Control is not necessarily good or bad

It’s about control.

Human beings have a natural tendency to try to order the things around them, so as to alter the circumstances to suit their needs and liking. The control may be for physical objects. We could design our home layout to suit a particular style. For example, if we want to project a certain level of cool sophistication we would fill our homes with objects that project that sort of image. Perhaps these may take the form of chandeliers, expensive vases, and designer furniture. But control does not imply excess. Just because you want to control the surrounding space does not necessarily mean you fill it with objects. If you want to lead a uncluttered lifestyle, you might order your home around a minimalist theme. Less furniture, but more functional items might be the way in which you control that space.

The sense of control may also extend unfortunately to people around. We may surround ourselves with friends who share the same interests, so that we have a common thing to talk about. After all, it would be hard work to surround yourself with people who just don’t get on the same wavelength as you, as you would be trying to make conversations on themes in which you don’t have common ground, and in the process of doing so, the working to find a common theme is difficult.

Many people around us – in fact, a fair proportion of society – would speak of control as if it were a bad thing, one linked with OCD. But control does not necessarily imply bad . Having control over means managing parts of life so that they do not interfere with your time, and free you up to have more things to do. Being in control is a good thing. But how do we manage being in control? We can establish it in various parts of our life through routine and habits. We can also take up other activities where managing different skills simultaneously is required. For example, as the Piano Teacher Finsbury Park website tells us, playing the piano involves six or seven different skills at the same time. Learning to manage these on an easy level provides a base from which you can increase the demands of all these, and when you encounter these stresses in life, you will have had experience in dealing with them on some level!

Fuelling changing social practices – music to our ears?

´╗┐Imagine this scenario. You are driving up in your car, doing your daily jobs, and then realise you are running low on fuel. So you take the nearest opportunity to fill up as you drive up to a petrol station – it may even be part of your local supermarket. Would you expect to pay for your fuel first and then be refunded?

There may be some that question the practicality of this. How is it possible to pay for fuel first before you have even filled up the car? This method would require you to estimate the amount of fuel you need, and then pre-pay it in advance. But what if you simply wanted to fill the car up to its maximum before embarking on a long drive? Would you be forced to buy fuel in large increments, perhaps by ten pounds’ worth at a time, before inching your way in five, and then one-pound increments, so as to avoid paying more than you actually bought? And don’t forget, each purchase would have to be pre-paid.

This system seems rather impractical at first glance. The above scenario would require you to make numerous purchases on your card, and multiple attempts at topping up the fuel. In the past, it would have meant a simple trip to the fuel pump, one attempt, and one payment. Making multiple attempts at both would simply mean spending longer time at the pump, resulting in delays and lost revenues for service stations. Service stations would simply have to raise their prices to make up for the lost custom.

But why is this scheme of pre-paid filling up being considered in the first place? It is because drivers have been filling up, then driving off. This theft of fuel costs the UK millions of pounds each year.

This new social practice is in response to how society has developed.

Ideas usually start out on the periphery before they graduate to the mainstream. This is no further more evident than in the alternative group Nirvana, who – as the Stroud Green piano teacher website tells us – were alternative way beyond the time before “alternative” became a mainstream genre in the music industry! Perhaps, in a similar vein, there will be changing social practices starting from daily areas such as fuel pumps.

Put it this way – ten years ago you wouldn’t trust supermarket staff to pick your fruit and veg for you, yet online shopping has grown and it has become commonplace in daily life. Why not other practices too?

Conte

Football manager Antonio Conte is one of the most decorated managers – decorated with trophies, that is. He has won many in his own country of Italy, and when he moved over to Chelsea to manage the Blues, he won the Premier League in his first season. But he has been out of work since acrimoniously leaving the team, and unable to find work since.

The problem with him being out of work is due to the fact that he is actually still contracted to Chelsea. He has not been able to take up offers because he is under contract, but he is unwilling to resign because it would mean losing out on a compensation package. The Chelsea team, of course, are unwilling to pay more money to a coach for a final year of a contract that will not be served. So they are playing a waiting game and hoping Conte will resign while he tires of offers passing him by.

The gossip column goes that even a team as big as Real Madrid were hoping to lure Conte to the Spanish capital. When their manager Zinedine Zidane resigned suddenly after winning the third of his Champions League trophies in a row, Conte had been in the running and would have been appointed had it not been for his contract. Should he simply have foregone the Chelsea compensation then?

Contractual obligations are sometimes the difficult part in any job situation. But at least Conte is in a 1-1 situation – that is to say, there is only one person in a job opening. Imagine what it would have been like had he been in a pop band, where many members make up the group. How do you account for equal renumeration of work? How do you divide the royalties equally? And if people come in and out between albums, how can you adequately account for each individual’s contribution? The pop band The Drifters, for example, had such an ever-changing line up, that when it came to deciding which members of the group should be elected to the hall of fame, it was no easy decision! (You can read more about this from the Piano Lessons Crouch End website.)

