Archive for February, 2010

1. Subjective marking.

I have actually seen an “IQ” test on the Internet which required essay-type answers. Imagine the scenario where a testee is very much more able than the person who wrote the test. This person may submit answers that the examiner fails to understand or appreciate, and hence gets marked down accordingly.

Test questions that require the testee to write or draw out the answer in full could potentially fall prey to subjective marking.

2. Lack of instructions or illustrative examples.

Even if many or most of the questions are too difficult for the testee to answer, he/she has zero chance if no instructions are given, or the instructions are unclear or incomplete. I saw a test a few days ago where one section of it consisted of various lines, some of which had numbers against them, and others did not. The “example” consisted of two lines, one bearing the number 5, the other blank. The line with the 5 did not appear to be 5 inches, 5 centimetres, or any other recognisable unit of measurement. I am assuming that the test author expected test takers to work out the value of the other lines as a ratio to the ones with numbers. But there again, I could be barking entirely up the wrong tree, thanks to insufficient instructions.

3. Questions not clearly printed.

All right, it seems ridiculously obvious. But this same offending organisation that published the aforementioned test had also scanned and uploaded another test to their site which was so poor in quality that the intended shape of certain graphic elements could not be discerned.

4. Questions not well-defined.

Questions which do not include all the information for their solution, and which do not specify all the necessary parameters for their solution (giving rise to the possibility that some testees will identify two or more logical answers), would be poorly-defined questions. An example I saw asked what the probability would be of a second coloured ball pulled out of a bag at random being a certain colour; the question however neglected to specify whether or not the first ball had been placed back in the bag. Knowing this information would have made all the difference to the answer. The question was thus unanswerable, except by pure guess as to which scenario the examiner had intended.

5a. A required answer is the wrong answer, or is not the only possible answer.

5b. Correct (alternative) answers are marked as incorrect as they had not been considered by the author.

The above are down to bad test authorship and insufficient beta-testing to flag up flaws and bugs in the test. I saw a “wheel” question, where each segment had a number double its value on the opposite side, with the last segment blank, which I felt fit this category. Continuing clockwise, the amount in the blank segment would logically have been double the value the other side. Continuing anti-clockwise, the number to go in the blank segment would have logically been half the value the other side. There was also a third option, where all the numbers provided appeared to be a progression of multiples. Which one was the testee supposed to choose? The question had one required answer; the other two perfectly justifiable alternative answers would have presumably received no credit.

6. Specific academic knowledge being assumed.

Unless it is the specific intention of that part of the test to gauge factual knowledge, none should be assumed, and any such information required for the solution of the questions should be provided to the test taker.

Particularly in the case of certain high-range tests, I have seen some fairly advanced academic knowledge (particularly in mathematics) being required in order to solve certain questions. It seems that in order to try and discriminate at the upper levels, these types of questions slip in as it becomes more difficult for test authors to come up with sufficiently difficult questions. That is one of the reasons I am generally sceptical of these tests – a person can be exceptional in terms of raw potential, but not have benefited from a particularly thorough education.

7. Time limits too punitive.

What do I mean by “too punitive”? When nervous testees are put under unnecessary pressure, or testees who prefer to work carefully and check their answers are put at an unnecessary disadvantage.

An impulsive, reckless person answers many questions within the time limit. Another testee of above average ability achieves the same score, but did not answer nearly as many questions before time ran out, having checked his work as he went along. Do these two candidates have equal ability? This particular test would not differentiate.

One member of a forum made a lengthy argument that the lower the intelligence, the slower the person would work, because they make more mistakes in their reasoning. He reasoned that the brighter the person, the faster they would be, because they would make fewer reasoning errors.

This assumption is not borne out in actual psychometric statistics. The gifted do not necessarily score the highest in processing speed. This may be owing to personality factors such as perfectionism or extra careful work habits, which are not directly linked with intelligence.

My own theory on this is that the higher the intelligence, the more possibilities occur to the person as they examine the question. Each will need to be sifted through to see if it will fit. Although it is possible that a very gifted testee may be making few or no reasoning errors, the time factor will be balanced against the fact that more possible solutions will need to be examined. I have personally had the experience of my more average classmates start writing straight away when presented with a problem, whereas I can see multiple nuances which I have to consider first to make sense of what the question is actually asking.

