeping Russia in poverty. There were hundreds of them, inspired by the constitutional governments of Western Europe. Members of the aristocracy, they were the first to rebel and attempt to overthrow the absolutist regime of the Tsar. However their uprising was a failure. They were condemned as criminals of the state. Five of them hanged, others incarcerated. More than a hundred sent into exile, sentenced to thirty years of hard labor in the mines of Siberia.

Decembrists’ wives followed their husbands into exile, leaving everything behind: their families, their children, their possessions, their lifestyle. One of these women – Maria Volkonskaya, the quintessence of class, a princess – had a newborn son.  All she wanted to take with her was her little baby – the Tsar did not allow her even that. They were never allowed to return…

If only the Decembrists won on that cold winter day and changed the course of Russian history – then, may be, there would have been no revolution, no civil war, no Stalin, no loss of millions of lives, no floods of blood, no tears and pain… 😦

‘The bigwigs’, ‘the fat cats’ – let’s try to see real people behind all these stereotypes. Some of them might be very bad, but a few might make us pleasantly surprised. 😉

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From Think Rich, Look Poor

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The toxic virus of the mind: US vs. THEM

Us

From The Toxic Myth of Us vs. Them

The human mind has a tendency to categorize people into social groups. Often these social groups can create an “Us vs. Them” mentality toward people who may be different than us in some way, whether it’s race, gender, age, nationality, culture, religion, or socioeconomic status.

This ‘“Us vs. Them” mentality is a very dangerous virus that pervades many minds on this planet. Often it is so woven into the fabric of our conditioning that many don’t even recognize it in themselves. We stop seeing individual difference within the group. Instead, we see only faceless ‘They’, which is always bad or wrong, while ‘We’ are always right.

This virus of the mind limits us, keeps us in perpetual cycles of fear and violence. We feel justified, even righteous in shouting down or shooting down “them”. Not surprisingly the ‘Us vs Them’ approach is commonly used in military training.

us_them-150x150
from Us (Us us us) and Them (them them them)

Amazingly, studies of the ‘Us vs. them’ mentality have shown that people tend to favor a group bias even when they are categorized on relatively meaningless distinctions, for example: eye color, what kind of paintings they like, or even the flip of a coin. This tells us that we can potentially separate ourselves from a certain group of people on any random and arbitrary characteristic. Therefore, everyone is susceptible to be a perpetrator and/or victims of social prejudice and ostracism, even if the only difference is a star on a tummy, like in the case of Dr. Seuss’s plain and star bellied Sneetches depicted below.

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from Us vs. Them

From evolutionary perspective ‘Us vs. Them’ mentality makes sense. We’ve evolved to perceive these social categories as during tribal times, it would be beneficial to perceive unfamiliar people as a potential threat and treat them as such for protection and security.

Today many of these social categories and stereotypes are propagated by society, tradition, and culture. We see that all the time in politics (Republicans vs. Democrats), war (Palestine vs. Israel), sports (Mets vs. Yankees), and other aspects of our culture. Even though this mentality is not relevant in modern conditions and  creates unnecessary tension and antagonism between everyone, we are struggling with getting over this toxic meme.

How can we fight this powerful virus of the mind and bridge the gap between ‘Us’ and ‘Them’?

 US-Them-300x93
From Us-Them

Steven Handel believes that first of all, we need to “become more aware of our tendency to put people into groups and create an “Us vs. Them” mentality. Then, instead of seeing people in groups, we should try to see everyone as an individual worthy of respect, equality, and kindness, regardless of what groups they may be categorized in. If you choose to associate with a group identity, it doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Just be super mindful of it and be cautious if that identity starts to have a negative influence on how you view other people who you don’t identify with.”

Like Steven Handel, I try to identify with everyone in some way. I believe at the core we are all human beings and want the same things in life, regardless of our race, religion or culture. We all want to know our family is safe. We all want to be loved and appreciated, have food on the table, enjoy good health. In that sense, we are all very similar and are connected as one.

we-are-all-one
From The Only Message that Matters: “We are all One”

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Propaganda and public perception manipulation

“It is not enough for journalists to see themselves as mere messengers without understanding the hidden agendas of the message and myths that surround it.”

John Pilger

Propaganda_
From Anti-Propaganda Propaganda

Defining propaganda has always been a problem. The main difficulties have involved differentiating propaganda from other types of persuasion, and avoiding an “if they do it then that’s propaganda, while if we do it then that’s information and education” biased approach. Personally I prefer the following definition provided by Garth Jowett and Victoria O’Donnell: “Propaganda is the deliberate, systematic attempt to shape perceptions, manipulate cognitions, and direct behavior to achieve a response that furthers the desired intent of the propagandist.”

What is modern propaganda? For many, it is the lies of a totalitarian state usually associated with Nazis and Communism.

nazi_poster
From 10 Most Evil Propaganda Techniques

Today, we prefer to believe that there is no submissive void in our society that could be manipulated by propaganda.  Is that really so?

