Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Choosing Compassion

Choosing Compassion Could Help Us Survive  
by Pat Williams (2010)

WE humans live on the edge of a precipice. Our evolutionary history has created within us everything we need to live in this world - which inevitably means that we have within us equal. opposite, and inconsistent instincts.

That we are largely driven by our animal natures is clear from both self-inspection and decades of research into aggression and violence. We know, too, from these same sources, that we have in our make-up strong impulses towards both territoriality and conformist herd behaviour. But we also know that we have equally basic compassionate instincts - for generosity and kindness, for example. And there must be few, if any, human beings on this planet who have not sought, or do not seek, to give and receive love.

Yet our present situation seems to reinforce our darker, more violent instincts. The precipice is growing ever steeper. We are living in the shadow of a terrifying potential for violence and destruction, aware that many millions could die in a nuclear conflict or that long-range missiles might reach us from halfway across the planet.

And if not that, then like a tribe that has over-grazed, we may run out of vital resources. Or else we may unwittingly render our planet uninhabitable, because our brains are not designed to react automatically to threats which we do not reckon to be immediate.

Perhaps the search for possible solutions to this danger may be what lies unspoken behind the increasing amount of current research into what you might call the 'positive' side of our natures: forgiveness, heroism, gratitude, altruism, fairness, trust, cooperation and peacemaking - all of which feature in what is becoming known as 'compassion research'.

An increasing number of new, or newish, organisations dedicated to this kind of research have sprung up. Among them, for instance, is the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, created by a team comprising the Dalai Lama, Stanford University and James Doty, a multimillionaire inventor, entrepreneur and philanthropist as well as a clinical professor of neurosurgery at Stanford University.

The aim is to investigate how the brain deals with compassion and altruism, and how to apply those findings in a practical way to improve people's lives.

Another is the Greater GoodScience Centre, dedicated to expanding a scientific understanding of compassion, which actively disseminates findings from scientists whose areas of study are consistent with this objective. It funds research into, among other things, compassion and empathy, social and emotional learning and forgiveness.

The Centre recently published The Compassionate Instinct, a book of essays by 52 authors of the stature of Daniel Goleman, Philip Zimbardo, Paul Ekman, Steven Pinker, Robert Sapolsky, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. It discusses aspects of current research, experiences and observations on the theme of compassion and its kaleidoscope of concomitants, such as kindness, forgiveness, empathy and trust.  The book is well worth reading.

The ground covered includes research into the biological roots of forgiveness, empathy, compassion, and trust; the cultivation of compassion with friends and neighbours, and also in politics and society. And it provides an added interest for readers of this journal - an abundance of materials which can be transformed into anecdotes and stories of optimism with which to inspire downcast patients, students, colleagues and friends. Some of the material in this article has been sourced from this book.

The idea of compassion, of course, is at the heart of every human and ethical tradition. In the Qur'an, God the Compassionate is foremost among the (99) Most Beautiful Names of God. In the Jewish tradition, God is invoked as the Father of Compassion. The theme of compassion in Hinduism reaches as far back as the Vedas, which were composed prior to 1500 Be. Christians are enjoined to love their neighbours unconditionally, to 'go the extra mile', and never to place themselves above others. And compassion is also the essence of all humanist thinking.

Here are two inspiring examples of compassion. The first comes from South Africa's apartheid era. Nelson Mandela and the men imprisoned with him on Robben Island deliberately worked to make their brutal guards understand that they, their black prisoners, were human beings too. One former prisoner, Neville
Alexander, smiling ruefully at the memory, said when interviewed, "It was very frustrating. We'd just succeed in educating one set of guards to understand this, when a new set would replace them, and we'd have to start all over again."

The second is from Man's Search for Meaning,psychiatrist Victor Frankl's strong and memorable account of his Auschwitz experiences: "We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."

As Frankl says, even when stripped of everything, some things can never be taken from us: the ability to make choices, even in the worst imaginable circumstances, and the capacity to be compassionate. These are riches beyond price.

Capacity for reconciliation after aggression is deep within us. For instance, mutual kissing, submissive vocal sounds, touching and embracing are quite common after the aggressive conflicts of chimps. Other great apes, like the bonobo and mountain gorilla, also engage in acts of reconciliation, as do goats, sheep, dolphins and hyenas. In fact, of the half-dozen or so non-primates that have been studied, only domestic cats have failed to demonstrate a conciliatory tendency".