Please comment if you would like to add to the list!

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Following on from my earlier entry about the bill of rights for gifted kids, I wondered why the authors of those articles had not thought to write a similar document for gifted adults.

It is important that we recognise the needs of children, but there must be an awful lot of adults out there whose needs have never been met, are not being met, and whose great talents are being constantly and continually wasted, simply because they do not know about their giftedness. Giftedness is not just for children, and a person does not stop being gifted just because she reaches adulthood and enters the job market.

Many gifties may not have ever been officially tested or diagnosed, not know they are anything out of the ordinary, work in very ordinary jobs, and tell themselves that their feelings of general dissatisfaction are because they are being unrealistic about their expectations in life, etc. I do not see this as the failure of the individual, but a more general failure of a culture that not only is not set up for them, but that actively works to “level the playing field”.

Thus the first point on the list for adults should be the same as the one for children:

1. I have the right to know about my giftedness.

Let’s assume our hypothetical gifted adult now discovers in her mid thirties that she is gifted. She reads a whole ton of literature online, and realises that a lot of things that she thought were wrong with her are in fact gifted traits. After the initial shock starts to wear off, she starts appraising her life and she starts to feel that her succession of typing jobs are a complete waste of her abilities. What now? She starts to feel that she ought to do something about her vocational life, but how? She grew up in an era when careers for girls were not even discussed in the family, and it was merely assumed that she would leave school at 16 and apply for office jobs.

This brings us to a second point:

2. I have the right to work that is appropriate to my interests and level of ability.

Our newfound giftie realises that some form of retraining or return to education would be necessary in order to follow a more appropriately challenging career path. She finds, however, that she is required to jump through multiple hoops in order to get onto any courses of study. Being a smart cookie, she could probably re-enter education at college level. However, without “bits of paper” to say so, admissions tutors are unable to recognise her smarts.

Thus another point:

3. I have the right to enter, or re-enter, education on a level that is appropriate to my abilities.

There is a tendency for the gifted to go as far as they feel they personally need to in one subject or career area, and then move onto the next. It’s a bit like having a “midlife crisis” every few years. Kamizierz Dabrowski writes about this phenomenon in his “Theory of Positive Disintegration”. Also, whereas people of average intelligence tend to have one or two areas of strong aptitude, the gifted may have 10 or more. Thus, there is a tendency to want to explore these various other aptitudes. Aptitudes/abilities which are not explored and developed leads to tension and dissatisfaction for the individual. So when those feet start to seriously itch, we have another point:

4. I have the right to change careers when I feel the need to.

Unfortunately, with traditional career paths and the education system being geared up to training people for one thing and then expecting them to stick with it until retirement age, it can be an onerous task trying to get trained for something else in a sufficiently expeditious fashion, and then having to start again on a trainee salary and being expected to spend years working one’s way back up. It needs to be recognised that a very intelligent person will pick up the new subject rather more quickly than the more average person, and that the system needs to work for these people, and not against them, when they wish to make such a career change. Hence the next point:

5. I have the right not to have red-tape work against me while retraining or changing careers.

Some people are just naturally curious and interested in everything. It is a myth that the super-smart must become rich, if they really are that clever. If your interests and aptitudes are manifold, and cover diverse subject areas, how do you choose one single thing and stick to it, to the exclusion of everything else? Gifties tend to value their self-growth over making money. Additionally, the interests and aptitudes of the gifted individual are not necessarily, and cannot be expected always to be, in alignment with what society or business is prepared to pay for. Therefore:

6. I have the right not to be considered a failure if I am not rich.

7. I have the right to be passionate about multiple talent areas.

Now, I am under no illusion about my ability at sports, for example. I dare say were I to train every day, I might reach a level of fitness approaching average (my health problems notwithstanding). However, I would be unlikely to ever reach the levels of sporting ability necessary to play competitive team sports, or run a marathon. Hence, the next point is the same as the last one on the children’s list:

8. I have the right not to be gifted at everything.

[I may well continue this list at some point, but have stopped here because of multiple interruptions while trying to compose this post.]

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If it were for the individual, then it would be more accountable to the individual.

