‘Taking a stand’ debate continues

More letters, from our September edition.

Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
– from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s
poem ‘Ulysses’ (1842)

In recent issues of this publication, I have found myself ever more astonished at the growing prominence of in-fighting apparently displayed through these letters; and therefore the final stanza of Tennyson’s ‘Ulysses’ seemed the most appropriate way to open my own.

I am of the opinion that this publication and the first wave of responses to the installation of Professor Peter Kinderman as the Society’s President were undoubtedly negative (‘New Society President stirs debate’, June 2016), giving the impression such that debate itself is negative. I would like to pose the question of why debate is so negative – surely such debates are to hear all sides of the story with the aim of move forward with changes to the status quo. Changes may not suit everyone, but when reform is essential, we, the Society members, may be required to endure them despite the changes being at first seemingly painful.

Having studied under Professor Kinderman and his colleagues at the University of Liverpool for the last four years, I am shocked that members of this Society would be so quick to discredit our new President’s motives for change. It is without any doubt that he, like many of his colleagues, have the interests of people and society at the forefront of their work, and the centre of their hearts and minds.

It appears from the pessimism expressed over the past months that we, as psychologists and members of this learned academy, are helpless in fighting the injustices we see on a national and societal level. We are not. As a newly qualified psychologist, I urge my fellow members to pull together, rather than stand apart, whilst also remembering there have not been many great things which at first were not initially thought to be un-understandable.

So, esteemed colleagues, let us strive for a brighter future together, emulating Psyche with her lamp (in our emblem), but finally, let us not yield before we have first explored.

Sergio A. Silverio MPsycholSci (Hons)
University of Liverpool

In a previous letter (June 2016) I argued that both the subjective nature of psychology and cultural differences made it difficult to arrive at a moral standpoint over which we can all agree. Sarah Rose and Isabel Clarke (Letters, August 2016) both took me to task, saying that fairness and equality should always be striven for and criticising me for seeming to argue for the inability of psychology to support any position.

The definitions of ‘fairness’ and ‘equality’ are (as everything else) subject to the times and constantly change. It is unrealistic to believe that one definition will be universally accepted and remain constant throughout history. The course of human development is riddled with examples of policies and views that were popular at one time and then rejected in favour of another, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. Again, it’s all a matter of perception.

Despite many psychologists’ efforts to identify and encourage the ‘correct’ way of parenting, there will never be two parenting styles which are the same or are the ‘right’ way of doing it. Decades ago parents were encouraged to keep physical and emotional displays of affection to a minimum; nowadays the opposite is recommended. Both ways present their own sets of flaws and benefits that are dependent on how each style is implemented. But regardless of which one psychologists believe is the ‘right way’, people are always going to raise their children the way they see fit, whether their way is the accepted version of the times or not.

This is what I was arguing in the June edition; the views of the modern day are never going to last for any reasonable stretch into the future, look at how much the development of humanity has changed just over the recent decades. At one time women weren’t considered intelligent enough in this country to be trusted with politics and business, and this was a point of view shared by most of the psychologists of the day; but this didn’t stop the view from eventually being rendered outdated and offensive.

By whose definition will UK society be made ‘fair’ and ‘equal’? In all likelihood these intentions (however well meant) will reflect the policy maker’s own beliefs of fair and unfair, equal and unequal rather than what is actually ‘good’ for society. What will psychologists say to those who come from different backgrounds, whose upbringing and morals don’t coincide with the ‘revolutionaries’? Is it wrong for Christian families to send their children to all-Christian schools? Who will decide and then implement that point of view on the whole of society?

Psychology has been a part of shaping societal development for years; both for the best and for the worst. For those who would argue against this, I challenge you to look through the history of psychology and say that there has never been an instance where either an individual or a popular psychological view has caused disruption and damage. Perhaps the hardest thing for psychology is not how can we find the answers, but rather, can we accept that we will never really know them. All I ask is that psychologists consider this before they make decisions that have the potential to affect the lives of others.

Aurora Dunn

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