Life — One Big Driving Metaphor

I’m going to sound like a narcissistic jerk today, but in doing so I want to illuminate something about me that, in my admittedly little experience, seems to be almost nonexistent in the entire human race. Now, when I say this I’m not going to imply that I’m better than everyone else here. There are plenty of people whom I am perfectly aware I will never be able to play in the same league with, let alone meet on the same playing field.

But as far as I know, there are one of two things that make me “different” from most other people, and that is my intuitive grasp of virtually everything I take on. Either I am naturally skilled at picking things up more easily than other people, or other people simply haven’t realized their full potential. Perhaps it is a combination of both here. Now, if you had asked a younger me, I would have said I was simply gifted with innate knowledge and leave it at that. But recently, I’m inclined to believe that everyone is more capable than they realize.

Here’s what I mean. Let’s say I’m talking to somebody who claims to be incredibly bad at math. They barely scrap by with ‘D’s in their classes and are happy with that. Whenever I explain a mathematical concept to them, they leave that conversation with understanding. It may take me a while and a few different approaches to teach them what they aren’t understanding, but it isn’t as though they are incapable of learning. In fact, often it’s that it simply wasn’t explained to them in a way that ‘clicked’.

I’m not saying “everything is way easier than people make it seem”. (And even if that was my point, I certainly wouldn’t put it so pretentiously.) Rather, a lot of people don’t try because they don’t believe in themselves.

It’s here that I’m going to bring up what I’m coming to call the “driving metaphor”. When you learn to drive, you learn to multitask. A good driver must pay attention to the road (and cars) in front of them, as well as around their immediate area, they have to watch their mirrors, watch their speed, and be mindful of the gas and brake pedals and how much leverage each is given. Most drivers can also have full conversations and do other things while they do all these things, as well. All of these things become subconscious. At a certain level of experience, you no longer have to think about watching your mirrors or your speed, etc. If you asked a driver, “Hey, what are you paying attention to right now?” they might include a list of all those things, but before you asked that question, they wouldn’t have put any consideration into their actions.

This metaphor basically describes exactly how I live my life. It’s all through intuition, but if asked, I could tell you the exact reasoning for my actions. I can’t tell you how I wrote ‘X Masterpiece’ (though I wouldn’t call any of my works masterpieces), but I could describe to you all of the reasons I wrote each paragraph and line of dialogue even if those reasons weren’t consciously going through my head as I wrote them.

The fact is, many of the Learning! posts I’ve done in the past have been loose topics I wanted to talk about with no plan on what I’d be writing. Often, I don’t even realize “Hey, this is how I develop characters!” until I’m actually talking about how I develop characters. A lot of the wisdom that comes out of my mouth is knowledge I didn’t consciously know I had. When I’m teaching people and they ask questions, I come up with a valid answer on the spot rather than say “I don’t know”.

It may sound like just spouting out the first thing that comes to my mind isn’t knowledge, and in a way you’d be right. But really the things I’m surfacing is stuff I already know, but simply had not the mind to speak. Imagine if I asked you how you form specific letters with your mouth. You don’t think about lightly biting your lower lip to make the “F” sound, but if I asked you how to make that sound, you could explain it to me.

Going back to my original point, I don’t think a lot of people live life this way. They live in a cloud of self doubt and self loathing that I have never in my life experienced. It’s one way I consider myself one of the luckiest people, but that’s a can of worms I’m not going to talk about today. In conclusion: you may make good actions based on unconscious knowledge or feelings like I do, or you may not. But either way, we’re all capable of greatness. You’re not bad at anything. You may not enjoy it, or your brain may not learn the way it’s being forced to, but I believe any one known thing can be taught to a majority of the population. You could be taught rocket science. It may take a few years, and it could be frustrating, but all it takes is a means of transferring that information into your brain. It isn’t as though your brain is unable to store that knowledge.

Disclaimer: Again, this could be totally wrong. For all I know I’m no different from every other person on the planet, in which case I must be a narcissistic jerk. This is just an unfounded theory I’ve been thinking about lately.

Learning! — Construals

Social psychology teaches us that each person behaves predictably given certain social situations. How we talk to family is not how we talk to friends or people we don’t know. This isn’t a bad thing, of course, but construals, (defined as “how we interpret situations”,) are super important for how we go about our daily lives.

