Richard Harvey - Psychotherapist, Author and Spiritual Teacher

Richard Harvey

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Actively-Engaged Fathers

Richard Harvey reflects on the forces of conformity and their impact on the individuality of ourselves and our children.

The other week I had a disorientating experience. We had recently moved across country. I was standing in a queue in a post office in York when suddenly I was standing in the queue in the post office in Burnley. Then my perception kind of flipped back to York, my memory reeled off to the post office in Exeter (where I used to live) and the whole mental tour resolved as I realised that all these post offices in different locations were absolutely identical.

Then I felt a great wave of sadness for our small children (2, 14 months and 6)—sadness that the world was getting ironed out, rounded edges were being squared off, individuality and uniqueness not valued in the drive for efficiency, uniformity and the cloning of the world.

I am old enough to remember shops where you asked for what you wanted, where people talked to my mother as they climbed little wooden steps and reached down loose foods in jars which they weighed and bagged up and handed over a counter; where the local steam-roller driver was a character in a cocked peaked cap and he would take me onto his knee behind the giant steering-wheel and blow steam and sound the hooter to my delight. It was a time when post offices were all different.

My partner and I object to the National Curriculum where, long before they are ready, our children would be expected to measure up against grades in reading, writing and rebellion. We object to the hospital bullying and terrorising us into worrying about having our children born at home. My partner has been told she has an "incompetent cervix" which needs to be sown up while she carries our babies; she has been told she is putting her own and our babies' lives at risk; she has been misdiagnosed and filled with fear when she was at her most vulnerable and magnificent.

We became (in)famous in Lancashire for our stand on water birth, black-listed in Yorkshire and notorious in Devon, with the respective local health authorities. We listened but we just didn't trust their advice. We thought their guidance was based on fear and interference in what is a most natural event. We didn't believe in them and we decided to follow our "gut feelings", our intuition, our own inner wisdom. So far it's worked out very well. But we don't fit in and if we don't fit in I suspect some of it will rub off on our children.

High streets are becoming almost identical in cities around the world. This is an incredibly diverse world, but bigotry and prejudice, anger and hatred are all supported by "labelling" things and people and creating "types" to compartmentalise and reductively simplify the world and its endless phenomena.

In a world where supermarkets are built to resemble cathedrals, where you can't shit, park your car or get into Stonehenge without paying, insecurity and status have become the twin obsessions—you must make money in whatever way you can. So creativity and individuality are repressed in favour of the mighty dollar. I find it hard to oppose it now, so how hard will it be for our children in future? In a world that clones itself, people begin to clone themselves. Such is the terror and tyranny directed towards individuality in this kind of environment that creativity, stimulation, art, brightness, vibrancy and all the special things of life will cease to exist. To resist such a future, we need to celebrate our differences and uniqueness for our own sakes and for the sakes of the children.

I don't know how you stop the forces of commerce and conformity, if they are stoppable and whether they will ultimately triumph. If there is a way then I suspect it is through indirect means: working quietly on the things that really matter, the things of real value...

I have heard the Chancellor of the Exchequer saying we will all get 10p more a week—in child benefit I think it was—and Tony Blair saying how he wants to get us back to work. There is now, or soon will be, too many people for two few jobs—isn't that right? In any case if people were paid a respectful wage for what they did there would have been too few jobs to go round a long time ago.

When I look around at the breast-deprived, emotionally-starved, spiritual-less, soul-less, materially-driven, unhappy people in the high street or the supermarket the words 'quality of life' flash before my eyes in bright neon. What if our government recognised as fundamental and primarily important the crucial work of parenting? What if parenting was acknowledged and respected to the extent of, say, offering an allowance to parents (both male and female) who wished to stay at home and spend more time parenting? What if someone said if babies and children (and adults) were held more and if people practiced and attended to the fundamental human needs of themselves and their loved ones, there would be less converting of their needs into cold competitiveness, materialism, physical and emotional violence, the wish to humiliate and ridicule, dishonesty, alienation and angst and power-craving.

I don't think it's a matter of power–parenting. Yet here's the couple who've broken up and they're in mediation to sort out access to the children and she wants this and he wants that and he says but that's just for your convenience (like it's a dirty word) and he says you've got all the power and he doesn't like it. So she tries to find a way for him to feel less powerless, but she doesn't really want him to have any more power, so she can't do it and she doesn't get what she wants (which is impossible) and he doesn't get what he wants (because he is hurt) and the children are thinking, “What on earth is this? If I am the cause of all this I must be very bad indeed.” Perhaps I shouldn't have been born, perhaps I wasn't meant to be born, it must be all my fault. So everybody says we're doing this for you dear, it's for your good darling and slowly a blue velvet cover is drawn over the crimson stabbing wounds.

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This article was published in Radical Motherhood: A Journal for Parents, Issue 5, 1997

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