Propaganda does not always come in a form of posters or slogans. As history shows, selection of certain story angles and facts for the mass media distribution is a much more effective away of manipulating public perception while maintaining the illusions of personal freedom and choice. The media’s truly the most powerful entity on earth when it comes to propaganda. Internet can facilitate the spread of facts and real life photos misrepresented in line with a certain agenda and supported by false generalisations such as “we are all good, they are all bad” etc.

media-manipulation
From www.whaleoil.co.nz

What can we do to counteract propaganda in our societies? Not all people can write anti-propaganda articles and make films like John Pilger. However we all can:

  • learn to critically evaluate everything we see and hear
  • teach our children to question everything and think critically
  • challenge our own beliefs and biases that we were brought up with
  • open our minds to new perspectives and points of view.
  • make friends with people from different cultural backgrounds to learn more about their lives and beliefs
  • engage in discussions with people from different cultural backgrounds to build relationships, improve understanding and dispell any existing myths and propaganda.
  • read and learn more about other cultures and other people.

I’m very grateful to all people the blogosphere who helped me to learn more about their cultures and beliefs and dispelled some of the myths I was brought up with. We are the world, we are the people, we are one great family. It is time to realise that a change can only come when we stand together as one.


Resources:

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Cracking the Communication Code Between Men And Women

never-listen-to-meFrom The Truth About Communication Between Men And Women

While much has been said about women being from Venus and men being from Mars, the reality is that we all live on the same planet Earth and need to interact with each other in different ways on a daily basis.

How can we crack the communication code between men and women? Luckily technology can help us even with that difficult task. Check out the Manslator: the Official Woman Language Translator:

Or you can use a professional Human Gender Translator:

Off-the-mark-on-men-vs_-womenFrom Gender Translator

Its fun to look at communication differences between men and women but we also have to be careful in avoiding stereotypes. As Simma Lieberman points out, “we are all on a continuum and there are women that have some traits that might be attributed to the male style or there are times when it is necessary to use the male style and the same for men. … Whether its nature or nurture, there may be individuals who possess almost none of the traits attributed to their gender. They may have been teased, harassed or excluded from things because of this, which is why its important to know and understand male and female cultural norms but also recognize that many people don’t fit the mold.

So while we call certain styles male and certain styles female because research has shown that different ways of thinking, processing, perceiving and behaving is present in at least 55% of the male and female population, that leaves up to 45% that may not fit the description.”

article-2273972-175F104B000005DC-767_306x425From Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus? Actually we’re on the same planet!

Resources:

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Art and Nature

(Russia, 1990s)

Tania was my best friend at University. She was a lovely girl from a very nice family. She lived with her parents and an older sister. I always envied her a bit as she had such a warm, supportive and loving family – something I did not have by then…

Tania studied German at University. One of the local newspapers offered a free opportunity to find penfriends overseas. I thought that it would be a good chance for Tania to put her language skills into practice, so for her 17th birthday I put a free ad in all German newspapers for German-speaking penfriends interested in art and nature.

She got a few nice letters, but then … I was sitting in a big auditorium waiting for the Genetics lecture when Tania came in laughing loudly.

“What’s the matter?” I asked.

“What ad did you put for me in Germany?” she asked.

“Nothing extraordinary – just something about a girl looking for German speaking penfriends interested in art and nature.”

Mrs Grumpynova who was teaching genetics entered the auditorium and the lecture began.

“Guess what I got the other day,” whispered Tania. “I was sitting in the living room with my mum and sister, when my mum gave me this envelope with pictures of flowers and butterflies. The art bit looked very pretty. So I opened the envelope and here came the nature – a picture of a naked middle-aged man fell out. You should have seen my mum’s face when she saw that. Surely enough just at that moment we heard my dad’s footsteps. “Hide this photo somewhere quickly,” shrieked my mum in horror, “If your dad sees that, you’ll be banned from having any penfriends from the West.” I quickly pushed this photo under the carpet just a second before my dad entered the room. My sister could not help it and burst into laughter rolling on the floor. “What’s the matter?” my dad asked with a puzzled look on his face. I tried to keep my face straight. “Nothing, darling,” said my mum with a smile. “Just shared a little joke,” and she gave him a kiss.”

Tania got the photo and passed it to me. I could not help it and burst into laughter. A girl sitting next to me grabbed the photo from my hands and started laughing as well. Other girls started passing this photo along the rows and soon a Mexican wave of laughter engulfed the auditorium with all 150 girls bursting into laughter one after another. Mrs Grumpynova stopped her lecture.

“What’s the matter?” she asked. Everyone just kept laughing. Mrs Grumpynova went to the last row and got the photo.

“Who brought this photo here?” she asked angrily.

Both Tania and I stopped laughing and raised our hands. Mrs Grumpynova promptly kicked both of us out of the auditorium and continued her lecture:

“What will you get when you cross yellow and green peas?” she asked the audience.

“What will you get when you cross hedgehog and a snake?” whispered Tania standing next to me by the door.

“What?”

“A few metres of barbed wire,” she chuckled.

“Be quite”, – I said to Tania. “I want to listen to Grumpynova. We’ll have a test next week – don’t want to lose my scholarship if I get her peas wrong.”

I moved closer to the door and peeked through the key hole. Just at that moment someone opened the door.

“Ouch,” I shrieked. My right eye started turning black. “You know, Tania. As the Bible goes, ‘If your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away…’ …. Don’t you ever bring such photos again to the University. I can hardly see with my right eye now – don’t want to risk my left one …”

Tania laughed. A few weeks later she put an ad in all English-speaking countries for English-speaking penfriends interested in Shakespeare and Dostoevsky – that was her present for my 17th birthday…

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