How will you vote on May 7?
Which fortysomething white heterosexual male from the south of England do you support: David Cameron, Ed Miliband or Nick Clegg? Which party leader will you be rooting for in the TV debates?
Does it matter? Are their ideologies so radically different anymore? The left and right have both moved to the centre, because there, in the marrow of the bell curve, is where the voters are to be found. “New Labour”—nothing to do with the old Labour Party—has marched towards the “compassionate Conservatives” coming the other way. When they met in the middle ground they discovered, to their surprise, that Clegg was there, too, like a genial host, making the introductions, pouring the wine and keeping the conversation going.
All three parties dance to the tune of free market economics, differing only in the degree to which they’re willing to support those who get crushed by capitalism’s wheel of fortune as opposed to elevated by it—the amount of inequality they can tolerate; the size of the deficit. That and the colour of their tie.
Human and chimpanzee DNA is 99 percent the same. How infinitesimally small then the difference between Miliband, Cameron and Clegg?
They have morphed into one, “Camilibegg,” a horrific, animatronic parody of clean-shaven, regular-guy wholesomeness that wants to please all the people all the time. These three “leaders” are like the inoffensive department store music that you soon stop even noticing, the magnolia-painted walls of the house you are trying to sell, the stale white toast left behind at the breakfast buffet.
They claim to care about the young, the elderly, the poor, the unwell. The NHS, the BBC, world peace. (“Sincerity is everything,” said Groucho Marx, “if you can fake that, you've got it made.”) They go through the motions of striking a tough-sounding posture on immigration, even though they know just how essential it is to the economy. Each week they strut and fret upon the House of Commons stage, acting out the point-scoring pantomime of Prime Minister’s Question Time, but beneath the bluster and the mock indignation, conformity wins the day. As Henry Kissinger said, politics can get vicious when the stakes are so low. You want the Judean People’s Front, or the People’s Front of Judea?
This is a mere semblance of democracy. The “choice” between Dave, Ed and Nick—three empty suits—isn't really much of a choice at all. No wonder voter turnout is so low (more than a third stayed home in 2010). No wonder some colourful characters and richer, more ideological voices are striking a chord—love them or hate them, there's something more honest and alive about the likes of Russell Brand, Al Murray, the Green Party. Even ghastly UKIP--at least we know what they stand for.
What used to be the Liberal Democrat problem—piggy in the middle, standing for nothing—is now a Labour and Conservative problem, too. The centre cannot hold.
In the 1951 General Election, Labour and the Conservatives cornered 97.5 percent of the vote.
Last time, in 2010, Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrats scooped 88 percent of the vote.
So this year, whatever your political leanings, how about continuing this trend toward plurality? Let’s not vote for the status quo. Let’s vote for authenticity, for diversity. Let's vote for anyone but “Camilibegg”!
What has any of this got to do with therapy? One common complaint is from people who have fallen into the same trap as Cameron, Miliband and Clegg, albeit for entirely different reasons. They, too, feel they must present to the world a highly edited, sanitized version of themselves. Not to win votes, but to survive. Perhaps as children they learned that they had to be helpful, or funny, or nice, or successful, or not show any emotion, or not ever be any trouble, or any number of other parental commands that can be communicated in myriad ways. They adapted to their early environment. They learned they had to be a certain way to get love, or attention, or not get a clip round the ear, or worse (in some cases, much worse). Today, as adults, these clients are still trying very hard to be who others want them to be. They continue to deny their feelings, their needs, their selves, or keep large swathes of their uniqueness hidden from view. They are chameleons, adapting to any situation. They are unfailingly pleasant, polite, always on time. But since they only ever reveal what English psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott called a “false self,” they are hard to get to know. They are unhappy, ever-anxious, constricted, isolated, disconnected from their fellow humans. They grin and bear it.
You can think about this schematically with something called the Johari Window, a grid devised by (and named after) two American psychologists, Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham, in 1955. There are four quadrants in the grid:
• The “Arena” is your public face, the part of you that you know and others know, too (“known-knowns”). This is where politicians, salespeople and other false selves live. False selves, by the way, can do great things. They aren't really false. They are part of you. But only a part.
• The “Secret” is your private self that you keep hidden from view (“known-unknowns”). Your vulnerability is here, your needs. But there’s plenty else you keep locked away in this damp basement: Your shameful moments, your primitive desires and base instincts—your “shadow” self.
• The “Blind Spot” is what others see in you that you are unable or unwilling to see in yourself (“unknown-knowns”). There’s a simple way to make this known to you, too: ask people.
• The “Unknown” is a mystery to all (“unknown-unknowns”). Herein lies the unconscious, the spiritual, the cosmic, the future.
The smaller and more tightly prescribed the “Arena,” and the more rigid and impermeable the boundary around it, the harder and lonelier life can be. When we can lower our defences and learn to share a little bit of our inner world, our vulnerability, our difficulties, with trusted, safe others, and they respond in kind, then our “Arenas” grow (and our “Secrets” and “Blind Spots” shrink). We become closer, more intimate, more whole. We can breathe a little. What we choose to share—we have cognitive, emotional, behavioural and physical Johari Windows—and when, and how and with whom, are all tricky questions. We need connection but we also need protection.
Sometimes, though, we just have to take a risk to move forward (something politicians could take note of, the headlines be damned). Therapy is a good place to draw back the curtains and start looking through your Johari Window. You might see a different, brighter view, a more integrated you, a richer way of living.