There is also, quite clearly, an innate inhibition against killing our own kind. This is well documented in many studies, which show that throughout military history soldiers have demonstrated a strong resistance to killing others. In the 1860s, in response to a questionnaire, French officers reported a common tendency of soldiers to fire harmlessly into the air, often without even seeming to aim. And a British study in 1986 examining 100 19th- and 20th-century battles, discovered that the killing potential of the combat weapons used was much greater than the historical casualty rates. The evidence showed that the majority of combatants, when faced with killing the enemy, avoided doing so.'

According to former paratrooper Lt Colonel Dave Grossman, who taught psychology at West Point and was both chairman of and a professor at the Department of Military Science at Arkansas University, these findings have largely been ignored by academia, psychiatry and psychology - but not by the military itself.  Since the Second World War, troops have been 'brainwashed' to overcome this resistance. They are trained, for example, to see the enemy as nothing more than one of the man-shaped targets they have practised on in similar field conditions in full battledress. And they are trained to aim at the heart, which they are conditioned to see as merely a splosh of red paint on the 'target'. But the success of the training, says Grossman, comes at the cost of severe psychological trauma - post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), suicides, alcoholism, drug use and divorce. A study in 1988 showed that PTSD sufferers were almost exclusively among veterans who had taken part in 'high-intensity combat situations'. Grossman also points out that popular culture has done much to perpetuate the myth of easy killing. Many video games actually replicate military training, and are conditioning young people to kill - "but without 'stimulus discriminators 'to ensure they only fire under authority".

Research into human violence has, however, also thrown up an unexpected, though contentious, possibility - that in spite of genocide, 'ethnic cleansing', and unjustifiable wars, the level of violence in the past century may have actually decreased.
According to Steven Pinker, professor of psychology at Harvard, social scientists have begun to count bodies in different historical periods and have found that any idyllic images we may have had of hunter-gatherer societies living in a state of harmony with nature and each other are the wrong way round." Our ancestors were far more violent than we are today, he says: in fact, we may be living in the most peaceful moment of our time on earth.

There has been much criticism of Pinker's view, but ancient texts, certainly, in all the traditions, show a stunning disregard for human life. Think of all the smiting commanded by God in the Old Testament, which also prescribes death by stoning for a whole list of non-violent infractions, including picking up sticks on the Sabbath, homosexuality, and disrespecting one's parents. In the Middle Ages, too, mutilation and torture were still routine punishments for social infringements which today would result in a fine.

So why do so many people believe that we are living in the most violent period that has even been? Better reporting, says Pinker, plus the fact that, as cognitive psychologists have shown, the easier it is to recall an event, the more likely we are to believe it will happen again. War images from TV are burned into our brains; images of people dying in their beds of old age are not.

About 20 years ago, medical and psychological researchers turned their attention from focusing exclusively on disease and depression, and began to look also at 'wellness' and positive thinking. Similarly, interest in the 'red in tooth and claw' aspect of our natures has widened to include the compassionate 'up' side. When, in the course of research, Professor Jonathan D Haidt, of the University ofVirginia, and colleagues asked people 
in several countries to list disgusting things, they found, to their surprise, that, as well as rotten food, dead bodies, excrement, etc, most people also mentioned social offences such as hypocrisy, racism, cruelty and betrayal.

Haidt later began to wonder about things which uplifted people rather than revolted them and to look at what he termed 'elevation': the uplifting effect that comes from seeing another person perform an unexpected altruistic act.' His experiments have shown that people who witness such events become more optimistic about humanity, develop higher goals for themselves and are prepared to affiliate with others; they also report more energy, playfulness, and pleasant physical feelings - warmth or tingling in their chests - none of which was found in the control groups. 

Elevation is also contagious, says Professor Haidt, and so he is looking at ways to include the idea in education programmes, "inspiring young people in ways that more traditional teaching techniques cannot".