An extremely bright person capable of moving through the required curriculum faster, and completing it earlier than the expected age, would then be free to pursue more exciting curricula in line with his or her interests, or even leave altogether to do something else. A person not wishing to do school when young would be free to come back and finish it as an adult, if her or she so wished.

I am mentioning extremely bright people in particular, because my observation is that the people with the most extreme levels of ability are the population most short-changed by the system as is.

As a mature student attemption to regain access to education, I was shocked at the sheer amount of red tape and bureaucracy in place. There were just so many hoops to jump through in terms of prerequisite exams and pieces of paper.

I ended up taking a mature student access course in order to secure a place on a distance-learning course in business management from a popular university. There was nothing in the business management course that would have presented any particular challenge to me had I not taken the access course (the standard of work was in all honesty probably less rigorous). Yet without taking the access course and having that qualification to “prove” myself, I would have been unlikely to secure a place, even if I had offered alternative proof of ability.

I now find myself in the ridiculous situation of being very knowledgeable in certain areas of human potential development, teaching methods, neurotechnology and biomonitoring, yet if I were to apply to an undergraduate course in any relevant field, I would be laughed at with my lack of “official” school education in science and maths. Yet I am at the level where I am ready to start conducting my own research. Where do I go with all of this?

I could humour the education system and spend years going through the motions of this or that prerequisite, just to get (officially) up to the “level” I am now in my actual understanding (at my own expense in terms of time and money, of course).

Or I could just start researching in any way I possibly can, i.e. using my own living room as a lab, using friends and neighbours as volunteers, purchasing equipment for my research as and when I can afford it, and then using my various high IQ society memberships as the only semi-credible publishing opportunity to which I have access, in order to publish the results of my work. With luck, perhaps a few years down the line, I will have amassed a sufficient body of writing and sufficient interest in my work to go back to the universities and ask if I may now be awarded a degree, if not some actual funding.

If you’re thinking that’s just not how it works, perhaps you’re right, and perhaps I shall continue to be doing my work on my own (and possibly funding it through the sale of popularist publications and/or products which spin off from my “true” work) , no thanks to the education system not recognising my needs.

The unspoken assumption seems to be that only some “official” awarding body, such as a university, can give a person the academic stamp of approval to say that he/she can do XXX. Without such stamp of approval, a person would have a difficult time persuading other areas of academia, or industry, that he/she is able to do XXX, thus forcing the person to go the “official” route or remain unrecognised by the system. Yet the system is loaded with expensive and time-sapping requirements which literally force a person such as myself into going solo. Is it any wonder I feel I am caught in a Catch 22?

If the education system was really for the individual’s benefit (as opposed to being for the benefit of those who wish to push a particular ideology off onto the populace while making money out of running their courses), then it would recognise the following:

1. Someone who has already entered the job market needs financial assistance in getting back into the classroom. Part-time courses are fine if you want to do flower-arranging, but if you want to re-train for a profession and do NOT wish to spend 6 or 8 years studying every evening, then the student needs a means to live in the meantime.

2. I am a mature person and do not NEED a liberal education. I need a fast-track way of getting through the information and skills that I actually require to qualify in my new chosen field. To require the study of historical information, background information, general interest information etc. which is not strictly necessary to get a result in the subject area only adds extra time and expense to the course.

3. Where a person is very gifted, we should not be required to satisfy a system that is not set up for our success. All it does is slow us up and limit our productivity. Sometimes I think that the only reason universities etc. put this paper system in place is because many people working there had to work and study extremely hard to obtain a qualification that we could earn easily. Jealousy could be a factor in making us all go through the same motions.

For the average, or the slightly brighter than average, education as delivered spells opportunity.

For the real outliers in intelligence, the same systems that help the above mentioned persons are a hindrance.

I’ve asked similar questions before, but as far as I’m concerned, it can’t be asked too often: why are we hindering and putting obstacles in front of our very brightest?

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Recently, I came across this article: http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/unwrapping_the_gifted/2007/11/a_gifted_childs_bill_of_rights.html

I suppose that growing up in England in the 1970s, “giftedness” wasn’t considered an issue, and advocating for special educational provision for the gifted wasn’t even a concept.

