Change the story – the ‘dominant story’ drives everything about human behaviour

It seems like yesterday that I was being interviewed on ABC radio by Jon Faine about nomophobia and how it is deleterious to humanity. However, that radio interview stands out for a whole other reason.

I happened to be interviewed two days following the shocking murder of a young woman running at dusk in a park. We have recently seen a similar event that was equally galling and hideous, not just because of the rape and murder of a young woman, but because we saw the same ‘story’ being played out.

At the time Jon Faine was very ‘fired up’ calling out the ‘story’ which was “she shouldn’t be running in a park when it is dark, she is asking for trouble,” that had started as soon as the news broke. Jon was openly upset with what he called the arrogance of this ‘story’ and used his voice as a public personality to send a message.

His message was that this ‘story called patriarchy’ which has been the supremacist ‘story’ dominating society for thousands of years, had to go. The damage it caused was insurmountable, and it was time for a new story. Sadly at the time, unsurprisingly, no one listened. To clarify, none of the ‘story writers’ – who dominated the collective thinking, attitudes and beliefs listened, why would they jeopardise their utopia.

I also remember having a discussion with my cycling buddies, all wonderful people (and white male as it happens) about my 15-year-old walking home from work at 8 pm when it was dark. She worked 800 mt down the road which was lit up, and my friends were giving me strong advice about how wrong I was ‘letting her walk home.’

At first, perhaps naively, I asked why? “Well something could happen to her, its dark and you never know who is out there (they were referring to males with intents to have their way with her), I wouldn’t let my daughter do that.” I remember it took a couple of weeks at ‘coffee’, over an hour collectively of conversation – for these ‘smart’, people who I would call pillars of society, to see that this attitude and belief was screwed up.

The fact that it took an hour for them even to acknowledge that ‘placing the blame and responsibility on to the female for some male person who thought it was HIS RIGHT to do what he wanted because she was walking alone in the ‘dark’ – was wrong, was deeply disturbing.

Their attitude was at the core of who they were, being born white male (WM). WM’s wrote the story and the rules by default, which benefited WM’s. They also set the categories for everyone other than them. along with writing the rules (rules that suited them) for people in those categories. This extended from who to ‘like and hate’ (strong word but sadly true) to how those people were to be treated.

What was most ‘tense’ or ‘uncomfortable’ for my friends was that they were forced for a few minutes to think about ‘why they would NOT LET THEIR daughters do what they considered a fundamental right – interestingly their sons also had this right. One of them actually ‘came clean’ with me and said: “I know what males are enabled to think and do and that makes me scared for my daughter.”

This story called ‘patriarchy’ is wrong, it doesn’t fit and is so far past its used by date that it is rotten to the core.  Think of that potato that has turned in the cupboard – the smell is putrid when you open the cupboard, you pick up a seemingly normal looking potato, and your finger pierces the skin into rotting flesh – there is nothing quite so hideous!

A graphic description – yes and that is because the ‘story running our society’ is like the rotten potato – it looks normal from the outside, and perhaps that is why it is so ‘resistant’ to being changed. However, on the inside it has disintegrated and moreover, it ‘stinks to high heaven’ – time to put this story into the compost.

One thing we must STOP is the ‘gender war’ – we have had decades and decades of that, and it is has FAILED – monumentally. Patriarchy is the name ascribed to the story and we can not focus the new story on gender. Women are just as tied into this story and their behaviour is also sustaining the story, which is another post to come.

The way to overcome this is to re-write the story. However, to rewrite the story we have to delete the old one, it’s a crappy story, and no one wins. Ironically the biggest losers currently are the WM (let’s add straight in there). This is evidenced by the growing number of extreme right-wing male groups (with very worrying agenda’s), who report ‘being disenfranchised’ – funny thing that.

Good work gentlemen, really helpful contribution to the collective. Move beyond your assumed position of superiority and now defensiveness, and be part of the new story.

P.S. There was a standout with the recent hideous event from Daniel Andrews where he said- “Stay home. Or don’t. Go out with friends at night. Or don’t. Go about your day exactly as you ­intend, on your terms. Because women don’t need to change their behaviour — men do.” Sadly, some weeks past the event – has the discussion continued? No.

Knock Yourself Out!

businesswoman hitting herself with red boxing gloves

I was on site with a trade’s services customer a few weeks ago and it was full on as always – that seems to be the case with good suppliers. They offer both B2C and B2B services and are moving away from B2C and for good reason as I discovered. The work I do is all based around behaviours and how to optimise the best outcomes for all person to person interactions, regardless of the permutation of the interaction. This firm is brilliant in that they emphatically get this concept and have embedded ‘calm’ into the DNA of how they ‘do things around here’. Interestingly their core service is electrical services and their mission statement is ‘we’re switched on around here’ and they so are. As a result, their business has flourished and the phone runs hot with recommendations.