But there is a need for caution here. All emotions are contagious, sometimes to the point of mass hysteria. We are, in many ways, herd animals. And there is a strong tendency, especially in groups, for elevated feelings to tip over into highminded self-righteousness. Past and current events - from the Inquisition to the persecution of so called 'witches', to the phenomenon of the suicide bomber - demonstrate the tragic direction in which the 'meme' of self-righteousness can lead us. There is, I think, no substitute for making altruism, or any other 'elevated' emotion one may have 'caught', authentically one's own.

For example, in the year 2000 the International Committee of the Red Cross asked Harvard researchers to analyse the comprehensive data collected from its People on War project, in which thousands of hours of interviews with individuals in 12 of the world's most wartorn areas were undertaken, discussing the often almost unbearable impact of war on their lives, in terms of humiliation, tragedy and loss. The researchers found that, although the focus of the interviews had been the terrible things that had happened, time and again acts of compassion and altruism were spontaneously mentioned. Sometimes it made the difference between life and death; sometimes it might have been the simple giving of a glass of water. In the nightmare of war, these acts of humanity shone like beacons and were lifelines for the recipients. It seems to me that such actions were not, and could not have been, produced by superficial emotional contagion. They could only have arisen from deep within certain individuals.

Research into forgiveness, as we learn from many studies cited in The Compassionate Instinct, confirms what observation and common sense also tell us - that we could not have survived without the capacity to forgive because, quite apart from the obvious benefit of damage limitation, forgiveness brings in its train peace, harmony, cooperation and wellbeing, to families, social groups, and whole countries. But studies 
also show that forgiveness has powerful psychological and physiological effects on the forgiver, in terms of reduced stress levels and general wellbeing.

Right across what you could call 'the compassionate spectrum', in fact, these healthy and beneficial consequences are found. For example, although it has been said for centuries that kindness is its own reward, neuroscience has now found the physiological pathways which express this in the body. When we give to others, our brain shows heightened activity in the nucleus accumbens, a region known to have many dopamine receptors, and which processes rewards.

But compassion, like everything else, must begin at home. We all need to be able, when necessary, to turn its healing light on ourselves. Indeed a therapeutic technique known as Compassionate Mind Training (CMT)has recently been developed by evolutionary psychologist Paul Gilbert for people with high shame and self-criticism, whose problems tend to be chronic and who find selfwarmth and self-acceptance difficult and/or frightening.

In 2008 Professor Gilbert and Sophie Mayhew published a series of case studies exploring the understanding, acceptance and value of CMT for psychotic individuals who heard voices.They were interested in the degree to which such people were able to access and feel the positive emotions of 'warmth' and 'contentment', and to become more compassionate towards themselves. They also explored how CMT affected participants' hostile voices, their levels of anxiety, depression, paranoia and self-criticism. Participants were invited to offer their own suggestions for tailoring this approach for those people who hear voices.

The results showed decreases for all participants in depression, psychoticism, anxiety, paranoia, obsessive compulsive 
disorder and interpersonal sensitivity. And all the participants' auditory hallucinations became less malevolent, less persecuting and more reassuring." 

This is a powerful result, particularly in individuals suffering extreme symptoms. But in my experience, people with even minor anxieties, or simple social embarrassment, benefit from learning how to extend to themselves the healing balm of compassion.

Researchers are also looking at a range of other ways in which compassionate responses can be learned. Interventions have been designed, for instance, for partners in marriage, for parents, for incest victims, for people recovering from drug and alcohol addictions. Unsurprisingly, it doesn't work with everyone. However,  there is a powerful, long-term way in which individuals can be primed for compassionate and heroic responses, without indoctrination or conditioning. The human race has practised it from time immemorial- the telling of traditional tales and epic stories of heroes.

Philip Zimbardo is famous for his landmark Stanford Prison Experiment in which seemingly well-adjusted male college students, randomly assigned the roles of 'prison guards' at a makeshift jail' on campus, descended within five days to perpetrating outlandish, sadistic punishments on their student 'prisoners', which eerily foreshadowed Abu Ghraib. The experiment, due to run for two weeks, was stopped only because a compassionate young woman, Zimbardo's girlfriend, courageously challenged the situation. After hours of argument and protest, she convinced him to call it off. 