Let’s consider the impact of the neglect of each point on my formative years:

1. You have a right to know about your giftedness.

Although my mother told me I was “bright”, this was often used more as a means to shut me up about things I felt I wasn’t good at, and as a stick to beat me with when I couldn’t or wouldn’t do schoolwork. I only found out from her about a year ago that in fact I had been formally tested in the Junior school, and apparently hit the ceiling on the WISC.

I might still have been just as stubbornly autodidactic, rather than humouring the teacher and doing the assigned curriculum, but at least knowing this information, and particularly the rarity of such an IQ score, would have given me an inner confidence that no amount of disrespect from adults or bullying from children could easily have taken away.

2. You have a right to learn something new every day.

At school, I had an over-riding sense that my time was being completely wasted.

Well-meaning grandparents or friends of the family might ask from time to time, “What did you learn at school today?” I started to think that I must be very forgetful, or lazy, or inattentive, because I could rarely name anything that we had covered in class that I considered to be fresh learning.

Somewhere along the line I had picked up or been fed the idea that facts or skills that I had learned by myself or outside of class didn’t count. I wasn’t so much playing dumb, as feeling that I had to humour the school by treating their information, when finally presented, as if it were genuine learning.

3. You have a right to be passionate about your talent area without apologies.

I had multiple interests and talents, very few of which co-incided with classroom subjects, which I would pursue with intensity. What needed to happen was not comments about me being enthusiastic about everything but school, but to have my interests and talents channelled in a way so that they would count in a constructive, official way towards my education.

4. You have a right to have an identity beyond your talent area.

As I have said, I didn’t have a single talent area. I believe this confused the adults in my life, because they didn’t know how to pigeon-hole me. Thus I frequently got dubbed as “lazy”.

5. You have a right to feel good about your accomplishments.

If you asked me to identify one defining characteristic of my upbringing, it would be the zealous efforts to instill in me excessive humility and meekness. It was regularly pointed out that nearly everything I could do was either unimportant, or could be done better by someone else. Talking excitedly about something that I had done was “bragging”. My make-believe games where I was “the greatest” were met with scorn and derision. I do not feel that I was helped to arrive at a healthy balance between uber-humility and big-headedness. Consequently, I ended up thinking that I could do nothing, and was nothing.

6. You have a right to make mistakes.

I do not ever recall a teacher taking the attitude that mistakes are part of the learning process. Somehow I grew up demanding perfection from myself, with the result that in some areas, I was unable to do anything, because the risk of making a mistake and feeling that I had humiliated myself by doing so was too great.

7. You have a right to seek guidance in the development of your talent.

Malcolm Gladwell explains in “The Outliers” that people who have become very successful or famous invariably had a mentor who discovered them at just the right time, and nurtured their talents.

I still keep running into people who believe that if you’re so smart, or so good at what you do, then you should rise to the top regardless. What if you don’t actually realise while you are still young that you are any good, and it takes a fresh pair of eyes to notice what you could actually be capable of, given the right opportunities?

8. You have a right to have multiple peer groups and a variety of friends.

A major complaint of the school, and the catalyst for having me tested in the first place, was that I “never had any friends”. Yes I did – I could name plenty of adults whom I considered friends. I even had friends who were much younger than me, with whom I played in the way that you would expect an older person to when dealing with a child. Yet children the same age? They had few or no interests in common, and frequently did not understand the words that I used. Age peers thought I was weird, and perhaps the feeling was mutual.

9. You have a right to choose which of your talent areas you wish to pursue.

Again, I didn’t really consider that I had any talents. Not once do I recall a teacher or any adult sitting down and saying, “Look, you are really good at X. Why don’t we see if we can do something with that?”

10. You have a right to not be gifted at everything.

This is something that parents, teachers and other significant adults really need to get their heads around. Kids develop at different rates, and their individual skills develop at different rates. The thing with gifties is that the lack of developmental parity is often magnified. My parents and teachers used to tear their hair how I could read books intended for adults, but would get in a tangle over the simplest sums.

Additionally, just because I was going through a phase of not being able to do sums at a certain age, didn’t mean that I would not be able to get the hang of it later on, given appropriate explanations and examples. Unfortunately, the solution implemented by the school was to put me in the dummy stream when it came to mathematics, where I did not have a snowball’s chance in hell of working my way up to Set 1 and covering the complex topics those students were tackling.