And as for Conte, maybe now that Julen Lopetugi has been sacked from Real Madrid, the road is clearer than the path The Drifters took!

Intervention gives world music genius

Let’s imagine this situation. You are going home from work one evening when, during your commute home, you witness someone in need of assistance. Perhaps it is someone who has injured himself or herself while walking on the road. Maybe it is someone who has been mugged. Or perhaps it is someone who is depressed and is in danger of self harm.

You stop whatever you are doing to help – never mind that you have had a long day at work and had been looking forward to a nice evening meal, slouched in front of the telly with a glass of wine or other beverage, and in front of your favourite evening programme. Or it may have been that you had been looking forward to a quiet romantic evening. Never mind all that now. You recognise the urgency of the situation and realise that you have to set aside your own needs temporarily to deal with those of the other person.

In a way, it requires you to selflessly give up part of yourself so that you are able to give to the other person, either in the form of physical assistance or perhaps maybe just something that costs financially less – merely in the form of companionship. Perhaps it is someone who is struggling in his or her own life and is thinking of the ultimate end to things.

If it were a true situation, how would you react? Would you walk on, thinking that it is better to avoid getting involved in a situation that might prove to be too difficult to extricate yourself from? Would you risk being too socially, or emotionally involved? Or might you think that you cannot afford the time to, because you are in a rush, or not skilled enough to deal with this sort of situation, and maybe someone else after you might be?

The jazz composer George Gershwin dropped out of school at the age of fifteen and had it not been for interventions along the way he might have just ended up in a menial job (as all dropouts might have), but crucially these interventions steered him along the right path where he met teachers that enhanced his skill. Other composers such as Beethoven, who was bullied by his father and teacher, might have benefitted from intervention as well.

The next time you see someone in need, be a little more compassionate and stop for a while. You never know, yours might be the voice that matters and turns things around.

What we should teach our children about contract cheating

Have you ever heard of contract cheating? It is a new term that has surfaced in the last decade, in a content-driven society. It is a term used to describe how an individual pays someone else to perform a task for them – in many cases, a written one – and passes off the latter work as their own. This form of cheating has surfaced particularly around universities, where undergraduates have to produce essays frequently as well as dissertations, and indeed, essay mills – as the companies that sell these services – frequently do their advertising around campuses. You can reportedly get an essay that guarantees a particular grade and is not detected by algorithms to have been copied.

Why do people buy such services? You may of course suspect that undergraduates pay fifty or more pounds to get out of the tedium of writing an essay. Now you may think it crazy to spend that amount of money for the time it takes to write an essay but that amount of money goes more into the necessary research that comes before the writing of an essay. How much research is necessary depends on the actual complexity of the essay of course. But essay mills promise that you will get a particular grade with an essay, so some may use it as a guide to the research involved.

But not all services are paid for by undergraduates who want to “par-tay” their University life away while aiming to get a degree for as little work as possible. Some might have actually do long hours of work alongside their studies and cannot spend their time reading books and looking up research for their essays and working at the same time. You can’t for example, do childminding in a nursery with book in hand and mind off the job.

Should we be concerned about essay mills? Well, yes. It requires employers to be more stringent about qualifications. But one cannot examine whether a potential employee has done the work on his or her own, so this is where a careful interview process to ascertain the potential employee’s skills are important.

The other lesson is for our children. They may fall prey to the essay mills, thinking it is an easy way out, but we have to impress on them the value of acquiring skills rather than just merely attaining the qualifications. It comes back to the old circle of process over product. Because when they sit in front of an interview panel and the panel realise that the candidate’s product is flawed (and hence the process to obtain it), they may find the short cut was not worth it at all. We have to steer them away from it.

Imagine if the great writers and music composers of the past indulged in essay mills or music mills! Someone like the classical music great Joseph Hadyn would not have come up with the diversity of works had he subcontracted out his writing – and we would be so much poorer for it. And doing your own work means you are constantly refining your craft, and getting better at it. You can find out more trivia about Haydn from the Piano Teacher Muswell Hill website, including why his tomb contains two skulls. Maybe he needed all that brainpower with an extra head?

Does technology exacerbate mental health decline?

According to news reports, media mogul Simon Cowell has ditched his phone for over ten months, and has been quoted to say the withdrawal from technology has been good for his mental health.

He says he was irritated with how often he was using his phone, and ever since he ditched it, he was more aware and paid more attention to the world and people around him.

“It’s a strange experience,” but he “is more aware of the things around me, and happier for it.”

