Mindfulness and (Royal) Family Troubles

The recent issue concerning Prince Harry and the royal family is in some regards unique but also just another family clash.

It's an opportunity for us to look deeply at our reactions and responses to the matter, to explore how conditioned our minds may be with regards to the people in this drama, the institution, and the wider perspective of compassion.

Image: Stepek family circa 1902

Let's start with some statements. Many people are politically engaged and have their preferences, and that's a good thing. However there's a lot of scientific evidence that our general political leanings are genetic in origin rather than thought through. In other words we are born with political tendencies. That therefore is a form of prejudice. We may pre-judge politicians and policies based on how we are programmed even before birth!

Thereafter everyone is affected by experiences in life; this is called neuroplasticity. So the way you or your loved ones were affected by say The Winter of Discontent under Labour in 1978-79, the Thatcher years of 1979-1990, or Tony Blair's decision to go to war in Iraq, may have changed or confirmed your political choices. These become part of our overall mindset, and develop into prejudices in their own right, as we base future choices on past experiences, even though politicians or their party policies may be very different from past ones.

Many people in Britain bring these conditioned views to the royal family. We all have a view, from those who will always love the royals regardless of what may happen, to those who want a republic, a Britain where there are no royals at all, just ex-royals. Some people are totally indifferent to the royals, neither favouring them, nor wanting rid of them - that's also a view.

All this is to say that whenever something like the Prince Harry situation arises, we don't look at it objectively. We have skewed views even before we start.

Which is where mindfulness comes in. Mindfulness asks us to notice such things and see if they are healthy or unhealthy, helpful or unhelpful, clearly considered or conditioned, harsh or compassionate.

With regards to Harry and this problem, are we biased? In which direction? To what extent? Is it a calm, reflected judgement, or is is a love or hatred of people whom we've never actually met, except through the very shallow and subjective perspective of our broadcasters and newspapers?

And what of the situation itself? A young man is not born into a normal family. He is born into a formal position, a place in the line of succession to be king one day, unlikely but possible. He is also born into a culture of a very different sort of family life from anything we have experienced. He is expected to do certain things, perfomr certain roles, be a certain way. He is going to be subject to media scrutiny - justified checks on him as a public figure, but also unjustified intrusions on a human being's private life.

Then he grows up, and starts to experience real life - in his case, a unique way of life. As a result he has concluded that the role he was born into, one he didn't choose, is not one that he wants to continue doing any longer. He wants to live something closer to a normal life - more private, self-funded, and with fewer formal duties.

This brings a lot of implications. Here's just one as an example. The world is not stable. He could be a target for extreme political or terrorist groups, or criminal gangs, so needs security. Few would disagree with that. However it begs the question as to who should pay for the security he would need. That's only one of many issues.

In another role from my mindfulness work I have spent over two decades helping families who own businesses deal with the family challenges they face. Many are not dissimilar to what the royal family are going through. Someone in the next generation wants to do something different from what the family expected, maybe something different from what they feel the business needs. In other words, although the royal family's details are unique and important, the fact of families having complex issues to be resolved is common.

My point in raising this is not to debate the issue, but to ask you to look inside yourself and see how you have reacted to it, if at all. Only you can see how your mind responds to a situation like Prince Harry's.

Are you prejudiced about him - positively or negatively - as a person? His wife?

Is your view on the queen, the royal family, as people, not the institutions, biased one way or another?

Are your biases making you more or less compassionate towards all those affected by this constitutional issue than we would have for people in any other family clash of opinions?

And finally, is your view on the institution of the monarchy itself one that is clearly, calmly and objectively considered, or are you still influenced primarily by a combination of genetic political tendencies and experiences in life for years, even decades ago, including how your parents viewed the institutions?

Note that none of these reflections need lead everyone to the same conclusions. People can be utterly mindful - calm and clear and compassionate - yet come to different conclusions about Prince Harry and his own family's future, the position of the Queen as a grandmother in the scenario, or her position as monarch, and the pros or cons of having a monarchy.

Happy mindful reflecting!


© 2019 by Martin Stepek.