I also liked this version:


Many of the concepts repeat, but in particular her Point 7 resonated with me. All too often, just because I could hold a conversation on a complex topic meant that I was expected to have the emotional maturity and sense of life responsibility of an adult. (“You’re being a baby!” – no, I’m just doing what every five-year-old does. It’s just other five-year-olds don’t read on a level more than double their age.)

It raises questions as to whether being expected to be mature beyond one’s years actually stunts one’s emotional growth.

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Word got back to me recently that my father had said that one of my major life choices had “wrecked my career”.

It wasn’t the fact that he had expressed disapproval to my significant other behind my back regarding one of many attempts to escape from office work that irked me. It was the fact that he considered my succession of  “good enough for now” jobs a career.

Let’s fill in a bit of history.

I left school at 16 with few qualifications, the circumstances of which I have touched upon in earlier posts. Because of my age, lack of work experience, and lack of training for any specific type of work, I spent three months fruitlessly answering ads, and visiting agencies and the Job Centre. Even when managing to secure an interview, I got turned down flat. I looked very much younger than my actual age, and I was still deep in the throes of some form of shock as a consequence of years of bullying; the effects of this must surely have shown.

It is worth mentioning at this point that I was very busy writing music. I had an old acoustic guitar, a tiny synth, and a tape recorder, and using these tools I had prepared a wealth of material. I had binders of miscellaneous ideas, rough drafts, and completed songs. I really wanted to do something with my music, but nobody (even the local Careers Office or Chief Librarian) seemed to be able to advise me how to get started.  So I simply continued writing in earnest.

Reluctantly (as by now my mother is holding her hand out for housekeeping money), I accepted a Youth Training Scheme placement at a local shop. My parents referred me to this position, saying I should apply because the proprietor is well-known as the local computer wizard, and I should be able to learn much from him. The shopkeeper took me on because he knew my parents are also shopkeepers in the same street, and he thought that I would be reliable. I graduated the YTS (lukewarm recommendations courtesy of the Council on my YTS certificate notwithstanding) and got taken on as a permanent member of staff. The shopkeeper fulfilled his role as mentor, and taught me every aspect of the retail and office side of his business, until eventually I was left to run nearly everything singlehanded while he spent his days out on the road.

Unfortunately, the business went under, and I once again found myself on the job market. Local agencies seemed to have some difficulty in grasping exactly what experience I had had. Because a major part of the business had been a retail shop, there were agency personnel who seemed to think that all I had done was stand and operate a cash register, despite the fact that I had done everything from stock control and doing the books to marketing campaigns. In addition, I had built up the computer services side of the business, and had learned a lot more about document production and various software programs than your average secretary of the day would have needed to know. Yet one agency girl rang up and said she had found a position for an office junior. I put the phone down.

So I did what many members of the Thatcher generation would have done: I started a business. I had a computer and printer at home, so I obtained a photocopier, created some business cards and flyers, and got started.

The problem was, after a while, I was going stir crazy working from home, and the fact that I was expected to be “on call” to see to people’s demands for photocopies, faxes, and quotes for typing, even when I was as sick as a dog, or trying to eat my lunch. I think the crunch came one day when I had a fever, and the family kept calling me downstairs every time someone came in even though I wanted to sleep, and so I went out and sat in a cafe for the afternoon just to get left alone. I decided that I was going to work elsewhere.

Agencies yet again did not seem willing or able to come up with much. One asked me if I was looking for a trainee position because, as she put it, “…you haven’t really worked in an office before.” In shock, I replied I had only been running my own for the past year and a half!

Anyway, I do not think that I need to continue elaborating further. As you can see, there is a strong tendency for the next organisation to only offer opportunities based on what the last one was willing to pay for, and even then, much of what the person actually did and learned gets downplayed.

So far, the following factors have emerged:

(a)  A lack of advice on how to get into music (or any other slightly out of the ordinary vocation);

(b) A general under-estimation of intelligence and ability, owing partially to a failure of the education system to deliver, partially to a general discrimination against introverts in the workforce and partially to reasons best known to God and HR professionals;

(c) A general lack of appreciation of the experience, skills and achievements which had in fact been achieved;

(d) A discriminatory disregard for experience, skills and achievements gained in a voluntary capacity outside the workplace;

(e) A complete lack of advice on how to completely change tack/retrain/continue full-time education.