You’re going to treat people differently depending on who they are. If you’re talking to somebody you haven’t met, our brains will try to tell us how we should interact with them based on who we think we are, and it’ll scramble to soak up all the information we can about that person. Consider the story of the Prince and the Pauper. When they switch places, people don’t notice because they don’t perceive anything being amiss.

But the thing I find fascinating about this concept is how it bleeds over into philosophy. Specifically, I’ll bring up Ralph Waldo Emerson. He teaches us that each of us live in our own, individual worlds, created by our own minds based on past experiences and our own personalities (I’m sure you’re familiar with nature vs. nurture).

Our own individual worlds are incomplete. We are never operating with all the facts. For example, I might hate the rain because I work in a job where I have to deal with a lot (and I did have a job like that). You might love the rain because it makes your grass so much greener the next day, and it makes your house looked beautiful. This could, in turn, lead us to regard something as simple as rain as a positive or negative influence/stimulus on our life. I might have terrible days because past experience has taught me that rainy days aren’t good days. Your past experience could say exactly the opposite.

Now, obviously we can’t say either of us is “right” or “wrong”. We’re both right, given the individual circumstances, but what is the “truth”? Is rain a positive or negative influence on society? Even a question like this is fundamentally impossible to answer in regards to Emersonian philosophy because it states that humans are incapable of perceiving reality. It is always under the influence of past experiences, and these cloud our judgment. We can’t jump into the mind of the person that cut us off today to see that they’ve just had a stressful morning and are going to be late to work. If we knew them, we might be understanding, but to a stranger, we hate them because that’s all the information we have on their personality.

The closest we can get to finding the “true reality” is by learning as much as we can. Think of it like a jigsaw puzzle. We can guess what the puzzle may be if we filled out the edge pieces, but the more we learn and understand every aspect of the world around us, the more we start to see the full picture.

Long story short: Don’t jump to conclusions. It’s natural instinct to assume you’re right and the way you see the world as “correct”, but in the end, we’re all biased and seeing it through a narrow lens. So take those construals, figure out why you interpret things the way you do, and see if you can find another way of thinking.

Life — Riding a Bumpy Road (310)

 

The most important tool that you have at your disposal is your brain. Sounds obvious, sure, but a very useful function that a lot of people forget is its capacity to think and reflect. We learn why we didn’t do well on a test, reflecting our past choices and determining a better set of choices that can be made in the future. We learn why people act a certain way in specific situations, and learn what to expect and how to act accordingly.

But, even with this reflection, people don’t often look at themselves and wonder why they think a certain way, or how their personality came to be what it is. It is crucial to look at who we are, because that’s where so much growth comes from.

Imagine you’re driving along a road late one night, and it is extremely bumpy. The bumps in the road make for an unpleasant ride, and it leaves you frustrated. “If only this road could have been paved properly!” you lament. Your drive would be so pleasant if these bumps weren’t making your life miserable.

One day, you have enough of these bumps, so you stop to rest. While you’re taking this break, you get out of the car to examine these bumps. Maybe they’re more common on one side of the road, and careful driving can avoid it. But as you inspect the pavement, you find that there are no bumps to speak of.

Looking back to your car, you realize that one of the tires has a bubble on it: a pocket of air that makes the tire not quite circular. It’s not the road that’s leading to an unpleasant ride, but the car itself!

I’m pretty proud of this analogy, because it can be extended pretty far. Bubbles in tires can be caused by damage relating to some sort of impact: a pothole or something that caused a high amount of pressure. You can take this to be a high stress event in your life that changed your personality. The bubble isn’t necessarily noticeable until you’re looking at the tire.

Continuing down this path, many people driving on this same road wouldn’t have the same bumps. You can talk to other people about your problems, but they tell you “the road isn’t bumpy! Stop whining!” In this circumstance, both people are right. The road isn’t bumpy, but that doesn’t mean you’re making your life complicated just because: you have a legitimate problem.

So, once you find out that it’s the car that is the problem, what do you do? Maybe you’re the sort of person that always carries a spare (though in all honesty I don’t know how that part of the metaphor translates.) More likely, however, you’ll have to go to greater lengths to solve the problem. You’ll have to find a way to replace the tire, because tire bubbles can be quite dangerous! Ignoring the problem could only make it worse, and the whole tire may give out on you.

