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What have the Romans ever done for us?

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Summer 2019

Lee Payton 

What have the Romans done for us

If you’re anything like me, that line immediately transports us back to a particular film, from 1979. I can even do the voices. Some phrases, straplines, mottos and (grits teeth) advertising slogans, can have the same effect. Things that seem familiar are in our brains, for access, and the occasional reminder causes us to recall the moment, often with an associated emotion. In the case of the line above, from ‘The Life of Brian’, I’m reminded of laughing. A lot. But there’s a point here- what have the Romans ever done for us?

Philosophically speaking

Early in my counselling training, I was asked a question as part of a very, very long assignment. It was this: ‘What is your personal philosophy with regards to helping others?’ After some soul searching and pencil-end chewing, I felt I had come to a definitive conclusion. It was this: ‘I believe in science, mindfulness, Stoicism, and a sense of all -round fair play. I believe that people have what they need within to find their own solutions, they are inherently good, and that it won’t be long before my football team win all of the domestic and European titles going, and by a goal difference approaching triple figures.’

In fact, so sure was I that my beliefs were a solid foundation for helping others, that I wrote most of the assignment within a couple of hours. Thousands of words hammered out in a frenzy of conviction, belief and passion; this education didn’t seem so bad, I thought.

Learning life’s lessons

It sounds simple, doesn’t it? But let’s break that down. Within the question is another question: what do you believe? Now things become a little

more challenging. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a belief is “an acceptance that something exists or is true, especially… without proof”. Is true… without proof. A horrible sinking feeling started to creep over me, which grew as I debated this with my peers, as it became clear that I was in the uncomfortable minority. A belief is solid. It is unshakable. It is rigid, and it is fixed. It can mean ‘either/or’ binary choices. Something is ‘good or bad, right or wrong, black or white.’ There can be no middle ground, nor shades of grey. It means you take a side, and that often you will fight for it. But deeper than this, it is inextricably linked with our identity. It forms a part of who we are. ‘You can change anything about me’ it suggests ‘but don’t try to change my beliefs’. How then can we expect any kind of change, if we are rigid in our outlook?

Evolution not devolution

Looking at this from a therapy perspective, many models and styles of therapy look at the concept of ‘fixidity and fluidity’. The idea that we are ‘fixed’ in our mindset can mean a resistance to change, to adapt.

To be open to experience, and allow meaningful change to come in. But this needs to begin somewhere, and beliefs are a good enough place as any, to start with. Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) considers several possible areas affecting individuals called Neuro-Logical Levels, differing areas of our identity, and beliefs (or values) are one of these areas. Why? Because beliefs and values are what we hold dear, what we believe to be important. Yet, are they fixed and immovable? If you are reading this and thinking ‘yes’, then we may have highlighted an area which could use some looking at.

Belief rigidity

Beliefs can become fixed so deeply within us, that if we opened up the top of our heads and pulled out what is inside, it can be near impossible to separate what is the person and what is the belief. Yet, beliefs are not us. Undoubtedly, they are a part, but not the whole. And it can often be the case that when we look to challenge beliefs and even change them, that the real change is allowed in.

Schoolboy error

In that moment of hyper-keen reactivity, I made one very human error. I believed I knew the answer. I believed in my belief. Stoicism is the school of philosophy which came from Greece in 3rd Century BC., and has turned up Greek and Roman philosophers since, such as Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius- ‘the last of the great Caesars.’

It came as no irony then when a book I was reading offered up this quote from him: “Loss is nothing else but change, and change is nature’s delight.” Change is nature’s delight? When you think about it, absolutely it is. As we head towards Spring, we await the inevitable blossom on the trees. We await the green shoots, the ducklings and the daffodils. We are looking for the change which is nature’s delight. But if the daffodil bulbs believed it wasn’t worth the effort, or the trees believed it was all too much to bother with, would we see Spring explode every year? Their biology propels them to change when the conditions are right. Change comes in abundance, because change in nature, isn’t limited by belief. Yet, we too are biological beings. Some 37.2 Trillion cells (according to The Smithsonian) which all work in combination. Which ones exactly are holding your limiting beliefs?

Moving into growth

So, change isn’t only possible, it is inevitable. It’s required, to keep nature moving along. For the seasons to keep on turning, positive change is necessary and ongoing. Unencumbered by beliefs getting in the way and confusing matters. Positive growth keeps happening all around us, just take a look the next time you are walking in nature. The weed growing out of the crack in the pavement. The buds coming on the trees and the birds collecting twigs for their nests. It’s all moving on, isn’t it time you did the same? But a challenge here: it may require you looking at your beliefs. Because if they’re the things getting in your way, they can be changed. Updated. Amended and evolved and (like nature) they can be directed into a new direction that supports your growth and blossoming into a new way of being in and seeing the world.

So, what have the Romans ever done for us?

Well, taking the one above as my example, they’ve done quite a lot. There’s much we can find when we look for it, and often when we aren’t. And change can begin, when someone feels that they wish to head in another direction, but doesn’t quite know, yet, what direction that might be. That’s where a therapist can help. None of us knows whether the trees and flowers feel any discomfort when they change. And when we do because there is a challenge to our beliefs there can be no inconsiderable discomfort. Reluctance to change can mean feelings of threat, directed at the things that ‘exist or are true…without proof.’ So, we might start the process by asking: What is my philosophy? What do I believe?

And what have the Romans ever done for us? Well. Apart from better sanitation, a freshwater system, baths and public order, medicine and irrigation and roads? In many cases, a new philosophy. And a notion within it, that change is possible.