I took the jobs that I did because they were there, and I needed money. Each time I took such a position, I did so to make the best of the situation immediately facing me. Career development was hardly part of the picture.

I mentioned music earlier in this post. Well, the music career never happened, because I never connected with people who could refer me to the movers and shakers in that industry, nor found anyone who could tell me how to get going.

Now I find myself attracted to the idea of founding a private college with own research facility, and conducting my own scientific research into the human condition. That obviously can’t be done without a great deal of funding. I have realised now that the activity that was supposed to have provided the funding was the music/songwriting career. I should have been visiting lawyers to ask for advice on how to use my royalties to charter my college, not working for them in the office!

In other words, in my head I have progressed to a whole other life stage, but the physical world has not even delivered up the first one.

So please do me a favour, and do not antagonise me by referring to the jobs that I have held as “my career”.

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Polymathism vs. Dilettantism

Dictionary.com defines a dilettante as:

a person who takes up an art, activity, or subject merely for amusement, esp. in a desultory or superficial way; dabbler

By contrast, a polymath is defined as:

a person of great learning in several fields of study; polyhistor

Two or three years ago, I made a list of all the activities at which I had been appointed in a professional capacity. For the purposes of the list, I defined “professional” as either a paid position, or a voluntary position to which I had been appointed on the same sort of basis as if it were a paid position (i.e. certain levels of knowledge or skill were expected). To my surprise, they amounted to nearly 20.

What I did not include on the list were those further subjects at which I have developed my knowledge and skills, but in which have not yet had the opportunity to secure paid or unpaid employment.

I have left out of both the aforementioned categories those subjects at which I only have a passing interest, or a dilettante knowledge.

The upshot of examining my skill base in this way is that I concluded that if I, and others like me, do not count as polymaths, then possibly only a handful of individuals who ever lived do.

Unfortunately, a major challenge is convincing a potential employer that you are not (a) lying, or (b) a flake. In an age where the (mono-talent) specialist is king, the HR department or the business executive cannot conceive that there are people with the ability to develop themselves in multiple subjects or across disciplines. Hence the latter gets slapped with the dilettante label, and the position goes to the guy with only enough personal capacity for one area of skill.

The sad thing is that business leaders do not apparently realise how much they could benefit from the polymathic approach.

But then again, perhaps they do not want to?

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Invisible Person Syndrome

Does any of this resonate with you?

  • The invisible person never gets invited out socially outside the workplace or outside other activities the person does or belongs to.
  •  The invisible person can stand at pedestrian crossings but the traffic doesn’t stop until another person also arrives to cross the road.
  • The invisible person rarely gets jobs they apply for unless there are special circumstances (e.g. none of the other applicants have suitable skills).
  • Achievements have to be spectacular before the invisible person is even noticed by the company he/she works for or social groups he/she belongs to.
  • Usually their colleagues only notice the invisible person when (a) things flap because they are not there or (b) when they have messed up.
  • Social groups do not usually notice if the invisible person turns up or not.
  • At a gathering, it is rare for people to single out the invisible person to talk to.  It is usually the invisible person who has to instigate the conversation if he/she wants to be included.
  • The invisible person tends to be disbelieved or at least have their achievements or abilities played down should they promote them to others.
  • The invisible person sometimes tends to be made to feel they are a nuisance to others, thus reinforcing the tendency to keep themselves to themselves.
  • The invisible person tends to get forgotten in invitations where the whole family, office etc. is invited.
  • If the invisible person starts talking and someone else interrupts, others will listen to the second person without even noticing their rudeness at interrupting.  It may not even register with others present that the invisible person had started to speak.
  • The invisible person can be talking to one other person alone in a room.  When someone else enters, however, the conversation tends to switch away from the invisible person, to being an exchange between their companion and the new arrival.  The invisible person tends to get henceforth ignored unless they make a pointed effort to still be included in the conversation.
  • Some particular phenomena have been noted where the invisible person is standing in a queue.  Where a queue is obstructing the path of others, the place where the invisible person is standing will be the place in the queue where the others tend to push through to get past.  When travelling down an escalator, a person previously standing, who suddenly decides they want to walk down, will jump in front of the invisible person (often without looking) thus displacing them from their place in line.  In shops etc. people tend not to notice the invisible person is waiting and will jump in.
  • Any display of assertiveness on the part of the invisible person is often met with surprise and especially anger by others.

