Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Hidden Benefits of Ostracism

Ostracism (Greekὀστρακισμόςostrakismos) was a procedure under the Athenian democracy in which any citizen could be expelled from the city-state of Athens for ten years. While some instances clearly expressed popular anger at the citizen, ostracism was often used preemptively. It was used as a way of neutralizing someone thought to be a threat to the state or potential tyrant.
Crucially, ostracism had no relation to the processes of justice. There was no charge or defense, and the exile was not in fact a penalty; it was simply a command from the Athenian people that one of their number be gone for ten years.
A modern use developed from the term is to describe informal exclusion from a group through social rejection, although the psychology of ostracism takes this further, where it has been defined as “...any behaviour in which a group or individual excludes and ignores another group or individual”.[1] This could therefore be a conscient act or an unconscient one.

I've never before heard the word 'conscient'. And I want to be clear up front - ostracism is horrible, it's a horrible way to treat people, and yourself. The benefits I describe are hidden behind a lot of very salient downside that I won't go into, but among social animals like primates, right through our ancestry the need for social inclusion, acceptance and attachment is a universal one. Ostracism like the death penalty, can't even be justified as a deterrent.

There are in life though, many necessary seperations. It can be a last resort for dealing with crappy people whom harass you, relationships that fail after a time when pushing down fundamental incompatibilities can no longer be sustained, seperation can be necessary for grieving and healing (if you can actually make a distinction).

What line do a draw between seperation and ostracism? I don't know.

But you find yourself ostracised, I found myself ostracised. I accepted it, I got my instruction to be gone from the great Athenian experiment. I have found the following beneficial.

Firstly, as ostracism endures my denial does not. My counterwill reaches exhaustion. It becomes clear that I am merely arguing with myself over questions of justice. I can embrace finally the power of negative thinking and play devil's advocate to myself. Nothing is at stake any longer, no ego. Nothing, nothing changes and finally I am free to explore perspectives other than that which shines the most flattering light on me.

It is also, a most unusual form of stimulus. Because being ostracised, in exile, if only in my own mind means that beyond the initial events, there is no further stimulus. Here crucially for me was one of the key benefits. When I found myself revisiting the same old argument, it enabled me to realise that this was all just taking place in my head. It wasn't something being done to me, but a habit. A mental habit that I am prone to getting stuck in. Not even in the specific but in the general. I am constantly trying to justify myself.

I mean imagine if somebody close to you died, and you found yourself mentally rehearsing the conversations you never had. Clearly, that person can't be driving these conversations, they are dead. It must be you, the entire relationship is now in your head. Ostracism helps you realise you can do this with anybody you know.

Alecturer told me the real value of a University degree was that it told an employer you could get something done without being told what to do all the time. In a similar vein, while ostracised you can genuinely do your own healing, your own redemption. You have the space to do so, and no possibility of doing so cynically. Our exiled Athenian can go 'woah, so people saw me as a potential tyrant, I need to work on my people skills and cooperation.' But doing so doesn't reduce the sentence, communications are down with the parole board.

And I guess if you find yourself ostracised, the best thing I can say to you is that I sincerely believe every human being is worthy of redemption, and equipped with the authority to redeem themselves. You may never come back from the wilderness, but you can be whole and complete.

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