Learned Helplessness


There’s a theory about learned helplessness, put forward by Seligman, a researcher into human behaviour, which teaches that as long as minimum requirements are met, many (most?) people are willing to put up with conditions they feel they can’t escape from.  Of course, sometimes they really can’t escape. A hostage with a violent, volatile captor does their best to avoid being noticed. They may empathise with their captor, appease them in some way and hope to avoid more pain. Or they may bide their time and wait for a chance to escape. Seligman carried out his experiments with dogs, but in my story the dogs are in charge of the people and the Masters are in charge of the dogs.

In my book THE MARSH PEOPLE,  published by Victorina Press, Scummo, a young man whose family have been rounded up and killed, leaves the soulless city he has lived in for most of his adult life, taking with him a little girl, Kelpin. This child is an orphan who has appealed directly to him for help, and in doing so, reached for his hand.

There is something about skin to skin touching which bypasses other emotions.  Recently there have been some news items about newborn babies having immediate skin contact with their mothers and the fact that this contact aids lactation, bonding and emotional well-being, and I know from my own experience that many psychological and physical processes are begun by this simple act of touching, holding, in effect bonding, with a baby, even if it’s not your own.

Scummo, in my story, has an instinctive need to care for this little girl, who represents something of his past – his own mother, perhaps. Something in him is awakened and responds to her need. Kelpin, who has no mother, clings to him and he responds to the challenge well. They learn from one another.

If it’s a choice between sink or swim, the characters in THE MARSH PEOPLE know that their survival depends on them pitting their wits against the Masters and upholding their right to be free men, no matter what. And the women, with their protective, nurturing, natures are essential for the  survival of the tribe.

I had at the back of my mind while I was writing this book  thoughts about the plight of refugees forced to leave their homes and exist somewhere else, or be killed. A refugee camp or a dash for freedom on the back of a lorry, or in a sinking boat on a dangerous sea?  I’m glad I don’t have to decide.

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