Cowell is not alone. More than half of phone users check it within 15 minutes of waking up, and many believe that our partners use the phone too much too.

Being swarmed with technology creates many problems.

Technology is a good thing, but we haven’t quite learned to manage it yet. Unfortunately, workplace systems and processes demand that we embrace it, rather than ditch it.

It is easier for employers to demand their employees remain at their beck and call, and get them to do more work out of office hours by saying “I emailed you the documents over the weekend” and then expecting things have been dealt with, or demanding their response with a text message.

You can choose to filter out technology, but unfortunately many of us don’t have this choice, unless we work for ourselves, or – like Cowell – have executive assistants to deal with such matters on our behalf. We don’t want it intruding, but we can’t exactly do without it completely, and it is in navigating the disconnect that proves difficult.

Technology promotes a disconnect in many ways too. Musicians who rely on technology face having to alter their art form because the audience expectations have changed. Remember when being a music DJ meant spinning decks and records? Now it is about clicking touchscreens and select pre-edited tracks. Musician Bob Dylan faced accusations from the folk community when his music became electric with amplified guitars.

Disconnect is fun, don’t get me wrong. Listen to classical music crossed with disco. Or metal music is enjoyed because the dark lyrics are sung to major keys. But when you have a disconnect in daily life that widens each day, managing that contradiction is one of the things you need to do, or it will lead to a decline of your mental health.

Google or Counselling?

Seth Stephenson-Davidowitz is a data scientist, which – apart from the fact that it is viewed as a modern, tech-y, somewhat sexy job – means he uses data to draw insights. A major part of his work uses Google searches as a data set, because he believes that people are less inclined to tell the truth when presented with a face to face interviewer or a survey, simply because of how it reflects on them. In other words, traditional methods of information gathering are not necessarily trustworthy, from a deeper truth point of view. However, he believes that because there is a higher perception of anonymity afforded a computer user who goes on Google to search for answers to thoughts, the data trends are more accurate.

There is some truth in that belief, but in counselling once you have established that relationship of trust with a counsellor, it is easier to unravel the tangle of thoughts in your head, to work through the things that trouble you, instead of looking to Google for answers – the latter would be akin to reading an online self-help book!

One of Stephenson-Davidowitz’s research on data trends has focused on depression. According to data searches, August 11 and Christmas Day are the happiest days of the year – there are less searches for the word depression, while depression is highest in April, the month called the “cruelest month” by poet T S Eliot. Google data also suggests that climate matters a great deal. But also highlights that money is the perhaps a strong underlying cause – searches for depression are less in areas which a large percentage of people are college-educated, which – for those of us in the UK – means they have degrees, and are not to be confused with sixth-form college.

Using such data to gather insights is useful, but we should be careful about being too reliant. The data used in this research also suggested that areas with higher Hispanic-Americans were less depressed, but that could have been because Hispanic-Americans might not have typed “depression” into Google, but used other phrases as well, some of which may have been in other languages. And while depression is an anchoring word, people might look up “suicide”, “how to kill myself”, or “end my life” as other indicators of depression.

When you are depressed, it is a good idea to speak with someone else, because not only would that help unravel the thoughts in your mind, the speaking is effortful, and helps you burn off unwanted stressful energy within you and dissipate it. Of course, the listener – the person you are speaking to – should listen, and be trained to withhold comment, otherwise helpful “suggestions” only increase the pressures on you and the things you have to do and cause more mental triggers!

If you are not yet comfortable speaking with someone, try taking up a skill to take you out of the spiral of negative thoughts. Try a candle-making course, something arty, that takes you out to meet people. But if that still is too far of a social stretch at the moment, then something like learning the piano might be a useful skill. Learning the piano activates different parts of the brain which relieves the pressure on the cortex and the word-processing part of the brain, and as you get lost in the music and melodies, it will momentarily take you out of your stressful world and you give you some form of mental escape – instead of being lost in the maze of Google searches without a way out!

The balance of creativity

Sometimes when we see children misbehaving we are inclined to think the worst of them. This is especially true if our energy levels are low and we have not an ounce of patience left within us. We might let an angry word slip from our mouths which we regret later.

Of course, this is not a good thing to happen. And sometimes children frustrate us. We ask for something to be done one way, someone comes back with a smart aleck comment that only saps us further of our energy when we have to explain a second time. Being around children can be draining!

It really comes down to how children decide to implement their innate creativity – whether they use it in a good way or bad way. I will suggest that the decision between using creativity in a good way – say, finding a unique solution for a problem – and using it in a bad way (to find a method for getting out of doing a task, for example) comes down to will. It is how children choose to use their creative nature, whether they have a good or bad outlet for it.

