Tiffany's Blog

Psychology Reflections on Politics and History

As we get close to the end of our first week here, I thought I might share some reflections on what we have seen/done so far through the lens of Psychology. More focused time to discuss these ideas comes later this week, but here are some thoughts to get us going…

  • In our visit to Parliament and hearing from Mr. Farský and our hosts about the development of the Czech constitution and structure of government, I find myself thinking about what motivated the developers at the time? A couple of authors have attempted to explain Havel’s work and life in the form of “psychobiography”, which uses psychological theories to understand and conceptualize an historical figure. He is described as having “driving focus” (Theodor, 1998) and being strongly influenced by cultural and historical forces. Motivation is often studied on an individual level in Psychology, but it is interesting to think about collective motivations and values and how they might have influenced the work of these individuals as well.
  • Food and drink can be another interesting way to understand people’s behavior and psychological processes. Communal eating and drinking is often a way that people connect with each other and build relationships. Eva mentioned the other day that people might appear cold when you encounter them on the street, but will be warm and friendly over a beer in a bar. Although Prague has its share of fast food places that have made their way here, as with many other European countries, food and coffee and beer are meant to be shared leisurely and communally. I enjoyed the comradery of making a meal and sharing it together as a group. How much we might benefit from allowing ourselves to “be in the moment” and enjoy the taste of things as Pepe encouraged us to do. In the mental health field, this is often similar to practicing “mindfulness”, which has been shown to have many mental health benefits.
  • During our city tour, I kept thinking about fear that pervaded the Soviet occupation. Fear is a powerful emotion. It is a means of controlling others because of its power. Humans naturally respond to fear by avoiding the possible negative consequence, which can be paralyzing. Eva discussed that oppressors often limit access to education in order to maintain control. This is true… and paired with fear, oppressors can do almost anything it sometimes seems.
  • I was grateful to Eva for sharing some of her personal experiences emerging from a communist dictatorship to a democracy. The ways that it impacted her family, her understanding of the world, her career choices. Hearing individual stories can open up history in a vibrant way. And it made me also think about the messiness of “living in the gray.” The ability to recognize that we have multiple feelings and thoughts, even contradictory feelings and thoughts, about something or someone all at the same time. It is so important to acknowledge all of these pieces- it’s part of the complexity of our human experience.

Lots more to come, especially as we begin to discuss trauma. But these are some initial thoughts. What have our activities caused you to think about so far?

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