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Michael Dillon ~ Changing attitudes

Michael Dillon, 56, the man whose business acumen saw Pharmacy 777 grow from a corner shop to a chain of eight outlets, now knows that money can’t buy happiness.

He describes himself as a regular bloke, born and raised in Maylands, taught by his father that “what blokes do is stand around the keg and eat pies and sauce” ~ he hit the wall twelve years ago.

“Back then I was righteous and self-opinionated. If someone wronged me, I’d give back as good as I got, and I had a sense of humour that many people found offensive.”

He thought that he was doing pretty well though, he was president of a local rotary club, he had a successful business and great kids, but there was also a sense of not being in touch with life. The routine felt like a treadmill and there were big questions looming that were hard to answer.

He said: “I also had attitudes about women that my wife didn’t like, and that’s what led to the crisis ~ my marriage was on the line and the only way I knew how to deal with that was to work harder.”

Struggling with the crisis, he stumbled upon what was then a fledgling organisation, the Perth branch of an international network dealing with something called “Attitudinal Healing”.

Attitudinal Healing is a phrase coined by Californian doctor and psychologist Gerald Jampolsky. In the 1970s he was working with children with cancer and he developed a programme to help the children deal with their emotional and spiritual concerns, to supplement the medical treatment they were receiving.

The idea caught on and parents and siblings requested groups for their own issues. Then TV host Phil Donahue invited Jampolsky and the children onto his show and gave them international coverage that was followed up by Sixty Minutes and several other shows.

The publicity was a catalyst that has since seen 100 centres set up around the world to teach people a set of simple principles to live by that diffuse emotional and spiritual stress, whether the problem is cancer or a marriage crisis or anything in between.

Today, in his modest office above the original Pharmacy 777, Michael Dillon is surrounded by photographs of his children and grandchildren ~ interspersed with the odd kindergarten crayon drawing for Granddad.

He still holds the reigns as managing director of the chain of eight stores, as well as being the current president of the Centre for Attitudinal Healing, but the smile on his face and the teddybears on his tie give the impression that he would never be too busy these days for family or friends.

The core concept of Attitudinal Healing is that it is possible to choose peace rather than conflict and love rather than fear.

Dillon said that when you really take it on board it influences everything you do.

He said: “I used to drive like I was on a racetrack. I always wanted to get there first. I never let anyone in, but now I really take pleasure in those little acts of kindness, like letting someone else go first ~ it’s not goody two-shoes stuff, it’s just about enjoying it.”

Attitudinal Healing teaches about love, but according to Dillon talk about love often needs to be “re-languaged” and expressed in terms that people wont automatically turn away from. He says, “if you don’t re-language it, you can frighten the crap out of the average bloke”.

While giving introductory sessions at the Cancer Wellness Centre, he said that he found some resistance to it, on the grounds that it sounded like ‘New-Ageism’. He said: “It’s not that either, it’s a sensible approach to understanding and accessing emotions.”

This is something he said he never learnt as a young man becoming an Aussie-bloke.
He said: “Women have always been able to speak about their feelings, when something bad happens a woman picks up the phone and talks for an hour or two. A man will pick up the phone and say “Coming the footy? Fine. Saturday. OK.” and hang up, then men will spend time doing something together but there isn’t the same transfer of emotional information as there is with women. But it doesn’t have to be like that, men can talk about these things. Men are just as magnificent emotionally as women, and recognizing that gives you freedom to choose how to act.

“Attitudinal Healing challenges the ‘men don’t cry’ conditioning, but it’s not a hug-fest, or a bleeding heart show-and-tell club, it’s about listening to other people and validating them, by hearing and respecting their perspectives on life.”

The conversations that happen in Attitudinal Healing groups are not restricted to love either. Dillon said they are a space for exploring attitudes on everything, including money, sex, life and politics.

He said: “People learn that they don’t have to keep the attitudes they inherited from their parents or schools or cultural backgrounds. Those old attitudes can be archived off, and replaced with new ones that make life easier and more fun.”

Attitudinal Healing is broadly spiritual ~ it’s about a belief in “something else”, not necessarily Christian or Buddhist or Jewish or anything, just something that is out there.

According to Dillon, it attracts people from diverse religious backgrounds.

He said: “There is a hunger in people to want to get more out of their lives and to not be in conflict. People come to Attitudinal Healing feeling devoid and empty, things aren’t working for them, often they’ve tried other ways to make things work, such as getting really task oriented but these strategies haven’t really changed things.

“They come because people are seekers, at some time for everyone the questions arise, then it is time to look for answers.”

While he now lives and breathes the philosophy, as an employer Dillon doesn’t force it on his staff. He said: “They all know my allegiances but I don’t preach to them, there’s no need to, if they like the example I set they’re welcome to follow it. The bottom line is that it has made me a more considerate employer. If a staff member is doing something wrong, I don’t just get rid of him (or her), we talk about it instead and often resolve the issue.

“I’m also more approachable now and the staff feel more comfortable about making suggestions about ways things could be done better and they have more passion about the business because they know that I care about their opinions.”

“I’ve learnt how to be honest and forthright without being aggressive. I’m less inclined to blame others and less ashamed of admitting to stuffing up occasionally or to changing my mind.
“When conflicts arise, I look at myself first and think about why the problem has come to me.

“Attitudinal Healing is not about believing that we can live in a peaceful world with no conflict, put any two people together for any reason and they will have differences and things to resolve.

“The fundamental problem with our society is that there are divisions between people and there are inflexible attitudes about those divisions ~ people are either Eagles or Dockers supporters, they’re from the West coast or the East coast, and they have strong inflexible attitudes about these things.”

Dillon said that his greatest learning was in coming to understand that a diversity of opinions can peacefully exist in a room and that they can all be respected and that they can contribute to amazingly creative problem solving processes.

His main aim as president of the Centre for Attitudinal Healing is to launch and secure funding for a schools programme that will teach the basic principles to parents, teachers and children.

He said: “Think about all the problems we are having with education and schooling and youth, like bullying, suicide, trauma. Many of these problems stem from the fact that we have never been taught how to relate. Imagine if all parties involved were conversant in the same emotional language, how different would it be.”

Once the schools programme is up and running and self-funding the centre’s next aim will be a prisons programme, similar to schemes being run by Attitudinal Healing groups in the US.

According to Dillon, very little remedial work is done in WA prisons. He believes that something needs to be done differently, something “more than just chucking money at the problem”.

He said: “It’s about throwing a circuit breaker that allows them to start thinking/feeling about their emotions, that is what changes the way people behave, not just time out in jail.”

The centre already runs several regular groups including peer support groups for the families of drug users.

Dillon explained: “Drug use is an emotional problem. People go into treatment and then come back out into the same emotional environment and they start using the same old behaviours again. What needs to shift is the emotional environment that they live in. The way to do this is to help the families of drug users to have more flexible attitudes so that the home environment can shift and change.”

Dillon said that when he first became president of the organisation he felt embarrassed talking about it, because he didn’t want people to think that he was asking for money for a charity or that he was involved in a cult ~ which it isn’t.

He’s over that reticence now, and feeling good about his involvement with the organisation. He’s happy to offer the group his expertise and time because he believes that the way to get more out of life is to tune in to love ~ and that the easiest way to do that is through acts of service.

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