In recent years, Zimbardo has been researching what kind of individuals will stand up against authority, or blow the whistle, or even sacrifice their lives, for what they know to be right. They are quite ordinary people, he says - but a number of factors make them able to go against the herd if the situation calls for it. As a result of his research he has created the Hero Project, designed to help instill in children the qualities of heroes rather than monsters."

The most important factor of all, he says, is what he calls 'the stimulation of heroic imagination' - in other words, the telling of epic stories such as the Iliad, or Beowulf, which have embedded in them models of the heroic process. As readers of this journal are aware, metaphors and patterns of compassion, generosity and sacrifice within stories nourish human development. Children have a natural hunger for such tales, but in this digital age are too often starved of them - and society has begun to feel the consequences.

Even if the sense of dread in the public mind does not, as Pinker suggests, pass any reality check, the gathering storms around us seem real enough - and in times of emergency our baser, short-term animal survival instincts tend to win, because this is what our brains are specialised for. Yet even here, if we have templates provided by stories or the example of others already in our minds, our compassionate instinct can be sustained.

We have all exercised compassion on behalf of others, so we can quickly and easily evoke it from the range of our sub-personalities - the 'characters', as I have described them in an earlier article in this journal" and a CD, which we unconsciously switch between in the theatre of our lives. Indeed one can consciously apply the idea of the 'characters' to our whole repertoire of survival instincts, switching from Seeking Advantage to Intention to Share, or banishing Vengeance and bringing Cooperation to the centre of the mental stage. Our sub-personalities, the 'characters' in the theatre of our lives, can help us - because the 'many minds' model fosters conscious choice.

Here is an example from our evolutionary past. The desire for revenge, according to Professor Michael McCullough, is a universal trait in human nature. When our human ancestors were harmed by another, the propensity for revenge may have deterred the aggressor from harming them again and prevented them from appearing weak and vulnerable, thus serving as a protective device."

This dynamic still plays out today. Social psychologists have shown in the laboratory that a victim will retaliate more strongly against a provoker when others are watching. And when two men have an argument in the street, the mere presence of a third person doubles the likelihood that the encounter will escalate from an exchange of words to an exchange of blows.

Clearly revenge is adaptive, and can protect us. But we are all interdependent, all linked, now, in global networks, all in the firing line. What worked automatically for our ancestors needs to be put, from time to time, under conscious control, so that we can deliberately select from our basic biological repertoire what will work best for the whole human network, not just for ourselves - revenge or peacemaking, disgust or elevation, suspicion or trust.

We can no longer be driven blindly by the primal needs of our ancestral primates and early tribal living. Retaliation in order to save face is too dangerous now. Even within our own society, a minor perceived slight may result in murder by knife or gun. But internationally, whatever our country, the threats are too great to stoke up grievance and resentment, or to think in terms of 'them' and 'us'. Yet many societies, our own included, seem in recent decades to have become overheated and anxious, pointing the finger of blame at other cultures, other beliefs, other behaviours, other religions, other people - whatever it is, is the fault of the 'other'.

So the revenge instinct needs to be avoided, or controlled, or carefully measured. Sometimes we may find the measure more easily, both individually and collectively, by looking in our minds for an appropriate 'character' who can choose to warn strongly, but not to harm. Naming our impulses and sub-personalities as 'characters' helps distance us from an aggressive (or any other) impulse, because by doing so we automatically move into our 'observing selves' - which can both cool us down and help us see our options more clearly.

It has become even clearer to me through writing this article how important it is, in certain circumstances, consciously and authentically to choose compassion, rather than allow ourselves to be infected by the  emotional context, whatever it is. And, in more ambiguous circumstances, to be able to select, situation by situation, what may be the optimum 'measure' of compassion we can manage.

Our choices could determine our survival. Is there anything that can help us in this? Victor Frankl states it impeccably:

"Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth  and our freedom."


from The Human Givens Foundation Blog

The Need for Attention

Mummy, She Thinks I'm Real
The underestimated craving for attention. 
By Pat Williams (1976)

Have you ever craved attention and then felt guilty about needing it? The answer is probably yes, because for some strange reason the need for attention is something we hate to admit.

Yet the need is as basic as hunger. Without it we starve in a psychic desert. And all over the country there are people starving in this way.

