This article was written for and first published by the Queensland Telegraph, Rockhampton on 1 September 2012 as “Big Brother ‘traffics in unreal situations”.
Is there anything good to be said about Big Brother? Of course, I’m referring to the latest version of the reality TV program in Australia where for three months 14 participants live in ‘the house’ together and contend for $250,000. Winner takes all.
Much to my surprise, I quite enjoyed meeting the participants on the first show as individual strengths shone through during their interviews. Most were looking for love and/or fame. All had aspirations for a big win.
But when it came to the first opportunity to vote someone out of the house, many of them were reluctant to be part of the process. Grounds for nominations were mostly not about how people looked, their quirks or where they came from, but how they behaved. It became clear that the participants felt hurt when others didn’t try to listen or connect with them. Manipulation, laziness, disrespect and competitiveness were also not on.
Although reality TV traffics in unreal situations and often emphasises some of the basest elements of human character, it at the same time uncovers some important considerations about how our thoughts and behaviour affect our experience. For instance, Big Brother participants reward and respond really well to honesty, being a great team member and willing to share, someone who connects with others and is compassionate and kind.
Will we see the participants start to think more about the effect that their behaviour has on the others? Have you found that when you consciously ensure your reactions are compassionate and kind it refocusses the lens through which you see and experience the world? It actually changes how the day pans out.
I find it almost impossible to consistently be compassionate, forgiving and kind without connecting to a higher being, which aids in understanding our eternal existence. For me, the spiritual essence of the Bible provides guidance and assurance that the divine holds me (and everyone else) near and dear. “Clothe yourselves therefore, as God’s own people holy and dearly loved, with tender-heartedness, kindness, lowliness of mind, meekness, long-suffering;” (Colossians 3:12). When feeling so loved, it’s easier to love.
Others see compassion and kindness from a psycho-physical standpoint where research is discovering that they surprisingly comprise our strongest biological instincts. This new body of research derived from Darwinian roots has a strong advocate in Prof Dacher Keltner, professor of psychology at UC Berkeley and author of Born to be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life. His clinical research has found that compassion is our strongest instinct, and that we are born to be good.
Whichever ‘take’ you have on life, we are discovering that we are essentially good to start with, and that the degree to which compassion and kindness are in our thoughts and behaviour determines our happiness, and even our health.
The Harvard School of Public Health highlights work done by Laura Kubzansky, who found that chronic anger and anxiety can disrupt cardiac function. 6,000 men and women aged between 25-74 were monitored over 20 years. She found that a sense of happiness and enthusiasm, of hopefulness, of engagement in life, and the ability to face life’s stresses with emotional balance appeared to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, and that optimism cuts the risk of coronary heart disease by half. The protective effect of adopting spiritual qualities was distinct and measurable.
We don’t hear enough about how broader societal forces shape the health of individuals and communities, suggests Croakey’s Melissa Sweet. Her guest, Dr John Falzon, Chief Executive Officer of the St Vincent de Paul Society National Council of Australia, asks, “Why on earth … should we assume that good health is unrelated to just about everything else that happens in our lives?” and suggests that the kind of society that would help us to achieve those good health outcomes would be humane: would never humiliate someone, would deliver the right to appropriate housing, adequate income, education health care and working conditions; be a place in which it feels normal to care about people; and, would value and be unafraid of diversity.
Could the way to build a healthier and more humane society be to maintain and increase humanity within ourselves – by nurturing our own spirituality? An early researcher into the effects of spirituality on health back in the 19th century prophetically wrote, “Each successive period of progress is a period more humane and spiritual” (Mary Baker Eddy).