There’s a popular video that asks you to observe basketball players and count the number of passes by a certain team while ignoring those of the other. If you haven’t seen it check it out here.
Most people so focused on the task that they don’t notice the gorilla. There are many variations on this experiment and some are better than others, but that’s beside the point. Lucas Miller, in his book Beyond Brilliance, points out that this is not only a fascinating experiment on human attention, but also it says something about our individual perceptions and attitudes. We are often so focused on our own various tasks and goals we ignore that which doesn’t pertain to completing or achieve them. This makes our perceptions often times very limited. There’s not much we can do to fix that except just acknowledging that reality. We never have the full picture, but we should strive to see as much of it as we can. Keep an eye out for all those invisible gorillas in your life.
“Self-help” books or “educational” books are interesting. Most of them are written with the underlying assumption that there is a better version of you yet to be realized. But what defines a better version of yourself? Money? Intelligence? Friends? Status? Health? Ultimately I would say this “better” version is supposed to simply be a happier version, and those things that I mentioned are what these books often offer as the solution. Is it wrong to want any of those things? No (but also what is “wrong”). Will those things necessarily make us happy? Also no. Does that mean we should just be content with ourselves and not seek change? I would like to say heck no, but at the same time I’m not at all sure and my current perspective may even tend toward yes. More on this cognitive dissonance later. In a bit of a crisis right now, but a good one… I think.
I used to think I hated rejection, but I think there is something that I think is worse. I’m at a point in my life where I am pretty comfortable with rejection. Being told no doesn’t bother me all that much more. What is absolutely worse is not getting an answer at all. You aren’t going to hurt my feelings by saying no. Just be honest. The last thing I want is for you to do something you don’t want to do, sure I will be disappointed, but I will get over it as long as you give me an answer. I’ll admit I’ve been guilty of withholding a response because I didn’t want to face the other person’s reaction to my turning them down. But I’ve seen how shitty that makes them feel and have experienced it myself. It can be hard, I get it, especially when feelings and egos are involved, but from what I’ve seen, when you come across something difficult, it usually means you’re on the right track.
“Their situations and their bodies produce a qualitatively different timbre to their voices. One must listen to them carefully to understand that while pain is universal, it is also utterly private. We cannot know whether our pain is like anybody else’s pain until we talk about it. Once we do that, we speak and think in ways cultural and individual.”
This is a quote from The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen. Here the narrator is literally talking about screams of pain, but I think Nguyen knows exactly what he is doing here. The whole deal with the main character is that he has a knack for understanding other people’s feelings, and if not for the context of the book, I think a more accurate title, albeit less catchy and less contextually relevant, for our protagonist would be The Empathizer.
Book review aside, these few lines really resonated with me. It’s not the first time I’ve been introduced to this idea, but in this passage it really hits home. It’s interesting how sometimes when we try to make someone feel better we say, “I know how you feel” and while the sentiment and intention is nice, seldom does it to the person any good, unless purely by thought alone. But if you think about it, it’s actually quite baffling. Another person is in pain, and for some reason we think that that’s an appropriate moment to make things about ourselves, equating our experience to theirs for what purpose. We can never know what the other person is feeling. And if somehow we do know exactly what the other person is feeling, letting them know that doesn’t really help and in someways can diminishes their own experience. It is important to try to understand, and recalling our own experiences is an important part of that, but it’s probably not necessary it to tell them all about it, because it’s never the same, especially in the moment. The best we can do is offer our support and let them know that we are there for them.
This idea extends beyond tragedy. Simply understanding that each individual experiences the world differently can help bring us close to a more empathetic, compassionate world. Trying to understand another person is one of the most important things we can do.
It’s often not as hard to do as we make it out to be. The hardest thing about making an effort is not the effort itself; it’s the fact that doing so makes us vulnerable. Making an effort puts us up for the possibility of failure and or rejection. So it’s no wonder that effort is also associated with caring, which is another vulnerability that you open yourself up to because when someone knows you care they get a little insight into your values and who you are as a person.
Being a person who is comfortable making an effort can be difficult. You are always the one to put yourself out there and thus you face the most rejection. And if at some point you decide to stop making an effort or forget to, people will start to think you don’t care anymore (regardless of their own effort).
But making an effort doesn’t have to be and maybe shouldn’t be about what other people think about us. By taking risks, yea you may face some rejection and failure, that’s inevitable, but you also open yourself up to more opportunity for reward. And I think you’ll find it’s often the case that the rewards will far outweigh the costs, and if not you may be doing it wrong.
They all stood in silence, no one among them wanting to acknowledge the elephant in the room, though perhaps a skunk would be more appropriate. What was particularly quieting was the fact that no one among them could be quite sure that they themselves weren’t the culprit. Nonetheless, that distinct and pungent odor permeated through the air, accosting any and all unfortunate souls within its range.
The thing is none of the children ever publicly discussed matters of liquid excrement with their peers, and so each child believed themselves to be the only one with such awfully fragrant urine.
It was 2 minutes and 53 seconds before they all had realized how quiet it had been however, each one contemplating if it could have been possible to micturate without being aware of it and if so what to do about it.
Philippe was the first to speak up. Who wants to play Four Square, he asked, his mind obviously fixated on something else. And after a brief, distracted beat: Me! Me too! Me, me! The others responded with a promptness intended to compensate for their prior hesitation.
And while situations such as this were not all that common among this small tribe of asparagus children, when they did occur, the outcome would be similar to what we just witnessed. That is until the day, when it simply could not be ignored…
What’s really standing in my way. There’s a lot of things I could blame, but that goes against the Now what, So what philosophy. If I wanted something to change I gotta make it happen myself. But after I get past, or look past the barrier, what is the next step?
My Dearest Friend,
I feel like the art of letter writing is lost on our generation, and those after us. We grew up amidst a communication revolution, where letters and phone calls were replaced with instant messages and now 5 second pictures. But I think there is something quite profound and perhaps romantic about saying everything you need to say without editing yourself for, or in anticipation of, your interlocutor’s response. And then in turn responding to that complete thought, without interjection or distraction. In real-time conversations, and now in instant messages, it seems we often get so caught up with what we ourselves want to say that we forget to listen. Of course both forms of communication have their merits and their flaws, but I thought I would take a second to advocate for a forgotten art. I would love to know you thoughts dear friend, and did you receive the tuna casserole I sent you? I hope it’s still good.
Your Dearest Friend
I feel like that phrase is a little redundant. This statement is not quite as optimist as it sounds though. I think often times we say genuine person when we mean nice person. And the argument I want to make is that it is almost impossible not to be a genuine person. A deceitful person is being their “true self” by being deceitful whether or not other people know it.
Every action and every choice we make is based off our own experience, our own values, our own will, including how we choose to present ourselves. Some of our choices may be “out of character” at times, but even the things we regret had a rational behind it at the time (and whether or not something was learned says a lot).
If someone shows (not tells) you who they really are, listen.