Extreme cases end up in the courts or on psychiatrist’s couches. Many more are quietly dying of psychic neglect among the endless acres of middle class suburban houses – housewives locked into their isolated rocket-ships, making lonely journeys with everything to sustain life on a material level but suffering from attention starvation and wondering what is wrong.


One of the saddest cases recently was that of a a 19 year old housewife who cut herself with a razor , slashed off her hair, and pounded herself with a hammer, inflicting injuries which required hospital treatment. She wasted nearly three hundred hours of police time claiming a man and a woman had assaulted her.

She was put on probation and if she sees her probation officer more than once a week (which in some areas they are now trying to do) then she may have achieved exactly what she needed. Someone will be paying her attention.

For one of the most chilling and revealing stories I ever heard was of a little girl in a restaurant with her mother. The waitress gave the child a menu and asked her what she wanted to eat. The child’s eyes widened, she tugged her mother’s sleeve and said. Did you hear that Mummy ? She thinks I’m real.

The child’s response provides the clue. If we don’t get attention we begin to feel invisible .So we make bids, initially small ones ,to become validated by someone else.

A housewife who feels her husband is ignoring her may buy a sexy nightie or cook him an astonishingly good meal. If her attempts to get him to notice her are still ignored the dinner may land on the husband’s face and the nightie be tried out on a new man.

Attention need knows no age. . We’ve surely all been that child walking a step behind our mother feigning a limp. As adults we’ve all loved being the centre of attention at a party. And a G.P. tells me that elderly patients turn up so often that it’s more than chance saying..It’s such a nice day Doctor that I thought I’d come and take a look at you.

if these attempts are ignored they can change gear and become bids for a wider limelight, entering the t dangerous realm of fantasy acted out. 


The housewife suffering from chronic attention hunger, who feels that he husband and family NEVER see her for herself may become the shoplifter, the one who cries rape or makes a fake suicide attempt. The man who feels himself a ‘nobody’ may confess to a crime he didn’t commit.

Without this label (which we need as a matter of FACT not judgement) we indulge in all kinds of bizarre subterfuges to conceal our need from ourselves. Sometimes we weld it on to something different and confuse it with love or an interest in politcs, or concern for the welfare of others.


Without the label too, you get the kind of confusing situations described by probation officer Jean Barrett. In one case a man grabbed a whole rail of dresses in Marks and Spencer and charged into the street with it shouting Arrest me! Arrest me!

In another, a girl in her twenties who had cut herself off from her family and was living in London without friends ran up thousands of pounds of credit card debts staying in fancy hotels and buying clothes. She was buying attention in fact, from hotel staff and the admiration of strangers; she got attention of another kind form the welfare officers and the courts.

Idries Shah who has pointed out the importance of attention to our culture in his books, says that although the principle of attention is little –understood here in the West ‘there are so many jokes about it in the east that I’m almost surprised it’s so unknown here, relatively unknown.’

He says: ‘Many of the people who write to me are asking, at least partly, for attention- even if they think they are asking for something else.’

‘If a letter isn’t answered a person may often try another tack, and write asking for different information. it ‘s very easy to illustrate attention desire if one is doesn’t feel flattered by the attention of the other person.

SIMILARLY ONE CAN EXPERIMENT ONESELF; If you feel something is wrong ,ask yourself if it’s attention you need. If you think it is, there are several things you can do.

First you can BUY it. For attention is actually a substance: the more you pay the more you get. Notice how the rich are treated in expensive shops and hotels.

Second you can COMMAND it—by making yourself so interesting so pretty so unusual or so famous that you simply find it coming towards you. Fame, it has been said is stored attention.


And third you can GIVE it... thereby probably getting it back again. Generating attention towards others seems to mean that the substance has been put in the air, and some of it will surely come back to you.

Aware of our need, we survive. Unaware we can be destroyed by our invisibility, though surrounded by millions of people. A precept in one of Shah’s books says it all:

'MAN: Kick him- he’ll forgive you. Flatter him – he may or may not see through you. But ignore him and he’ll hate you even if he conceals it until the day he dies.'

