Thought for the Day: Tuesday, March 31
I love Melvyn! I’ve loved him for years – Melvyn Bragg that is. Because for years I’ve enjoyed listening to his radio programme (and now his podcasts) called ‘In our Time.’
There have been over 800 episodes made during the last 22 years and the format has stayed remarkably static: Melvyn gets three experts to join him for about 40 minutes to discuss, under his gentle but strict direction, any number of weird and wonderful topics.
The breadth of this man’s interest is immense, for example, the 3 recent podcasts I listened to were on Papal Infallibility, the Evolution of Horses and Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow. But the one I listened to the other day was all about pheromones.
As you may well know, but I didn’t, a pheromone is a chemical substance released into the environment by an animal, for the express purpose of changing the behaviour or physiology of others of the same species. For example, if a bee stings you it automatically releases an alarm pheromone, that smells like bananas, to alert nearby bees.
This is why if you are unfortunate enough to be stung by a bee, you should get out of the area quickly because you’re about to get stung a whole lot more very soon.
In the ‘In our Time’ programme on pheromones I learnt about the darcin pheromone in mice, which some clever scientific wag named after Mr. Darcy from ‘Pride and Prejudice’ (all pheromones traditionally end in the suffix -in just in case you’re wondering…).
The reason for this they said was because just as ‘it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife,’ so it is a truth universally acknowledged (by those who study the behaviour of mice at any rate) that a single male mouse in possession of darcin must be in want of a mate.
Another thing I learnt was that the scientific community are not at all sure whether there are such things as human pheromones. You can buy products on the internet that claim to be such things and that say they will make you instantly irresistible to the opposite sex, but the experts advise you not to waste your money.
But even if human pheromones don’t exist, humans do of course give off many different kinds of signals that alert others to how they are feeling or even what they are thinking, and that can drastically affect or subtly alter the behaviour of other humans.
Now that so many of us are all living in such very close proximity to each other it’s a good idea to ask ourselves how aware are we of those subtle and possibly unconscious signals we are giving out to others at home; do we notice them or how they are affecting the mood within our houses?
For instance, I’m thinking of not just what we say, but the way we say things; the tone of voice we use, possibly with implied criticism, or a note of sarcasm; or indeed what we don’t say; after all, we are experts in language and have devised a myriad of ways of putting others down. Or what about our body language? A silent expression of our emotions and moods, which can make the atmosphere in the room oppressive or chilly without a word being spoken.
We need as never before to tread carefully at home, to bite our lips a little more often, to count to the proverbial 10 a few more times than strictly necessary, and to try to be that little bit more forgiving and patient.
Recent episodes of ‘In our Time’ always end with a few minutes of extra conversation between Melvyn and his guests, and no matter how fierce the debate might have been, how contested the scholarly opinions, or how many times Melvyn had to interrupt to remind the speaker not to wander off the point, at the end of the programme peace is always restored by the invitation to take tea or coffee.
That remains as ever in our arsenal too as a refreshing way to restore domestic bliss.