Back to the story. I was in the admin office, talking with Jo (not real name) the Office Manager, when Phil (not real name) the GM walked through, Jo excused herself and said, “Phil I have just had a Mrs Green on the phone and she is having a fit because we charged her out of hours rates and she claims her call was not out of hours. I’ve emailed you the ‘story’ if you wouldn’t mind getting back to her because she is threatening VCAT”. Phil, without breaking stride, said: “OK I’ll get back to her now”. He turned back to his office and Jo continued her conversation with me.

Mrs Green, it seems called with an emergency (a light switch that had failed) at 5 pm (after hours) and demanded that the electrician come immediately. The protocol with this organisation for any after hour’s calls is to explain to the person that they will incur an out of hours change and if they want to go ahead and have a service person attend they will need to agree to the service charge. Otherwise, the service call will be made within hours of the next day. This was noted in the service schedule.

Mrs Green had agreed, the service call was made, the switch repaired and all was well, seemingly. Mrs Green was sent the invoice which included the after-hours surcharge, and she took umbrage with the surcharge because 5 pm was not out of hours according to her. Trade hours are 7 am to 3.30pm and service calls outside of those hours incur a surcharge which was explained and she had agreed to – the service call simply would not have been made if she had not agreed.

Phil called her straight back and listened to her rant, she was rude, caustic and vitriolic and Phil could not get a word in. However, as part of the behaviour training, I advise people that should a situation such as what was occurring arise, the best way to deal with it is to let the person have their rant. What will happen is that literally the person ranting will run out of air – it is simple physiology – they run out of air and then stop. So on cue, Mrs Green ran out of puff and stopped whereupon Phil began to respond.

He agreed with her that yes VCAT would be a good idea if that made her feel better. Then he added – “there are a few things that I want to bring to your attention; are you aware that the person bringing the dispute to VCAT is responsible for costs? As has been explained we only attend out of hour calls once we have explained the surcharge and the person agrees to pay and gives us the go-ahead to make the service call, which we have in our system and therefore there is no case for us to answer. I will leave that up to you to decide the course of action you would like to take, but remind you that the account is due to go to the debt collectors and it will go away once you have paid”. Once again Mrs Green was speechless and then hung up.

Effectively Mrs Green had knocked herself out – she was being completely irrational and utterly unreasonable and the strategy executed by Phil literally resulted in her knocking herself out. A further outcome was that the account was paid the next week. The motto of the story is when confronted by these types of vitriolic people who go on a rant – let them knock themselves out.


Are you the donkey?

BMD resized 3The Boy, the Man and the Donkey is a very old ‘parable or story’ that was originally written by Æsop in the Sixth century B.C. Aesop’s Fables have been translated far and wide and most every culture had its own version of the story as a means to teach or guide behaviours. The moral of the story is


A MAN and his son were once going with their Donkey to market. As they were walking along by its side a countryman passed them and said: “You fools, what is a Donkey for but to ride upon?” 

So the Man put the Boy on the Donkey and they went on their way. But soon they passed a group of men, one of whom said: “See that lazy youngster, he lets his father walk while he rides.”   

So the Man ordered his Boy to get off, and got on himself. But they hadn’t gone far when they passed two women, one of whom said to the other: “Shame on that lazy lout to let his poor little son trudge along.”     

Well, the Man didn’t know what to do, but at last he took his Boy up before him on the Donkey. By this time they had come to the town, and the passers-by began to jeer and point at them. The Man stopped and asked what they were scoffing at. The men said: “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself for overloading that poor Donkey of yours—you and your hulking son?”   

The Man and Boy got off and tried to think what to do. They thought and they thought, till at last they cut down a pole, tied the Donkey’s feet to it, and raised the pole and the Donkey to their shoulders.

They went along amid the laughter of all who met them till they came to Market Bridge, when the Donkey, getting one of his feet loose, kicked out and caused the Boy to drop his end of the pole. In the struggle, the Donkey fell over the bridge, and his fore-feet being tied together he was drowned.

“That will teach you,” said an old man who had followed them:

So what does this story mean?

It means that failure to focus on the greater good whereby everyone wins – is fraught with angst, hideous behaviours and a bunch of unhappy and disgruntled people creating dramas to feed their own egos.

Does this happen in your workplace, family or groups of friends?

I would hazard a guess that everyone (unless they are a total narcissist) would say yes.

How do we learn from this story?

We apply a filter of the ‘greater good’ with all our judgments and subsequent behaviours, words and actions. We park our own self-importance and ego and increase our tolerance of differences – as long as others behaviours are contributing to the greater good.