That’s as far as the metaphor goes, I’m afraid. I don’t know how to fix a tire bubble in your life. In fact, I’m looking at one on my own car. But, once you spot it, you can know that it’s not life trying to hold you down, but specific circumstances around you. You may not know how to change the tire and solve your problem, but identifying the problem immediately makes you that much safer.

Me — Debating and Arguments

Preface

It may have been some time ago, but I’ve explained before how no two words can ever mean the same thing. Each and every synonym will leave different connotations and impressions on the people that hear specific words.

Such is the case when people use the word “argue”. I hate that word, really. When arguing, one often tries to prove oneself right and undermine the value of what another person may say. Arguing, in my opinion, is a waste of time.

What I love, and something that seems difficult to find, is a true debate. In a debate, the goal is not (necessarily) to prove one’s own opinion as the superior one, but instead to search for the truth. I enjoy debates because they teach me about myself and the person I’m talking to on top of the fact that one’s opinion may be changed through facts and observations.

Now, I won’t try to justify this one, because this opens a huge can of worms I don’t want to get into today, but it’s my belief that with sufficient evidence and support for any claim, most people can come to accept and value different opinions. If two people are willing to honestly listen to the points and rebuttals of the other, I think an understanding can be reached concerning most topics. The reason these “arguments” may occur seems typically to involve miscommunication or a lack of information.

Chapter Yes

Recently some family and I were talking, and my brother brought up (jokingly) that when rating something on a scale of ten, you can go backwards to negative ten, as well. So when a movie is so bad its good, it will achieve negative scores and be good that way. (I related this rating much later in what would become an argument as a rating of absolute value. Meaning the higher the number the more enjoyable it is.)

Let me propose a spectrum of quality movies to you for context. At the top, you have amazing movies. Ones everybody loves and classics. Then you have good movies. Then you have bad movies. Then, you have movies that are so bad, they are funny to watch because you can laugh at them. After that, you have movies that are so terrible, you can’t laugh because the quality is so atrocious, its not funny or enjoyable anymore.

My brother proposed funny-bad movies as “negative tens” because you could enjoy them still, while movies that are just regular bad or atrocious-bad would be “zeros” because they are not enjoyable. I, however, placed bad movies as zeros, like him, but placed funny-bad movies as in the negative five range.

This started an argument.

Now, this is a stupid thing to argue over, and I don’t deny that, but what intrigued me is that this sparked an argument. You see, we were never disagreeing over which movies were bad, or where we should place them on this negative ten to positive ten scale. We were simply arguing over how the scale works in the first place. Isn’t that weird?

So, the thing that fascinated me was that this entire argument was initiated because of how my brain operated differently from everybody else’s in the room (not necessarily better, mind you). I rated every kind of movie by production quality. Negative ten meant not enjoyable ever, but the funny-bad movies were enjoyable because of the low production quality. Everybody else in the room valued this scale by the entertainment value of the movie.

movie-graph

What they thought I was thinking.

This meant that when they tried to “graph” my scale, they would get a bump that didn’t make any sense to them. While this does hold true with how I was explaining it to them, this wasn’t at all how I envisioned the scale to go.

I realized, (as I have already explained), that this is because we were working with two different variables. They were all scaling things based off the entertainment value. Something that was bad but still enjoyable earned a high negative score, whereas something that you couldn’t like earned a low score, probably close to zero. I scaled everything not by how much I liked something, but by the production value. A negative ten meant no production value, and a positive ten meant very high production value. Entertainment value, as shown in the graph above, looks a little odd when viewed in this way, but the graph below is what I envisioned.

movie-graph-2

What I was thinking.

It looks completely different because we’re basing the system off of two totally different ideas.

So, upon further speculation, which one is the “correct” way to view something like this? When judging off production value, having everything scale from negative ten to positive ten is pointless. Why not just have it be from zero to ten? (It makes sense to me, because the baseline is where a movie was iffy, but not great.)

On the other hand, if one judges these things from entertainment value, the difference between a positive four rating and a negative four rating is arbitrary. What makes the movie “good” or “bad” at that point? If I say a movie was bad, but you say it was good, its impossible to rate, whereas it’s easy to tell how much effort was put into a movie when it was being made, so production value isn’t often debatable.

