Sunday, 22 September 2013

Ignoring the Hocus Pocus, a Crowded Pub, and some Quiet Contemplation

There are 2 days I really like above all others in our School year. One of these is Graduation, the other is the first day of a new Academic Year, which this year, was last Monday. On Monday, we had 1000 new students starting their studies with us. It was great to be able to welcome them to the School. This year we were able to use the 300 seat G21 auditorium, which I have to say is my favourite ‘stage’ for 'performing' on.  It was a great atmosphere, and such a good start to the week.

Now I don’t see myself as an extrovert, but I do like the opportunity to be with people in this way. Adam Grant, the American organisational psychologist, in a paper published last week caught my attention. He was discussing the ubiquitous personality test the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test (MBTI). It’s all hocus pocus of course. As Grant notes, when it comes to accuracy, if you were to put a horoscope on one end and heart monitor on the other, the MBTI falls about halfway in between.

There is some consensus across many of the world’s cultures that the 5 personality types that consistently emerge are: extroversion, emotional stability, agreeableness, conscientiousness and openness. Some would add honesty as in honesty-humility as perhaps being the crucial 6th type. However, introversion – extroversion, which is the trait that the MBTI is supposed to capture best, remains a contested issue. I have done the test many times during my working life and have often had different outcomes.

Indeed I would place myself on the introversion – extroversion continuum as somewhere in the middle – an ambivert – someone who is comfortable with groups and social interactions, but also relishes time alone, and away from the crowd. So this week, whilst I loved being on the stage, welcoming our new students and the social interaction of Fresher’s week, equally, it was good on Friday, to be able to drive to the quietness and peacefulness of the house in Scotland.

Mind you my local pub, the Anchor was full last night, and far from peaceful when I went there to eat dinner. I had to sit on a table already occupied by people so as to claim my ‘rights’ to it while I waited for them to leave. After a few fraught moments and false conversational starts we started talking and it gradually emerged that we had things in common. They were called John and Pam, and both were retired nurses, who now lived in an apartment in the grounds of what was once the Crichton in Dumfries.

The Crichton was the last and largest psychiatric hospital, built in 1838 as one of Scotland’s flagship asylums. At one time there were 700 patients being treated there. Under the management of its first medical superintendent, William Browne, it became famous for the introduction of both Occupational and Art Therapy, and indeed was famous for many contributions to psychiatric research. One of the Crichton's early patients featured in Charles Darwin 1872 book, the Expressions of Emotions in Man and Animals, as the face of the insane. The original hospital has long gone now and has been replaced by a state of the art modern day mental health unit called Midway, providing care for just 85 people.

Whilst my new found dinner companions appeared fascinated by the fact I was a professor in mental health care I was equally interested in John's new profession as a bass guitarist in a jazz band. They were off to Lockerbie today to play in a concert there. It was the second time he had been to Lockerbie, the first time was for 3 weeks following the bombing and crash of Pam Am Flight 103 in 1988. Then he helped the community deal with the initial physical and emotional trauma of the bombing. After many years, the former Libyan leader Gaddafi finally accepted responsibility for the bombing in which all 259 people on the plane died, along with another 11 people who died when the plane crashed into the town of Lockerbie.

And so it was that in the hurly burly noisy hubbub of the Anchor Pub, with its noisy good humoured crowd laughing, drinking, eating, talking and enjoying themselves, we sat for a moment of quiet contemplation of lives lost and lives changed for ever. I will do the same tomorrow, and in doing so, raise a glass to my little brother Christopher who, 6 years ago was also prematurely taken from his family and friends. However he will shine on for ever in our hearts.