An ignorant, zero-reality, no-concept response to this is usually something like, “Well, you should learn to speak up for yourself.”

Yes, but the strangest thing is, much of this happens in situations where no speech or conversation normally happens, or isn’t appropriate (such as the queueing in public). It’s as if the pushy members of society have some sort of “radar” that enables them to zero in on the meek. Very bizarre.

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Blowing the Whistle on Disinformation – Part 1

The Daily Mail published this article:


The strong message this article gives out, as do many of the readers’ comments that follow, is that allergies are legitimate when diagnosed by the medical profession, but that the symptoms you may be experiencing as a result of food intolerances are mainly in your head.

I have multiple food intolerances, as well as sensitivities to other substances I encounter in the environment, such as fragranced products, house dust, tree pollen and insect bites. I am not on a slimming diet, I am not interested in seeking attention by being a fussy eater, I do not have an eating disorder, and I am not depressed.

In fact, I would love to be able to eat anything. What a luxury it would be to be able to go to someone’s house for dinner and not have to give a list of things that I do and don’t eat. It would save so much time (and probably grocery bills too) if I could just throw any old thing into the cart, instead of having to read all the labels for “naughties”. It would be amazing to be able to stop at any cafe or snack bar and have the entire menu to choose from. It would be great to be able to go on trips abroad without having to pack wheat-free loaves etc. in my luggage. Why on earth would I want to deliberately restrict myself?

As it happens, I did not self-diagnose. I have had my intolerances tested by four different alternative health professionals, none of whom knew what the others had found. Further, I saw a nutritionist who gave me an extremely detailed questionnaire and consultation session. Guess what? All of them gave me the same advice regarding the foods/substances to which I am intolerant.

My GP, by contrast, merely sent me for a blood test when I complained of being constantly tired. The test came back negative for diabetes, and this in her opinion meant there was nothing medically wrong with me!

Someone remarked that if there were food shortages, you would quickly see the number of allergies and intolerances drop. Yes, but that would only take care of the people who are playing the allergy/intolerance card as an excuse. For those of us who have genuine reactions to some foods, we would be the first to suffer if supplies were scarce. I myself have chosen to go hungry rather than eat something that I know will make me ill, such as when an airline forgot to provide my specially-ordered meal and all there was available was (wheat) sandwiches. If food was in limited supply, I suppose you could say the number of vegetarians would drop overnight. The only difference there is that vegetarianism is a choice; having bad reactions to certain foods is most definitely not. (Oh, and before the hate mail starts coming, I used to be vegetarian, until I realised that with my intolerances, my diet was going to be limited enough already.)

I hope those people who believe we should all put up and eat up NEVER have to suffer the painful heartburn, constantly upset stomach, itchy eyes and skin, blurred vision, sleepiness, thirst that won’t be satisfied even after a whole two litre bottle of water, gas and bloating, runny nose, headaches and other body aches, and feelings of lethargy and general malaise that come after eating foods which do not agree with them. Over time, the result can be exhaustion and lack of energy, poor sleep, weight gain, moodiness, and a whole plethora of digestive problems and bodily discomforts. I should know, because I have been there. And I think I probably know my body a little more intimately than any doctor can.

There are many good books giving sensible diet advice, but if I were to pick one outstanding one, it would have to be “The Ultramind Solution” by Dr. Mark Hyman. Although written from the perspective of how things that go wrong in the body affect the mind, there is plenty of user-friendly information on diet and health.

I shall close this article with the following:

The two most common foods to which people complain of allergies and intolerances are wheat and cow’s milk.

Guess which two foods have been, and continue to be, the most mucked around with by the food industry (pesticides, fertilisers, genetic modification, antibiotics etc.) in the name of profits?

When these type of articles spring up from time to time in the national press, and the opinions of doctors are solicited, guess which two food groups these doctors make the most fuss about people not eating?

I shall leave the reader to their own conclusions.