So in the end, we’re all wrong, in a way. As soon as the argument occurred, I would have been satisfied to convey my idea, even if people disagreed with it. But as it progressed and in the midst of the conversation, I tried to figure out how it had devolved, people didn’t even seem to attempt to understand what grounds I even stood on. I think this is the cornerstone of the difference between arguments and debates. It’s difficult to learn and better ourselves without looking at both perspectives of a matter objectively.

We have pointless arguments, stemming simply not from diverging ideas, but different thought processes. It’s aggravating when people call you weird, annoying, or argumentative when you’re the only one in the room that disagrees on something. The worst part is when people get fed up and drop the subject without even letting you justify your side. I’m not wrong, I just think differently.

Life — Intentionally Choosing Wrong

I don’t need to inform you that sometimes life leaves you with a decision between two awful outcomes. A lot of handling responsibility is having the wisdom to be able to handle the ramifications of bad choices, and knowing what to do in a lose-lose scenario shows an intelligence and maturity that, I would suppose, only comes with age and experience.

One of the largest sources of stress and discomfort in my life these past few years has been because I’ve stood on the crossroads of a scenario like this. It’s a long story, but its one I’ve told to several people, seeking the advice and wisdom of other people.

It’s sometimes impossible to say, really. Which direction do you go when your heart and mind point in opposite directions? You lose yourself thinking about everything with only logic in mind, because one needs to fulfill the soul’s desires to be happy.

I’ve spent countless hours and sleepless nights trying to solve this problem, but the more thought I put into it, the more I start to think that it doesn’t even matter what I choose.

When you’re caught in a position like mine, one that defies all sense, it seems that everything you could possibly do will be the wrong choice to make. But when there is no right choice, it’s all one can do to mitigate the damage as much as possible.

If you had asked me a few months or even years ago, I’d have told you that “following the heart” is a terrible idea. Sometimes it simply yearns for things it can’t have, or to hold on to things that should be let go. But now I think differently.

If pain and sorrow will come regardless of which path you take, I’m starting to think of it this way. Years to come, we will always be stronger due to the trials we have been through in the past. So if one goes through more suffering, one should come out stronger (and by extension wiser) than one who did not.

So by this logic, it can’t be all bad to follow the heart, choosing the result that will lead to the most potential pain. Not only will life be a little bit easier for the time being, but if and when that huge hurdle of pain and misery does come, it will thicken the skin more than anything else would have. To put it simply, humans are all saiyans from Dragonball Z when it comes to emotions: every time they recover from a life-threatening injury, their power is multiplied unimaginably.

They say time heals all wounds. I’m not quite certain of that. But what I am certain of is the fact that with time, comes wisdom. I believe that with where I am now, everything will turn out right in the end, (almost) regardless of what I do now, because if I make bad decisions I’ll learn from them, and if I don’t, I’ll find success the easy way. But who am I kidding? Even at its calmest life isn’t easy sailing. So why not follow your heart to mitigate the pain?

Life — Personal Growth

I think one of the hardest parts about growing up and learning is that you have to learn things on your own, sometimes the hard way. So much of life relies on our personal wisdom in decision making, but in my experience, wisdom cannot be given. It is simply a phenomenon that happens naturally as we get older. Reading advice online or talking to a friend about how they should handle a certain situation, in the end, is not wisdom. It is simply knowledge. I can impart my experience in a similar situation, but the decisions I had made were based on ultimately different circumstances and past experiences at the time. The wisdom I gained from such a situation can’t really be transmitted to somebody to prevent a situation from happening, or if it can, that person is utilizing knowledge without understanding.

It’s a tricky bridge to cross to be sure. I don’t mean to say that advice and general information is useless and that you should run off to make mistakes because they’re unavoidable. Instead, my point is merely to say that advice can only go so far.

Early on in my high school career, I would describe past me as fully narcissistic. I knew that I thought highly of myself, but it was a personal revelation of mine to find out that not everybody felt that way about themselves, and that I came across as conceited a lot of the time (not a good quality in a young teenager). It would have done nothing for somebody to come up to me and say “You’re such a stuck up know-it-all” (and I’m sure that happened more than once). The way I would have perceived it as an empty insult to put me down, not the factual statement it really was.

