Listen to the child

Last weekend we ran part two of our series of personal insight workshops, The Stories We Tell. The first looks at what we can learn about ourselves from the stories we tell about where we have come from. The second uses the lens of what we say about where we are now.

One of the themes of this second weekend was personal creativity and what gets in the way of it. The idea of creativity, for our purposes, doesn’t just mean the arts or other activities traditionally associated with ‘being creative’. For us it really means authenticity, expressiveness, being true to oneself whatever one does, taxi driver or trumpet-player. It means being the person one truly wants to be, not the person one believes others want one to be.

We do an exercise which invites people to summon two members of that inner chorus we all host – in this case the inner critic and the free child, two voices that spend a good deal of time in conflict with one another. I first did this exercise a few years ago at a workshop led by Miller Mair, an influential and radical psychologist who coined the idea that we are not a single coherent self but a community – he also referred to it as a parliament, literally a talking-shop – of selves.

Without any prompting from him, and no knowledge of the underlying theory or archetypes, I found myself invoking an old man and a child. The old man was a Wee Free minister, a miserablist of the kind that only fundamentalist Presbyterianism can produce. He stood on a windswept headland in the Outer Isles, gazing dismally forth into the Atlantic in a shabby old raincoat, collar turned up against the gale. The child, who I named ‘the golden child’, was a half-naked feral creature that did cartwheels along the beach (not the same coastline, obviously), monkeyed up palm trees and chucked coconuts at the old man.

Neither, of course, is all good or all bad. The child, energetic, intuitive, free, is also chaotic. The old man, for all his gloomy demeanour, brings rationality and order. They need one another. In the dialogue Miller Mair invited us to write, I found the old man saying in exasperation to the child, ‘but I only want to take care of you’. Which is a true and integrating thought, even if the essential conflict remains. Things only go wrong when he starts taking care too early. Then the child doesn’t stand a chance and spontaneity, creativity is stillborn.

The weekend over, they had hardly slid back into my sub-conscious when the White Paper on Scottish Independence was published, last Tuesday, and out they popped again. The child seemed to me to embody the Yes campaign, full of energy and optimism, the old man the No or Better Together campaign, cautious, fearful and incomprehending of the spirit of possibility that infuses the idea of independence for its supporters.

I believe the difficulty that many people are having in deciding which way to vote is represented at a deep level by the conflict between these two voices. Those for whom the old man is the dominant voice might be more likely to favour continuing union, while those who give more rein to the child might prefer independence. My hunch, for example, is that support for the Yes campaign is broadly stronger in the arts community than the business community.

I don’t believe in the myth that the Scots psyche was forever corrupted by Calvinism, which would predispose us to the old man’s world view. There’s plenty of evidence that we are also extrovert, friendly, welcoming, creative and know very well how to enjoy ourselves. Carol Craig’s excellent book The Scots’ Crisis of Confidence explores that Scottish duality more fully and with more insight than I ever can.

For the undecided, that duality creates deep conflict which may only be resolved when, possibly at the last minute, one or other of the two inner voices asserts itself. In the meantime, I can’t help feeling that the Better Together campaign knows that if it can keep the old man in the ascendant, the child will never get a hearing, while the Yes campaign is not doing enough to encourage people to listen to it.

On December 10 I’m compering Alexander McCall Smith’s Christmas show – an evening of music and conversation – at the Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh. Do come if you can. Tickets here.

About Jamie Jauncey

Author, writer, blogger, facilitator, musician, co-founder of Dark Angels and The Stories We Tell
This entry was posted in Creativity, Personal development, Scotland, The Stories We Tell and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Listen to the child

  1. Neil Baker says:

    As an Englishman, it’s very strange to listen to a lot of Scots arguing about whether or not they should dump me. It’s like overhearing your wife talking to an old friend about whether it’s time for a divorce.
    In the meantime, here’s a favourite quote from Montaigne. I was going to post it here in response to your mention of inner voices. Perhaps it is relevant to the independence question too:
    “We are entirely made up of bits and pieces, woven together so diversely and so shapelessly that each one of them pulls its own way at every moment. And there is as much difference between us and ourselves as there is between us and other people.”

  2. Graham Leicester says:

    Thank you Jamie. Without advocating any position myself in the Yes/No debate simmering in Scotland at the moment, I am curious about the line of thinking you pursue this week. In particular I am struggling to marry the generative sense of multiplicity in the first half of your piece with the binary classification in the second. Is it not possible that the spirit of the child can be expressed within our current constitutional arrangements? Doesn’t creativity require constraint, structure require spontaneity and so on… these are not either/or choices, any more than the gloomy old man and the free child are anything other than aspects of the same self. Where in this debate will we find the ‘true and integrating’ spirit you refer to?

  3. Elspeth says:

    This made me think of something I read earlier today by Richard Rohr about the divinity that lies/reigns beyond the duality of liberals (with a desire to explain) and conservatives (with a tendency to exclude). In answer to Graham’s final question, RR would suggest the ‘true and integrating spirit’ lies in mystery and contemplation – which may or may not exist in the current debate … I don’t know!

  4. Elspeth says:

    Cheers, Jamie! The weekend sounds great – saw DF the other day who had good reports. I’m also sensing echoes in your 2nd paragraph with the book ‘The Gifts of Imperfection’ by Brené Brown – the subtitle of which is ‘Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are’. I’m getting a lot from reading it at the moment.

  5. David Taylor says:

    Jamie, I like your personification of the Dionysian/Apollonian divide. It reminded me of Stevenson’s expression if it in the characters of Alan Breck Stewart and David Balfour with, of course, the age difference reversed.

    Chevalier or Calvinist? The choice is ours.

    Best wishes


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