When we chastise children for being devious or calculative, we should make sure they understand we are not chastising them for who they are, but for the wrong choice they made. If a child has shown poor judgement in using their skill – applying it to bad use, for example, such as in arranging toys on the floor such that someone would trip over them, thinking it would be fun to “prank” someone, we should make sure they know why they are wrong, but not try to squeeze the talent out of them by admonishing them outright and making judgements about their character (such as using statements like “You stupid child” instead of saying “you acted stupidly”.)

Every one of us has talents that could be put to good or bad use. Problem-solving could be a good skill to have. But problem-solving put to bad use in order to weasel out of a situation, such as to pin blame on someone else, is not a good thing to do.

The Impressionist music composer Claude Debussy was by many counts, a rebel. As a Muswell Hill piano teacher tells us, Debussy failed his harmony music exams because he was always experimenting with music and sounds, instead of accepting the theoretical knowledge that was being taught. If one of his teachers had forcibly made him rein in that creativity by drilling it out of him until he complied, he would have completely eliminated that creative, experimental streak that soon gave rise to the Impressionist movement, music by suggestion rather than by explicit mention. And what a great loss to the world that would have been!

Maybe slightly entwined with a creative streak is the will to try and be open. Part of being creative is to experiment and push accepted boundaries (of course, within reasonable limit), and to try new things. If you are stuck in a rut, and have given up trying, and accept life as it is, you take fewer risks, but there are less opportunities to grow and become more inward as a person. And so when we get older we should try to risk, to extend ourselves. We can do so by learning a new skill, such as playing the piano, or basket weaving, or any other activity that involves reaching into the mental framework and shaking it up. But when I mention risk, it has to be balanced and cautious. Extend yourself, but slowly and not too far out!

Moving beyond boundaries

 

<blockquote>Too many of us are not living our dreams because we are living our fears.</blockquote>

 

We live in a world of Thou Shalt Nots. Remember life as a child? Frequently our view of the world and immediate surroundings around us were shaped by prohibitions against dangerous situations.

“Don’t touch that. It’s not.”

“Don’t cross the road until I’m there.”

“Don’t annoy me.”

This is not necessarily wrong. In prehistoric times, the key to staying alive was actually not to get yourself into dangerous situations that might actually kill you. That is just how evolution has shaped us.

But there must be a balance drawn in this kind of admonishment, and the daring to explore outside of those boundaries.

If we only live life guided by prohibitions, we would find ourselves increasingly boxed in as the number of rules increase with life.

We can take our lead from the field of music. The Impressionist composer, Claude Debussy, who wrote many works including Clare de Lune, was a student at  Paris Conservatory, where he famously failed many of his theory exams. His crime? Trying to be different. Schooled in the harmonic traditions of Bach and other composers, Debussy found it difficult not to experiment beyond these boundaries, and the conventions of the time did not suit him. Eventually he found some form of reconciliation between the past and the inventive path he wished to follow. The Impressionist phase in music is often seen as the point in Classical music history where the break that would eventually lead to harmonic dissonance and jazz chords being commonplace in modern music occurred. Had Debussy been governed by his Shalt Nots, the course of music history might have been delayed by a decade or two, or perhaps gone on a divergent path. You can read more about this on the Piano Teacher Finsbury Park blog.

Daring to be different is a way to push past existing boundaries. But maybe we should push just slightly, and not so much that the boundaries break, but ever so slightly that they bend, to have more space for our selves to grow – it is about finding a balance.

Knowledge

Knowledge is like underwear. It is useful to have it, but not necessary to show it off.

Have you ever encountered someone who is like a smart aleck? Someone who feels they always have something to say, to contribute, or feels that while everyone is entitled to an opinion, that they must also show it, and display it by saying something really witty.

Perhaps we know someone in this kind of a context. Perhaps we are that person ourselves. In fact, some people read trivia books or memorise witty one-liners, because they think that being socially witty counts for a lot and gives you a lot of social capita.

It is useful to know things, but we do not need to show it off to other people. We do not need to show people we are well read, or that we know a lot. Of course, when we’ve read a bit, we’ll remain under the spell of what we have read and will want to make sure others know about it, and that they know we know about it. But that is kind of showing off really.

Another problem with showing off is that we are likely to say things that we think are witty but may not necessarily be so. Often these may take the form of silly remarks, but unfortunately may be misinterpreted by others.

Take for example, the many cases of middle-aged men making inappropriate remarks, which in retrospect they define as a bit of “male banter”. “Banter” is a very careful way of deflecting fault, by saying that witty remarks – or those made with a view of being perceived as intelligent – had been misinterpreted.

The bottom line is, if you are not sure how your remarks may be perceived by others, then don’t show off by trying to say something clever. And even if you have an area of interest where you know more about the average person, there is no need to show off to the other people what you know.

Humility is often a good way to go.