--from The Daily Mail, July, 1976.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Attention Theory

We're All Attention Seekers 
By Pat Williams
Condensed from Psychology Today
February 1979  

There is nothing wrong with seeking attention. It is a psychological nutrition. What is counterproductive, however, is to allow the need to masquerade as something else, or not to acknowledge the need at all. Pat Williams asks, have you recognized how much attention you really need and the forms in which you get it? 

There is a pitiful little story about an eight-year-old girl who went to a restaurant with her mother. The waitress came up to them, gave each a menu, and returned a bit later, saying to the child: "What would you like, dear?" The child pulled at her mother's sleeve. "Did you hear that, Mummy?" She asked. "She thinks I'm real!"

There was a young woman recently who repeated a pattern that is all too familiar to social workers. She stole a banker's card, bought herself beautiful clothes and jewelry, and patronized the best hotels and restaurants at which, because of her style and apparent money, she was treated like a storybook princess – until the police caught up with her. 

There was a man who went into a London Marks and Spencers, grabbed a rail of jackets, wheeled them out of the door, and ran down the street pushing them, shouting: "Arrest me! Arrest me!"

Probation and police officers are full of similar tales. And there are many men and women, young or old, who seem to be wedded to a cause – say that of the underdog, or patriotism, or militant politics, or some form of religion – who would be less interested in these matters, if at all, if a concealed psychological need – the need for attention – we're being satisfied. 

In all these stories what everyone was really seeking, in either an extreme, criminal way or, as in the last paragraph, in a more submerged and socially acceptable way, was… attention. 

Human beings, and animals too, seek attention, much as a plant seeks light – because it is a basic need, as much as hunger or thirst. A child can be deprived of attention to the point where it begins to feel unreal and invisible. A young woman will go to self-destructive lengths, playing an unreal role, to command attention. A man will invite arrest if he can find attention in no other fashion. Human beings may espouse causes, do 'good' or do 'bad', set themselves up as devoted servants or imperious masters, declare themselves deeply in love, all in order to get a feed of sufficient attention. 

Public generosity, for example, is often more a matter of attention-getting than generosity only. It is possible, after all, (and recommended in our own traditions, possibly for this among other reasons) to "do good by stealth". 

There is nothing wrong with seeking attention. We need it as we need our daily bread. It is a psychological nutrition. What is counterproductive, however, is to allow the need to masquerade as something else. Or not to acknowledge the need at all. 

The idea of attention being something we all want in our lives is conceded, rather dismissively, by most of us. But until recently we had little idea how comprehensively this matter of attention was affecting our lives. It is becoming increasingly clear that it is worth putting a great deal of the right kind of attention on the subject. 

The getting and giving of attention, and the various kinds of attention that exist, have not been considered much by Western psychologists, although it is a phenomenon well-known and better understood in the East. In recent years, however, it has been brought to the notice of the West by Idries Shah, who in his writings and university lectures has formulated an extremely valuable theory of attention. 

It seems to me best to quote Shah on the subject immediately, and extensively, for his statements are more informed and succinct than my interpretation of them could be. 

"Study the attracting, extending and reception as, as well as the interchange of attention", writes Shah, in Learning How to Learn (Octagon Press 1978). 

"One of the keys to human behavior is the attention factor. 

"Anyone can verify that many instances, generally supposed to be important or useful human transactions on any subject (social, commercial, etc.), are in fact disguised attention- situations. 

"It is contended that if a person does not know what he is doing (in this case that he is basically demanding, extending or exchanging attention) and as a consequence thinks that he is doing something else (contributing to human knowledge, learning, buying, selling, informing, etc.), he will (a) be more inefficient at both the overt and the covert activity; (b) have less capacity of planning his behavior and will make mistakes of emotion and intellect because he considers attention to be other than it is.

 "If this is true, it is most important that individuals realize: 

1. That this attention factor is operating in virtually all trend transactions; 

2. That the apparent motivation of transactions may be other than it really is. And that it often is generated by the need or desire for attention-activity (giving, receiving or exchanging). 

3 That attention activity, like any other demand for food, warmth, etc. when placed under volitional control, must result in increased scope for the human being who would not then be at the mercy of random sources of attention, or even more confused than usual if things do not pan out as they expect."

 He then enunciates 21 principles. I have space to quote and consider briefly only the first few in this article. But I have a strong hunch that if we could absorb and understand, really understand, even these (rather than having an intellectual or emotional response to them), we would be able to remove a great deal of tangle and clutter from our minds, leaving space to see something more useful and interesting. 

