Are we all seeking a Rat Park Utopia?
So, I watched an amazing speaker recently and I can’t wait to tell you all about the ensuing findings that came about! This is going to blow your mind and change your entire belief system when looking at the greater scheme of society, as a whole.
If you know me personally or read my blogs, you will probably be aware of my passionate zest for culture and the strength in building relationships. I read up on it, I research why it is so essential; I preach it and practice it; I live and breathe it in work and leisure. So what happens when something, someone, is toxic to the culture? A plague on the environment and its vision of idealistic being? Often we see addicts as this very vermin on society; obesity, drug-related behaviours, gamblers alcoholics and more. Maybe we need to simply change the way we view this toxicity. Check this out.
An age ago, a psychologist tested the very means of addiction and the hardships one must endure when they own an ‘addictive personality’. To test such a thing, the advanced doctor put a rat in a testing environment (usually a glass tank, incubator styled set-up), and placed within a water source from which the rat to hydrate. One source, at one end of the tank, actual water, the other, down the opposite end. What the rat did not know was that this second water source was laced with heroin and soon the rat became so infatuated by this water source, and could not distract itself from the cravings, the psych declared addiction had eventuated. He concluded, that indeed a chemical occurrence in the brain creates a ‘hook’ and the stimulus simply cannot help itself. It eventually over-doses and dies. This happened time and time again. We can relate this to many aspects of our society. It seems fool-proof really. But there were cynics.
Lowly species such as rats cannot possibly control themselves. If only there were ways to test completely sane humans, and then we may see the results for certain.
Soon after, a natural rat experiment did take place with the sought out ‘drug and the human’ scenario the cynics craved. It was known as the Vietnam War.
In one Time magazine report, it was cited that heroin use during the war was common as ‘chewing gum’ and some 20% of soldiers had become addicted to it whilst there in Vietnam. Many commoners were understandably horrified and stressed about the idea of addicts re-joining society when the war ended. But, surprisingly, our aforementioned psychologist’s conclusion took a hit (pardon the pun) when 95% of returning addict soldiers simply stopped on arrival back on home soil. This led many to the belief that rather an addiction is an adaptation not a chemical hijacking of the brain. Professor of Psychology in Vancouver, Bruce Alexander explains these findings as a “profound challenge” to the idea that addiction is “moral failing caused by too much hedonistic partying”. He argues against this idea of the “rat” or you being at fault but moreover “the cage” or the environment we are in at the time. Now this, I love! WE are all different and our apple sometimes falls very close to our unfortunately rotten trees. Other times, it is getting “caught up in the wrong crowd” (I sense eye-rolling and scoffing, as I’m sure you’ve heard it before). We can find solace in what Professor Alexander went on to conclude, thanks duly to his alternative test, taking the testing environment and its variability into consideration. Now here, and mainly here, is where I start to buzz with excitement.
So, Dr. Alexander took the original test and proclaimed that the reason the rats chose, over and over again, to take in an abundance of heroin laced water was that there was nothing else to do. Put simply; there was nothing in the environment which gave the rats a natural high, engagement or purposeful and meaningful ambition, thus, they drank the ‘devil’s wine’ almost as a protest to solidarity. In short, they were bored! They had nothing inspiring to draw them away from it. How incredibly close can we link this to our society?
I mean, could you imagine being thrown into an unfamiliar place (more or less an enclosure) with no one but yourself to keep your company; with nothing more than your thoughts to keep you busy? Now that I think of it, there is a place that exists just like that…
Fun fact: in the past year, the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the number of prisoners had risen again by 3% within Australia, the vast majority of inmates convicted of addiction-related crimes. Those who steal are in need of acceptance and those who binge crave comfort because of a weird sense of FOMO or worse, they’re unappreciated and depressed. Dr. Alexander took it further. He created a utopic rat park tank to compare the previous test and his new hypothesis. This tank had spinning wheels, coloured balls, obstacle courses, cheese and, best of all, other rats! It was heaven (as far as lab rats are concerned). Incredibly, the results resoundingly contradicted the original tests suggesting the rats could not help themselves.
You see, in this rat park utopia, the rats were still given the same two water sources, but, alternatively were given different things to connect with; to keep them stimulated. Peter Cohen, a psychologist in The Netherlands supported Dr. Alexander testing, posing that instead even using the term ’addiction’, shouldn’t we just call it ‘bonding’? After all, what really is happening is a close bond taking place between the user and the feeling the drug gives us. He describes us all as, “Human beings have a natural and innate need to bond…” And, amazingly, the rat park utopia rats did not become addicted or even enjoy the water, they in fact, actually felt dissuaded from going anywhere near it. Why? They had everything they needed already; further justifying the hypothesis of the “cage” v the “rat”.
