Jazz Band

Self Care and All That Jazz

Caring and Sharing

The idea of “self-care” has become a mantra for a new generation of community-minded activists. Not to be confused with “selfishness”, it happens to map rather neatly to the “prevention” agenda for those concerned with systemic models and top-down solutions. The reality of a simple translatable path between these two parallel worlds is not be taken lightly because, as Julian Barne’s points out in his book “Levels of Life” when two things come together for the first time the world changes forever. This is as true for ideas as it is for people and structures.

“Humans as a Species are Paragons of Ingenuity”

As of now, it’s difficult to resist viewing this amalgamation of possibilities through the lens of Coronavirus. We’ve already shared thoughts in this regard and there is no shortage of commentary and analysis. What interests us most in terms of this new slant on self-care is how it informs a collective desire to look after one another at the most basic layer of our existence. Self-care in 21st-century terms also means looking after our planet; being mindful in our life choices; being forthright about our emotional and spiritual needs.

Self-care, therefore, can be understood as sharing as a prelude to co-operative action and a recognition that in today’s society there is more that unites us than can keep us apart. It is compassion exploding, a manifestation of empathy newly recalibrated for the 21st century. There is no more vivid an illustration of this than the scenes of the latest waves of Black Lives Matter demonstrations in cities across the world. The fusion of diversity, shared values and collective endeavour is truly innovative. We know this because writ large on the face every participant is a clear message: today more than ever before, we are all George Floyd.

Black Lives Matter
Diversity in Black Lives Matter Protests

Shared resource models are evident in all forms of systems from living, complex adaptive to the hard cold logic of electronics, AI and advanced computer design. They have left footprints through the annals of time and it’s by no coincidence. Despite our many failings, humans as a species are paragons of ingenuity when it comes to creating the environments most conducive to the common good. When all human endeavour is weighed in the balance we tend to share what is precious and rare and co-create what is needed by the village.

Living with Emotions

This is all very idyllic and utopian. Even the most optimistic person would acknowledge, to use a not so technical term, life can be a bitch. There’s a lot of bad stuff happening all of the time. We tend to make sense of this dichotomy between hope and fear by ignoring our emotions. The avoidant voice inside our head that pipes up. Get real. Don’t hope for better and at least that way you won’t be disappointed when failure inevitably comes. And when good things happen, the same voice will tell you, it won’t last or it’s too good to be true. It can feel disorientating and uncomfortable to fully embrace the way we feel at times. Better to ignore emotions, especially those we’re conditioned to view as negative or a sign of mental frailty. So instead, we’re drawn to the 21st-century opioids of emotional crutches and structural thought-processes that serve as proxies for confidence and self-belief.


The truth is emotions can be the best available compass in a given moment to deal with the mess and chaos that is part and parcel of the human condition. Expressing emotions in a safe space is like being part of a crazy jazz ensemble. There’s no rigid score to follow but, in the collective energy, there is ample room for individual expression. On the other hand, protracted suppression and the resulting cognitive dissonance sow the seeds of alienation and denial. We now also know, thanks to the growing body of evidence, it also sets us firmly and truly on the road to self-medication. 

Given the Choice, We Opt for Simplicity and that’s Bad News for our Longterm Emotional Wellbeing”

In 20th-century medical parlance “self-medication” and “self-care” were stable-mates connoting a failure to place oneself in the hands of a doctor. Along with more comforting and supposedly right-minded phrases like “under the knife” for surgery and “getting sorted” its now the language of abdication; a surrendering of agency and responsibility in terms of one’s own health. On the other side of the equation language like “the kidney in bed 12” serves in context to identify with adequate specificity the location and medical circumstances of the person to whom two clinicians may be referring. However, outside of this context, it’s a brutal dehumanisation that calls into question the balance of emotional engagement and professional expedition. Whenever we ignore the inextricable connection of mind, body and soul we run this twin risk of dehumanising ourself and each other. We also diminish our ability to engage with system change.

One of the reasons we tend to suppress our emotions is we often don’t feel comfortable dealing with the more complex situations we can find ourselves in. So we tend to opt for simplicity over complexity especially when we have a reasonable expectation the difference in outcome will be negligible or at least tolerable. We, therefore, need to give some thought to the role emotions, trauma and cognitive biases play in this new paradigm of self-care. Perhaps not everything we feel or experience can be boiled down to a nifty phrase. Or can it?

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