March 19th, 2013


Objects In Space

The meaning of things exists only as our own interpretation of that which surrounds us. Objects or events which we assign a value, in order to catalog it; understand it; measure it. Given the very personal values each of us assigns to an object or event, its meaning has the potential to be as varied as we are, and as numerous. Society therefore is based upon a sort of construct of shared meanings - those things which many people assign similar values to. It takes the guesswork out of life when everyone agrees upon and associates near-identical meanings to the same objects or events, as the fluidity of our lives are greatly enhanced via an effective series of assumptions - a global, ideological sorting mechanism.

Etiology is the study of origination; causation. While society might suffer some deceleration were we to individually question the reason behind every shared value (we don't need to reinvent the wheel as the adage goes), perhaps more harmful is the assumption everyone assigns the exact values we do, or worse, that the value we assign is somehow more correct than the value someone else assigns. This becomes extremely problematic when we assign these entirely arbitrary values independent of the purpose behind an assigned value which was based on a different ruleset - arguing that our interpretation is correct without understanding the reason behind someone else's interpretation. The way this type of proactive ignorance plays out is through the perceived immutability of our own interpretations.

So here we all are, living amidst these agreed-upon guidelines for life. What then? I've opined before that one does not simply choose at random ideas in which to change their beliefs. My suggestion at the time was one had to first be challenged. I would now amend that to add the closer the threat to our own belief, or more specifically, our interpretation of the default societal view, the more adamant about uncovering all we can about why that societal view is the default, and double-check to ensure we know why we hold it as well.

Nilofer Merchant refers to this as an equation which utilizes a series of learning and unlearning. It is actually easy to learn about doing. It is harder to learn about being. If you're learning to use calculus or to fly an airplane, you don't want to have to start from scratch; you want to learn from others and follow the road already paved. But most of life is about learning to be ourselves, and to "learn to be" is about figuring out what we take as a truth — those ways we just "know". To unlearn, we need to get good at seeing and naming those ways. Unlearning is harder than learning, but it's crucial to do ... because innovation and creativity are rarely about doing more of the same.

Ergo, it is imperative to know why you hold an opinion about a particular interpretive object or event, and even more important to inherently acknowledge first that it is nothing more than the meaning we have imbued it with, and secondly, that it may be flawed. This is basic comprehension. You do not require a degree in any ology to apply this in your own life. Be forewarned - those who "get it" may start down a path of attempting to view all of life this way. An overwhelmingly self-sufficient and fulfilling view of life. One of the basic building blocks of living successfully. Not necessarily the type of success which can be measured monetarily, but something far more important - happiness. Those who are focused on money alone for example, decidedly don't get it.

I ran across this horrifically dichotomous tweet the other day, Yes I am a bitch. I would rather be a bitch than let people walk all over me. Who's responsibility is it to instruct those who struggle with basic logic? Business Insider published a piece which points out 11 Uncomfortable Facts About How IQ Affects Your Life. The most difficult part in reading this wasn't the high percentage of people who will likely go to prison or remain in poverty, rather that they won't know why; Low IQs can mean bad problem-solving abilities, which makes people less capable of dealing with stress in crisis situations. We walk amongst those who believe "critical thinking" is the name of a supernatural drama on SyFy. Just as most people don't believe vampires and werewolves really exist in the real world, neither do they believe critical thinking has practical application in the real world.

Consider then those who cannot deal with stress well. They are not generally perceived to be happy people. We do not look up to those who behave badly under duress. This inability to cope leads to negative feelings. On the other hand, those who are able to step out of egoism during times of stress to asses situations more broadly are looked upon favorably. As we fail and learn and try again with the small things, our confidence builds and we are more readily equipped to apply it to the larger things. These successes lead to positive feelings, aligning with the 15th Edition textbook Organizational Behavior which states, Negative emotions allow us to oversimplify issues, lose trust, and put negative interpretations on the other party's behavior. In contrast, positive feelings increase our tendency to see potential relationships between among the elements of a problem, to take a broader view of the situation, and to develop more innovative solutions. In short, not only will thinking about solutions in a non-linear fashion assist you in overcoming them, it will also eventually make us smarter.

Being a bitch (in the example above) is not the only course of action against being walked all over. Its not even a good defense for bad behavior, yet because it is believed to be true, it becomes immutable. Non-violent, non-subjective communication, and the understanding that true "either/or" scenarios are very rare, opens us up to a dialog of solution. Just because I don't know the answer to the tough questions doesn't mean for a second I don't believe a solution exists. In this we turn again to Organizational Behavior where they outline five "dimensions of conflict-handling intentions": competing (assertive and uncooperative), collaborating (assertive and cooperative), avoiding (unassertive and uncooperative), accommodating (unassertive and cooperative), and compromising (midrange on both assertiveness and cooperativeness). The psychology behind the graph is fascinating, but what I find personally troublesome is those who believe they are being any two of these things without understanding their actions belie that belief.

I rarely get equal time with those capable of understanding these far-reaching concepts. The last time I tried to dismantle a fabricated "either/or" problem, no amount of verbiage or conceptualizing abstract ideas for the purposes of illustration could undo the simplistic viewpoint the other person held. His mind was already made up, and that of course is where the true problem will always exist.