I want to now turn your attention to a place that does actually feel like it’s on another planet when it comes to this topic, but it is right here on planet earth; Portugal. Just twenty years ago, this country had a huge epidemic: 1% of its population was addicted to heroin. Johann Hari, calls this as outrageous but seeks to find the answers in the response to this. In the time before the year 2000, Portugal did what most other western countries did /do in this situation, “they punished them, stigmatised them and shamed them, and every year the problem got worse…” Eventually (the year 2000), the people in power decided to make a change. They made a decision to legalise all illicit drugs! On one condition, and this is, according to Hari, “take all the money we use to spend on cutting addicts off, on disconnecting them and spend it instead on reconnecting them with their society…”
This was done in the way of micro-loaning and job creation. The addicts, in turn, once more felt purpose, had meaning in their lives and moreover, enjoyed doing things collaboratively, making a positive impact on the community. It all starts to make some sense. That addict you know may have wanted to be a mechanic once upon a time, the goal for Portugal0 is make this increasingly distant dream a reality by offering the local repair garage an employee and pay half the wages while they’re at it. We all have that someone in our lives. This system gives addicts a reason to get out of bed in the morning. The answer is certainly inclusion, not exclusion and ridicule. It’s time to make “the rat v the cage” case a reality.
As spoken about in my introductory words, I passionately pursue building the bonds readily available to positive progression and Portugal are doing just this, on a massive scale. In classrooms and football teams I preach selflessness. I urge others to be inclusive and not to persecute for indifference and misdemeanours (often out of their control). Think about what we do on a daily basis. How much of it is driven by our own selfish needs? The biggest driver of addiction is a disconnection, in, ironically, quite possibly the most connected phase in mankind’s history. Our thirst for acceptance is strong but our appetite for value is critical. A connection must only be prioritised when we first prioritise our disconnected. A really notable quote sticks in my mind and fits perfectly to all of this. Mahatma Gandhi, an amazing human being for a myriad of reasons, none more so than his humanitarian values and his care for all members of society, fatefully stated, “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members”. What a reflection on all of us.
So, while we sit on our pedestal and throw arrows at our weakest, continue to divulge in condescension think very closely about who you are really excluding, shaming and locking away from our own Rat Park Utopia, it may be someone closer to you than you think.
The key here is to restore a purpose, for all; so that we can reach an ideal sense of being – by no means utopic but just a sense of being and then we can truly belong. For those cynics of Portugal’s response to Rat Park Utopia, it is really inspiring. Drug use and related crime are down by 50%, addiction of all forms well down and, quite inarguably in your face, no one in society wants to return back to the old way- the way that everyone else does it- they just want their loved ones loved. Isn’t that enough to bring about change? We are the most isolated generation of human existence, it’s time to take a breath and start doing one thing. Fill your cage with colourful fun, cheese and, most important, other rats to share the goodness with. It may just end up being that perfect Rat Park Utopia we seek after all.
“There’s only one way to find out if you can trust somebody… trust them”
~ Albert Einstein~
After feeling a very valid quote for many years, I must say I could’ve changed my thinking around this. The obvious reasons for such a thought change: Michael Jackson and George Pell.
Ok, don’t get me wrong, life is full of choices. Choices which can be life-changing and others not so much. Choices in all that we do make us; on a daily basis, who we are, create our personality type and mould the life we live. I’m going to go out on a limb to say this: trust creates us, truly.
So, like many of us, when a spare moment arises (some people have plenty by the look of their Facebook feeds), for me after the little one is down and my day is done; I flick through what treasures the world of news and social media have to offer me for another day. On this day, like many before it, I am greeted with a flurry of George Pell opinion pieces. Disgusting, highly scouring and at times hard to swallow. Stories and insights from so many, not that I need to write my own opinion on the timeline of events of this ogre, I feel I need to clear up why the situation and so many like it continue to occur. My simple answer: trust.
Many of the articles permeate with the topic of trust and its issues surrounding the institutional rite of passage from days gone by. As a society, historically, we’ve given our trust to the entitled entities for all the wrong reasons. We could go on forever about this but reading just one article questioned my whole take on choice and my very belief asserted in my introductory stanza. Its author has simply gone too far with his ‘credentialed’ analysis this time. Andrew Bolt is his name, intimidating, pompous and blunt journalism is his game. He weighs in on, well, everything and after hearing that former Prime Minister John Howard gave one rich personal character check for Cardinal Pell, it is no real surprise Mr. Bolt felt it necessary to back the alleged villain. All in all, it is simple opinion piece propaganda and everyone is entitled to this, hence, I’ll offer mine.