When I had fallen for a girl that would never share feelings for me (also during high school), it didn’t matter how many people told me to forget about her and worry about my own happiness first. To me, I took that advice as ignorance to how much I truly cared about her. How could they tell me to stop worrying about this person I’m in love with? It wasn’t until somebody told me that I’ll never be happy if I lose myself over her that I realized I needed to make some changes. But even then, it wasn’t the information that friend had given me that had provoked me to change. I already had that information. It was the way she had given it me that had presented my situation in a different light, and allowing me to look at it a different way gave me new insight.

So, advice can be helpful. But it depends on the person that is seeking it. I can provide information as to how I live my life and my personal philosophies all day (and I’d be happy to, if somebody asked for it), but in the end it won’t mean anything if that person isn’t willing to use that information to learn more about themselves. So if you’re having difficulty in your own life, maybe it’s time to look not at your situation, but at yourself. Shed some new light on your problem. Find new points of view. There’s always an answer, you just have to be willing to ask the question.

Life — Negativity (235)

Life isn’t always easy. Who am I kidding, life is rarely easy. Most of the time it’s pretty tough, regardless of who you are. I, being well aware of how immensely privileged I am (being an above average intelligence male born in the suburbia of America), and yet I don’t have an easy life. Yes, every day I take for granted things I consider to be basic attributes of life (stuff I wouldn’t even know to think are luxuries!) but it’s still not “easy”. I still have quite a bit of stress floating about constantly, and I think the stress comes by virtue of being a human that exists rather than where you are in life. The only real difference (the way I see it) is the things that are stressful.

Now, all that being said, the argument that “somebody has it worse somewhere” is never valid. You simply cannot make somebody feel better about themselves just because things could be worse. The fact of the matter is that when somebody is sad, it’s for a reason, and trying to make their problem seem insignificant won’t make it feel less like a problem to them. More likely, I think it’ll probably just make them feel worse for seeing it as a problem in the first place.

Negativity is unavoidable. So many things we do are ‘negative’, even if we don’t realize it. Think about it: our daily vocabulary itself is negative. “I don’t… We need less… Stop doing that… I’m sorry…” Even if the context of these statements have good intentions, the truth is we as a species have a hard time seeing things positively. Even my example before was negative. You’re going through a hard time? Well, stop feeling bad, because somebody is out there that feels worse than you do. That isn’t positive, that only brings more negativity into the equation. You’re not lightening their load, you’re comparing it with somebody else’s heavier load. To put into perspective just how much negativity is in our vernacular, I underlined all of the “bad” words in this post. I’m not saying we need to remove them from our vocabulary, of course. I’m simply using it to point out just how negative we are without realizing it. (And no, I didn’t doctor the text to make it sound more negative for the sake of argument.)

So, if you feel like you’re under a heavy burden, or thing’s just aren’t going your way in life right now, don’t worry about it. It’ll get better. But for now, try adding some positivity to your life. As for me, I have no free time and my life is pretty stressful. How did I handle it? By giving up Friday nights for the sake of Dungeons & Dragons. Bad idea? Maybe, but this isn’t an obligation. This is something I want to do, and love doing. Now, every week I’m still the same amount of stressed, but the difference here is that I have something to look forward to.

I’m not sure anyone in my life really saw how close I was to cracking these past few weeks. I still think a vacation is overdue, but let me tell you, Dungeons & Dragons has really helped a lot. I can think about how awful my exam is going to be tomorrow, worrying about whether or not my grade will be up to par, or I can think about the awesome scenario that’s going to happen next week. Worrying about the exam isn’t going to give me a better grade (I’m referring to worrying in and of itself, assuming studying isn’t an option. Which in this case is true.) On a more psychological level, however, relaxing and getting excited about the weekend actually does have a good chance of giving me a better grade. I’ll probably sleep better and wake up more prepared to start the day.

Negativity.jpgThirty eight ‘negative’ words, and I didn’t even include any version of the word “negativity”! Oops. Thirty-nine. Does “oops” count as negative? I want to say it doesn’t, but if I say that, it tallies up to forty!

Anyways, do you see how it works? We’re negative all the time. Bring positivity into your life and you’ll see it change around you. Now go be positive and have a great day.