The first of these principles is that "too much attention can be bad (inefficient)". The second, that "too little attention can be bad."

I imagine that those of us who are interested in psychology are vaguely aware of this, but I wonder whether we have thought even the superficial implications of this right through, or examined the workings of it in the behavior of ourselves and those we know....


... an important man or woman in church or local affairs, may often be doing so primarily to fulfill attention need. The scientist or doctor who has made some important breakthrough may work on quietly – or, if he needs attention, may revel in the limelight. Everyone, in fact, unless they are aware of their attention needs and when they are satisfying them, is saying to a fairly indifferent world: "Look at me. I am here too, I count."

As Shah has pointed out elsewhere (Caravan of Dreams, Octagon Press, reprinted 1979):

 "MAN: Kick him – he'll forgive you. Flatter him — he may or may not see through you. But ignore him, and he'll hate you, even if he conceals it until he dies."

It's fascinating to try and dissect the element of attention-demand in the behavior of others. And the detective work becomes even more interesting and rewarding when one applies it back to oneself. 

In what ways do I, personally, get attention? Am I confusing an attention demand for something else? If there is an element of attention-exchange in all human encounters, can I recognize it each time? Am I getting enough? If not, can I face the fact that this is really what I am needing, even if I may be calling it, for example, something "higher"? Am I getting too much, thus making me inefficient? Can I, by making my intake less random and more conscious, cut down my intake? 

Shah says that if we seek attention more consciously, we will be more efficient in our lives. By his analogy, a tribe that is short of food is inefficient because it is hungry. But a tribe which has more than enough food is equally inefficient if it spends all day gathering it at random, chewing the berries, so to speak, where they find them. They are spending too much time on it – throwing away the chance of learning to do or be anything else in their lives. It would free them for a further range of possibilities if they could learn how to accumulate and store the food, and eat only at regular intervals.

 If we can concede, first, that it is possible to have too much or too little attention, we need then to think further, to identify in what guises attention may be given, gotten, or exchanged. 

Some further principles of Shah's may help us here:

 * Attention may be `hostile' or `friendly' and still fulfil the 
appetite for attention. This is confused by the moral aspect.

 * When people need a great deal of attention they are vulner- 

able to the message which too often accompanies the exercise of attention towards them. E.g., someone wanting attention might be able to get it only from some person or organisation which might thereafter exercise (as `its price') an undue influence upon the attention-starved individual's mind.

 * Present beliefs have often been inculcated at a time and under circumstances connected with attention-demand, and not arrived at by the method attributed to them.

 * Many paradoxical reversals of opinion, or of associates and 

commitments may be seen as due to the change in a source of 

 * People are almost always stimulated by an offer of attention, 

since most people are frequently attention-deprived. This is one 
reason why new friends, or circumstances, for instance, may be preferred to old ones.

 These statements seem to carry with them the possibility of liberation from the thrall in which our tendency to mistake attention-seeking for something else holds our minds and consequent behavior. 

Have you never been brainwashed by someone whose attention (you may have called it "respect ", "friendship "or "company ") you wanted? Never professed a sudden interest in, say boxing or etymology, because you want attention from someone who is interested in them? I have. The price has simply been loss of my own independent-mindedness in this area – though pride has made me loathe to admit it. This, of course, is relatively harmless: acceptable if one knows what one is doing. But we have all seen this kind of behavior writ large in groups, sects, cults, political associations, gangs of hoodlums, even children at school. Have you never changed your mind at the slightest pressure of someone you want to "like "or "like you"? And how often have you watched others do the same? 

Attention theory seems to me a Theseus' thread to unravel some of the confusion in the mind – because it goes all over the place. Its great value is that it breaks down categories of thought previously labeled and boxed as separate things, and enables us to see certain elements they have in common. It is a real step forward. 

As Shah himself says: "One of the advantages of this theory is that it allows the human mind to link in a coherent and easily-understood way many things which it has always (wrongly) been taught are very different, not susceptible to comparison, etc. This incorrect training has, of course, impaired the possible efficiency in functioning of the brain, though only culturally, not permanently".