I can’t do that…..What will they think?

Why do so many people spend their lives in various states of ‘fear’ about what other people think of them?

For most people, their behaviours and actions are directed and determined by a set of ‘rules’ that are derived from a mixture of societal, religious, cultural, legal or family rules about what to do and how to behave. Sadly people self-adjust their behaviours because they are fearful of the disastrous consequences that WILL result from any deviation from these rules. Even the so-called ‘individuals who ‘do their own thing, still look for feedback and desperately want their ‘tribe’ to like them. Really they are not so independent, rather they vie for position on the ‘I’m an individual ranking’ – the more out there the cooler they are.

The knots people get themselves into, the level of unhappiness, dissatisfaction, unfulfilled goals and dreams because of these rules, is staggering. In fact, as a behaviourist working with people/businesses on modifying their behaviours to achieve their best outcomed day in and day out, most of what I do is around working with people to let go of these rules and stories. The amount of stress, anxiety and ‘depression’ I see with people because they emphatically ‘believe they have no choice’ but to live their lives according to these rules, is alarming.

When people are challenged about their belief in and adherence to these rules, most people believe they have no other option but to ‘follow the rules’. Moreover, they have concocted a whole set of catastrophic consequences that absolutely will occur, just as surely as the sun will rise tomorrow if they don’t abide by the rules. There is no rationale, proof or actual evidence for their ‘fixed beliefs’ that these consequences WILL happen, it is the ‘truth’.

Think about a time you did something you didn’t want to do and made you pretty unhappy – but you did it anyway. What is worse is that you then spent the next countless hours, days or longer, justifying and rationalising why you did something you really didn’t want to do.

A further alarming factor is that social media and the need for ‘likes’ has grossly exacerbated this problem. People have literally become ‘like’ junkies which take the whole thing of ‘what will they think of me’, to a new level. Social media, in the beginning, served as somewhat of an antidote to these rules as people felt freer online than they did in ‘real life’, and would post things that they would not ‘normally’ be brave enough to say face to face. However, once the ‘negative’ feedback either real or perceived – ironically according to ‘rules’ – started to kick in and the whole obsession with ‘likes’ was ignited, we now have an added level of complexity to the ‘rules’ that people behave by.

This is particularly prevalent in cultures within businesses, where people behave according to ‘unwritten ground rules’. Behaving according to ‘rules’ at work are often the most stressful as people’s job security and stability is linked to the ‘adherence’ to these rules. However, in most cases, managers and employers are shocked when they learn about the unwritten ground rules within their business.

So how do people let go of the ‘rules’?

The first thing people need to do is challenge why they believe the rules are true? They need to look at what the rule they believe to be true makes them do, and what they want to do – provided it is fair and reasonable. Then they need to look at how big the gap is between ‘the rule behaviour’ and what they want to do. Generally speaking the wider the gap the greater the ‘fear’ and also the more likely it is that the ‘so-called rule’ is a perceived truth rather than actual truth. Then an open, honest and direct conversation is needed with the person/persons who are ‘setting the rule’ to assess whether it is, in fact, the ‘truth’. In all cases involving reasonable people – these rules are unfounded. The cases where it is not, involve narcissists and other unpleasant characters.

When people have done this once they can begin to look at other area’s of their lives where they behave according to ‘rules’ and apply the same process. The key to doing things differently and feeling a whole lot better is open, transparent and honest communication. These ‘rules’ serve to create ‘false stories’ that people live their lives by, because they become whom they think they are, that is another post.

Who are you?

Just an aside on ‘reading people’ – we can all read people – it is perhaps the most important innate skill we have because the most ‘dangerous thing’ to us is actually other people. It has been a while since I saw a ‘threatening animal, bird or inspect’ wandering about, Hitchcock’s The Birds was fantasy – I believe. Most people are completely unaware of this ability in ‘normal’ situations, however, there is a growing group who have become excessively sensitive to perceived criticism or negative sentiments toward them, which I would hazard a guess was the case with a lot of people in the train carriage. This is not conscious awareness, but rather unconscious ‘distrust’ and it is determined by people’s default mood (negative) rather than truth in most cases.

I feel that the modern day interpretation of quiet desperation is more about dissatisfaction and a sense of being on a treadmill of ever-escalating empty promises that wear people down. I sensed in the train on that Monday morning when the weather had turned cold, that for many it was going to be a long winter. The morning and evening commute would increasingly be taken in the dark and the absence of sunshine and daylight is well known to decrease people moods. This ever-escalating treadmill of empty promises has been borne out of technology decimating ‘time’. Ironically if people could re-learn to savour experiences and interactions with people and slow things down a bit, the difference it would make would be phenomenal. But many people have resigned themselves to ‘this is the way it is’, and take this on as their story. They fully own their “I have no choice but to stay on the treadmill because this is the way it is”.