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Suggestion Box Idea #1

This is primarily directed at London Transport, since I live in London, but the idea could be considered by all transport operators.

One morning recently, I saw a pregnant woman with one of those “Baby on Board” badges leap up nimbly from the seat she had been offered several stops back, and skip spryly off the train in a way I haven’t been able to do for years.

Now, I not only wrestle with M.E. (chronic fatigue syndrome), but I have an inherited arthritic condition which means that I struggle to reach the overhead rails. If I can’t get a seat on the Tube, I at least need a bit of wall to lean on.

The topic regarding who should get seats comes up from time to time in the letters columns of the free newspapers. The ingenious solution that inevitably comes up at least once in every such exchange is that the person requiring the seat should ask, rather than seated travellers using their eyes and noticing who might be struggling.

If I were an occasional traveller, I wouldn’t mind asking, but I make two Tube journeys per day, changing lines at least once. I don’t think I am bold enough to approach a complete stranger and ask for a seat four times a day – even if my back is killing me!

Effectively, by taking this stance, O healthy person taking up a seat that I need, is putting the embarrassment squarely onto me by expecting that I ask. Should I do so, then being the person speaking, guess who is going to draw the eyes of all other occupants of that part of the carriage? Then, should you choose not to co-operate, you can simply turn up the volume on your iPod or bury your nose a little deeper into your Metro, and pretend that you didn’t hear me. Meanwhile, all eyes will still be on me, and not you, and you will not have lost anything (least of all your precious seat).

Those “Baby on Board” badges do seem to have some success in overcoming passengers’ tendency to play the “unobservant” card. However, when I asked whether there was a similar badge for people with health conditions, I was met with a blank stare.

Upon providing necessary evidence, such as a letter from a doctor, physiotherapist etc., London Transport (or any transport company) could give out large, visible badges for those who have a greater need for a seat. Wearing such a badge would mean that people could no longer ignore my bad back, and if they did, then they would be the ones at whom fellow travellers would be staring.

How about calling this the “Priority Seat” badge?

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I believe that if I had been permitted to take a condensed curriculum that moved me along at my own pace, culminating in me taking my O-levels at the end of the Junior school rather than at the end of secondary, I may not have gone as badly off the rails educationally as I did.

Making me wait until I was 15 to take them was a disaster. I had gone well and truly off the boil by then. School was not an opportunity for me, it was a sentence that I had to serve and which I couldn’t wait to escape from. Naturally, this didn’t result in a positive outcome in terms of exam success.

By complete contrast, when I was much younger, I was into everything. I got given an encyclopaedia set when I first moved up the the junior school (written for adults, not a children’s version), which I eagerly devoured. My favourite sections were the ones on astronomy, psychology, anatomy, linguistics, music and countries of the world. I also belonged to the local library and would read several books a week. Someone really needed to tap into my enthusiasm for reading anything and everything and turn it to my academic advantage.

My mother says that my reading ability had been tested when I was about seven and apparently I was reading at approximately the 15 year old level. So what would have been the problem in starting me on an O-level course a year or two later?

So, I hear you asking, what would I have done, having completed school and college years early? Unfortunately, I cannot speculate, not having had the luxury of being in that position! However, I would NOT have been utterly turned off study, nor had to stay with age peers with whom I could not relate and who could be mercilessly cruel.

There is very little point in keeping students in school who do not want to be there. At best, they make little effort; at worst, they distract and disrupt those students who do want to be in school.

That is why I am increasingly coming around to the idea that the school leaving age should be lowered, not increased.

Leaving at, say, the age of 14, but with the proviso that a further four years’ state education would have been available to me at any time of life that I desired to take it would have been ideal. That way, if I had graduated by 14, but had decided a number of years later to take a different degree to change career path, I could have simply dipped into my “state education credit” and been supported by those means while I retrained.

I had a conversation with a woman once, who chose to take the moral high ground about how she had taken the opportunities presented to her at school, and was firmly of the opinion that it was down to the individual. Yes, but only so far as that individual’s needs are being met.

So the next time someone says to me something along the lines of, “If you had wanted to study, couldn’t you?” I have a wonderful analogy: Can you imagine the result of trying to feed an elephant one blade of grass at a time?

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