I love the internet because it contains an endless supply of articles to read and pictures of cats to share. If you’re a friend of mine on Facebook or have ever heard me give a talk you’ll probably be more familiar with my cats than my writing. Cats make me happy. Oh, and writing does too. We all have things that can make us happy, even the cynics and the stressed amongst us I hope. But you may ask what have cats and the transient affect of happiness got to do with critical health psychology?
Bear with me and hopefully all will become clear – a proviso that might apply to every academic talk or lecture because nothing in academia is universally self-evident, and critical health psychology is one of the fields of thinking that could do with being more accessible. I’ve just about learnt the language of critical speak but like many mainstream-trained psychology graduates I still catch myself (or get caught) defaulting to modernism and othering. So my main question here is this: Why do we rarely share anything outside our professional self with our audience in health psychology? What is achieved by holding up the mask of the professional sitting outside the health issue we’re talking about? What results from constructing a gap between academic and public? Why do we so readily talk about philosophers, printed texts, participants, or the public without positioning ourselves as within our data and as saturated in affect and politics? Why don’t we share a little of what makes us happy as a way of connecting with our audience when presenting material that is often otherwise dense?
When I was a postgraduate student I used to give very serious presentations – I was and still am hesitant at the thought of public speaking, which is kind of ironic for a tenured senior lecturer. I probably over-prepare and under-practice every talk and every lecture I give, and I still kick myself about the one line that doesn’t come across quite right on reflection or the moment I lose the ability to read mid-flow. If that flash of panic is not something you’re familiar with then I am just a little jealous of you. But I found my touchstone for presenting in the saying that your audience doesn’t remember exactly what you said (thank goodness), just how you made them feel. So when presenting I smile and I mean it, I breathe deeply (something I also lose the ability to do when concentrating), and I show tangetially relevant pictures of my cats with the hope it makes some of my audience as happy as it makes me. Maybe I could do more to give deeper reflection about the health issues I’m talking about, but where’s the line between connecting and confessing?
Maybe I should worry that my students and colleagues remember me as the person with the cats, but that is who I am when I get home and when I stand before you.
~Gareth Treharne, Department of Psychology, University of Otago, Aotearoa/New Zealand
A note from Kerry Grumpy_lain: Gareth – if we go with your argument we are going to have presentations full of children, grandchildren, motorcycles, weddings (aka ‘the happiest day of my life’ – yeah, right!), not to mention sunrises, sunsets, rainbows, and whatever. I think I would like to see the cats more connected to the argument of the day, otherwise they could be corkscrews or blue heelers. Anyway, you have made your mark with (your very own) cats, so I don’t want to see you stop — looking forward to seeing more in future.