I started us with an update on the get togethers. Given that previous attempts to encourage branches to arrange sessions have not been successful, I will propose the following to the branches. Ice-breakers to start with followed by the option of 2 activities: another music session from Jo Humphreys and Tai Chi. The branches may agree with these, they may undertake to organise some alternative themselves or they may decide that they don’t want a get together next year. My hope is to settle this or to finalise arrangements in the next couple of months.
Rob talked about the end of his relationship with the woman who lived in his street. He said that she had told him that she had previously been in abusive relationships. He was trying to maintain boundaries in their relationship. However, this felt like rejection for her. One evening she had been drinking too much probably partly to manage her distress. The alcohol substantially reduced her self-control. She went to his home and assaulted him. Rob said that afterwards, their neighbours have been gossiping about her behaviour. She did not clearly recollect what happened that night so she thought that the neighbours were being unreasonable and unfair. Rob said that the whole episode had been captured on CCTV, so he showed her the tape.
Rob said that the whole episode has made him feel more socially confident and competent. He is talking with his neighbours and feels more accepted. He said that he feels his injury may have made him a bit unusual, but everyone is unusual in some way so he’s like everyone else in that he has something to be accepted and lived with.
This line of conversation about Rob being in the in-group and his ex-girlfriend being outside it was linked with some important social psychology studies. One of the earliest studies got a group of people and asked them to estimate the number of dots on a card. The group was randomly split into two. One subgroup was told that everyone was in the group because they had over-estimated the number of dots (in fact, the estimated number of dots wasn’t used to split them randomly). The other subgroup was told they had all under-estimated the number of dots. All members of these arbitrary groups were then given a set of resources and told that they should divide them between everyone across both groups. It turned out that those in the “under-estimating” group allocated more resources to the other under-estimators than to the over-estimators. The over-estimators gave more to members of their group and fewer to the under-estimators. So, something as trivial as being a dot over- or under-estimator can substantially influence our behaviour.
We see this extremely powerful effect every day. For example, 200 people die in an Asian plane crash and the newsreader focuses on the 1 British person that died. The news has recently spent hours on the hurricanes that damaged Texas and Miami and probably killed less than 1000 people if you include people living on the Caribbean islands. However, the news has spent considerably less time on the plight of the many many thousands that have died in monsoons and the ethnic cleansing that has gone on over exactly the same time period in south Asia. We give money to friends and family to help them deal with a significant crisis and give very little to people in Africa dying of malnutrition. This effect of favouring our own group also occurs in monkey groups so it must be a very basic and powerful motivation that’s important for survival of our species.
It also occurs between different ethnic cultures. So, the colour of our skin often forms the basis of subdivisions into in-groups and out-groups. Fortunately, social psychological researchers have looked at how to overcome these effects. It has been shown that mixing groups, eg, of people with different skin colours reduces the perceived difference. Research shows that talking with each other in a friendly way reduces perceived distance while succeeding in joint projects rapidly dissolves boundaries. In contrast, arguing or conflicting with differently coloured people tends to magnify perceived differences.
Bringing this discussion even nearer to home, we then reflected on our reactions to people who had sustained some form of brain injury when we had no experience of brain injury. I certainly was a bit frightened and wanted to maintain a distance. However, we have talked with many people who have an injury and we have engaged in various projects. These experiences have highlighted our common humanity and enabled us to see that the person we confront is not defined by their injury. Berating people for not appreciating that those with a brain injury are basically understandable and human will tend to enhance separation whilst collaboration will tend to increase a sense of connection.
The next meeting will be at 1.15pm on Monday 9th October 2017 in Llewellyn Hall, Swansea Road, SA4 9AQ (Take the Gorseinon exit from Junction 47 of the M4, turn first left at the next roundabout, and Llewellyn Hall is almost on the immediate left, next to the church).