Here’s where my issues lie:
We place, using Albert Einstien’s wonderful quote at the top of this blog, huge amounts of trust in those who should support us most and find ourselves begging for answers as to why they continue to let us down.
Trust is something we inherit from others (parents, friends etc) when it is something which should be earnt, entirely. If only we had a detector on untrustworthy folk. (ahem) Well, according to a recent study, we do. They come in the form of dogs. We know dogs have an incredible sense of smell and an all-conquering myriad of skills which make our hearts melt. One thing I came across with dogs was their ability to scent out cancer to the exact location – mind-blowing, right? Then, it popped right into my field of view, plain as day. Just last year, a scientific study was administered to enhance the locating of sex-offenders around schools and parks, with the intention of keeping our kids safe from predators. As the tracking system currently being used by our community tells us, we are able to have photo-accompanied profiles to match any suspicious members of our neighbourhood on show. In other words, we have a giant catalogue of those you should steer clear of in your community. Let’s be honest, we don’t exactly stroll around town, holding this list as if a map, navigating the ‘not-so-hot’ spots. Enter Trusty dog Experiment. Its results were crazy good for all of us! In this experiment, dogs were offered treats by random strangers of all walks in life and whether the exact same treat was taken or not came down to the very attribute of trust. If the dog perceived the person to be a ‘bad person’ it would not take the tasty snack – something I would imagine to very difficult for a dog. It proved, once again, dogs are extremely loyal to their owners and, that even when good could come of letting their loved ones down (ie; a snack), they would choose loyalty, in fear of losing trust, every time. The experiment proved that dogs are very privy to personality traits; pretention and authenticity; that they are extremely sensitive to social cues, often missed by adult humans, and that they have an inspiring sense of selflessness, putting the needs of others before their own – the very essence of trust. As our old friend, actor, Bill Murray bluntly states, “I’m suspicious of people who don’t like dogs, but I trust a dog when it doesn’t like a person”.
So, why link this to the whole ordeal of recent tumultuous times? Are we supposed to employ dogs to guard institutes? Of course not, the key message is that humans are tainted, we aren’t always great people who do great things. But a lot of us do. My aim in writing this is to show that trust is very important and to offer a necessary step in educating our youth to be better judges of character and learn what real trust looks and feels like.
Within most things, I am involved in (marriage, workplace, classrooms, footy clubs) trust is paramount in the development of the community, a sense of belonging and positive outcomes driven by goal attainment. I speak often to many about vulnerability. This is a great ingredient but doesn’t hit the mark with finding skills in seeking who we trust and who we should not. Building trust (and keeping it for that matter) can be uncomfortable, similar to brushing your teeth with your opposite hand. I can tell you one thing though, it will get easier, it will get more comfortable. Within the classroom realm, my focus is belonging, and a lot of this comes down to relationships and trust. Each individual within owns a brick (has their name on it and everything), this brick is simply a laminated piece of card but it means and stands for so much more. It, as an individual brick, belongs to something far more powerful: a wall. In this sense, the kids are not just “another brick in the wall” either, it shows each individual that they are part of something bigger; that their actions impact others, in both positive and negative ways, they have to earn a trusting bond with those around them and that their learning can come with the nurturance and safety net of their peers. Together a formidable wall is established and this trust, if broken, can consequently crumble the entire system within which it belongs.
In life we will have our trust built and broken on many occasion, if all else fails, let us confide in our very own William Shakespeare. “Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.”
Some people are outwardly obnoxious and others cruel. Some people bossy and others slobs. Some people are awkwardly vindictive and others plain condescending. Some lack tact and others exuberate deranged. Some people are mean and others unjust. Then there are those who are greedy and others are gluttons. Many are horrid and others are damn right evil. Then there are vicious villains, and ugly crippled souls. The world often seems a dark, dangerous and worrisome place.
But in saying that there’s the wonderful souls, filled with bravery and bliss. The kind who support you and nurture your greatest strengths. There’s those who are mystical and filled with marvel. And those who are caring, kind, considerate and full of bubbly joy. There’s those who are welcoming and warm and continue to fill your heart with love. And these are the ones we desire most; their friendliness and gifts of affability.
The key is to surround yourself with people in life. Your job is to find out who ‘some people’ really are.
Professionalism comes in many forms; preparation, the manner in which we hold ourselves, our ability to get things done in an equitable way and even in the clothes we wear. Professionalism, an idea thrown around, often simultaneously with culture, and its exact definition is difficult to pin point, and then comes how to best apply it. Drawing on personal experience, evidenced research and some of the most successful institutes around the globe, I’m going to share a little secret: ‘casual professionalism’ is the new thing, and it’s bringing about some incredible individual and collective results.