AT Principles for Society

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Inhibition Technique and The Society

What could society learn from the Alexander Technique? Well, few would argue that society’s decisions could benefit from more stopping (“inhibition”) and reflecting (“directing”) before jumping to conclusions that are may be based on fixed beliefs and skewed perception (“false sensory appreciation”). A society can deal with stress by taking impulsive decisions that lead it to irreversible change, and if our decisions as a society are based on inaccurate information, then the solutions we propose will not be addressing the problems as they are. Alexander believed that his Technique could help individual citizens and decision-makers reduce the tendency towards panic and stress and instead enable more clearly understand ourselves as a society and thus enable better decisions. Some of Alexander’s students were MPs, military and other leaders in England, and they agreed.

The following is an extended excerpt from FM Alexander’s fourth and final book, Universal Constant in Living, with a few comments interspersed. Compiled with Russell Scheinberg.

Alexander sums up the scope of his technique, saying that changing the use of the self is necessary to change society:

… I am offering a psycho-physical approach to the problem of translating ideals, theories, and beliefs into practice, and have shown that this calls for that fundamental change in the use of the self by means of which the standard of general functioning is raised and psycho-physical defects and ills, whether fears or any other emotional reactions, are overcome. This means psycho-physical reconditioning, and such reconditioning cannot be effected by means of ideals alone, any more than man can live by bread alone.

FM Alexander

Book – Universal Constant in Living

Having lived through the world wars, Alexander writes in 1946 of the dangers of a nation of people who act as “creatures of impulse”:

Emotional appeal is always more or less dangerous, for, no matter what its immediate specific result may be at any particular time, experience has shown that this result cannot be permanent and that judgment of results by the guidance of feeling can be deceptive and can too often lead to dangerous and even harmful perversions. Furthermore it is to be condemned because, in dealing with their problems, it encourages people to rely more and more upon instinct and ever less and less upon thinking and reasoning. Where this method is used there is an increasing tendency to react as creatures of impulse, and to become ever less capable of developing that fundamental control and that understanding of oneself and of others which in this world of crises is the most pressing need of the moment. Throughout the ages the rousing of mass emotion has been the means employed whenever it has been thought desirable or profitable to induce people to do what it would never have occurred to them to do under the guidance of thinking and reasoning.

Until something is done to help mankind to evolve beyond this point, which is too close to the animal plane of evolution, and to get a better control of his reactions, it is difficult to see how we can expect any improvement in mass reaction to any potent emotional stimulus. At present man is at the mercy of any individual or people who may think out some means of playing upon his emotions, no matter for what purpose. In the past few years we have seen some startling and terrible results gained in this way and used in an attempt to destroy all that is best in men and women.

FM Alexander

Book – Universal Constant in Living

On the dangers of an irrational citizenry, and the necessity to change this:

… It must be obvious that too many of the individuals prominent in world affairs to-day are “creatures of impulse,” and it is in countries where the masses have in their reaction been for centuries more influenced by impulse than by thinking and reasoning, or have chosen the “easy way” of allowing others to think for them, that the irresponsible individuals to whom I refer are able by the imposition of their demoralizing regimen to rob people of all that makes life worth living, and force upon them a way of life which is nothing more than a degrading and devastating form of slavery.

One of our most vital problems is concerned with the changing of thought and action, so essential to the successful carrying out of any plan for individual self-help that calls for the acceptance of new ideas involving unorthodox beliefs and attitudes. But the urgency of the subject does not lessen the difficulties to be overcome in dealing with it, and for the very reason that the problem, from our point of view, has not yet been understood, let alone solved, in the fundamental sense.

FM Alexander

Book – Universal Constant in Living

On the difficulty of bringing about real change:

Many people will contend that they can change their habitual thought and action, others that it has been done by the individual and the mass and so on. But the viewpoint of such people is that of those who claim that change has been made, for instance, when at a revival meeting someone states that he has been “saved” and will henceforth renounce his past beliefs and give up his bad habits, or when the peoples of a country are forced by ruthless individuals, backed up by an armed minority, to live under debasing conditions imposed on them by brute force and murder. These are not changes of thought and action such as we are here concerned with, and it is because such changes in the past have not been fundamental in meeting man’s needs that conditions in human beings are as we find them to-day: the individual incapable of making changes in his thought and action without the accompaniment of harmful by-products within the self, while change and reform in the masses has been made too often by brutal methods of suppression, especially of those ideas and beliefs for which men and women have fought and died in the past, and which to-day are still the mainspring of their longing for freedom of thought and action.

FM Alexander

Book – Universal Constant in Living

On the failings of previous plans to bring about such social change, and on a way to the new, unfamiliar, the unknown:

… if we study the technique that those employ who claim that by their method they succeed in changing conditions in others and are working for the progress and development of the individual and the mass, we shall find that in their plan of procedure no provision, in the fundamental sense we are interested in, has been made for bringing those they are desirous of helping into contact with what is unfamiliar and unknown. Yet progress and development depend upon the making of this contact, not only by the acceptance in theory of the new and the unfamiliar, but also by facing the unknown in the consistent carrying out of the procedures which are demonstrably the practical counterpart of the theory. If we do not continue to gain new experiences, or if the conditions present in our organism this year are present in the following year, then we can conclude that we have not succeeded in making progress or in furthering our growth and development.

FM Alexander

Book – Universal Constant in Living

Habitual reactions make it difficult to entertain and implement new ways of doing things:

Unfortunately, in most of us, the impediment which blocks the way to our acceptance of facts which do not fit in with our beliefs and theories is a deeply rooted subconscious reaction, amounting to what might almost be described as an obsession for clinging blindly to the orthodox or the familiar, and is due to habits of thought which orthodox methods of education do little to correct and much to encourage. If anyone should doubt this, let him mention something which his listeners have not heard before and await their reaction. It will almost certainly be one of doubt, scepticism, and too often a sudden emotional reaction revealing unreasoning resistance and prejudice, particularly if the acceptance of what is put forward would be likely to affect adversely in any way the interests and desires of his listeners. This would not be so if we really stood for progress, development, and truth, for then the mention of something unknown to us would immediately stimulate our interest. The unorthodox would be welcomed and investigated with the same sense of responsibility as is aroused by any great opportunity for service, for opportunity is a great thing.

FM Alexander

Book – Universal Constant in Living

The Alexander Technique is a way to bring about real change in the use of the self:

For years now the technique described in my book The Use of the Self has made possible the gaining of previously unknown experiences by reasoning from known to unknown experiences in the process of bringing about changes in manner of use. By this means any harmful influences associated with the habitual manner of use are changed to influences for good by becoming associated with a new and previously unknown manner of use by which the raising of the standard of general functioning can be ensured.

FM Alexander

Book – Universal Constant in Living

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