It doesn’t have to be this way and the reason that the collective sentiment in the train carriage was so easy to read, was because of emotional contagion. Emotional contagion is well understood and it is what drives the popularity of ‘stuff’ and big corporations understand and use it to promote their products/services with great success. It took an effort to stand apart from the collective ‘feeling’ in the train carriage, however, I am well practised in deliberately not sliding down a slippery negative emotional slope. It starts with learning to be consciously aware, which is much easier said than done when so many people are ‘asleep’ (unaware) for want of a better word. Once you learn to pay attention and notice the prevailing sentiments/moods – you can then consciously choose to feel differently. Being wired for sound (as at least half the carriage was) does not work to immune people from the collective mood, as it only serves as a temporary, thinly veiled distraction. What happens when you increase your awareness and notice what is around you – is that you step into the present. The present is all there is, there is no past – it has gone, and there is no future – it’s not here yet.

The irony is that most people have no clue how to be ‘present’ despite the popularity of mindfulness etc. Actually being able to ‘be present at all times’ is extremely difficult. Vigilant awareness is the only thing you need, and once you have mastered it you will realise that you are not the ‘prevailing sentiment of resignation’ on a Monday morning – you have a choiceYou can choose exactly who you are and how you are going to feel. Who are you going to be? Choose the one thing that actually matters, how you feel, you are not the story of this is the way it is – you are in control of writing your own story.

Human watching – fascinating albeit scary

Our cycling group were sitting outside on the footpath of our regular haunt, tucking into coffee and breakfast this past Saturday morning as is the norm. This is a central location from where we all reside and one of the more salubrious suburbs in town. A lively discussion was being had regarding misleading media headlines and how manipulative and provocative the media was when ‘reporting’ a particular vehement view under the guise of objectivity. This lively discussion was interrupted by ‘a stream of colourful abuse’ and we turned around to see a male person hanging out of his stationary car hurling abuse at the car in front. “come on get out of your car you f….b….gutless f….. p…..” the other driver responded with the finger gesture which served to wind the abuse hurler up even more.

We saw that the boom gates were down for a train and that this situation could get messy. The cafe was packed with families and there were a group of elderly people walking along the street. Silence descended and the trepidation was palpable, given the abuse being hurled was far louder than the clanging railway warning bells. Thankfully neither of the perpetrators alighted their vehicles, and we all breathed a sigh of relief when the booms raised and the bells stopped. That was not the end of it, as the first car driven by Mr. Middle Finger proceeded, he did a massive ‘burnout’ filling the air with putrid black smoke which blew over us, rather than who we assumed was the intended target, Mr. Get Out of Your F….. Car behind.

We were dumbstruck as was everyone else, what on earth was the point of all that? Human’s and their behaviours are increasingly unfathomable, as these types of incidents which are increasing cannot be explained in any rational way. What could possibly be that important to promote such a tirade of vitriol? The reality is there is not one iota of rational thinking involved with these incidents. It is pure out of control animal rage, self-control is out the window as is any capacity to see the consequences. These situations cause the survival instinct to kick in with those witnessing it, all of us on the footpath and in the cafe, and for good reason.

When people are out of control their ‘physical strength increases’ and this situation which could easily have spilled out on to the road and become really ugly. Had this occurred, most of us on the footpath would have retreated somewhere ‘out of the danger zone’. A few bold males may have stepped in to ‘calm them down’, but given the level of lack of control they would most likely have also retreated, or moved to protect the vulnerable.

The whole situation was quite surreal and played out over about 4 minutes, where ironically the perpetrators were completely out of control, yet the witnesses were on high alert and in complete control. A further irony is that both groups the ‘road ragers’, and the witnesses, were both operating from polar opposites ends of ‘animal or survival’ instinctual behaviours. There was little if any ‘rational’ thinking going on with either group. The ‘road ragers’ were in fight response mode, and the witnesses were in flight response mode.

This situation was a classic example of Busy Brain Syndrome at play, where access to rational thinking with the ‘road ragers’ was completely absent. It was Saturday morning, virtually no traffic and a relatively quite road, what could possibly have precipitated such a reaction. The answer is probably nothing. BBS causes the stress response to become locked on and therefore people ‘react’ rather than stop and think, which is why we are seeing an alarming increase in these sorts of incidents.

The situation put a dampener on everyone’s Saturday morning, and it could have been much worse had they actually got out of their cars. These behaviours detract from the greater good and serve to make people more distrusting of ‘others’ as there is no rhyme or reason for such behaviours.