Saturday, November 21, 2009

Trying to understand world views

Devdutt Pattanaik, Chief Belief Officer of The Future Group, explains how the mythos of the East and West affect their business plans, art, and world view. I love how he illustrates the difference between "my world" and "the world", because no matter how much we want to believe that we are seeing "the world", we are still seeing it through "my world". This is why I have investigated perception in this blog--more specifically the perception of our basic senses and how they actually work, which is just as much subjective as it is objective. The truth is that our own physical natures, our mental biology and physiology are built around the idea of what is useful to our individual organism. As such, we, as living beings, can never truly escape the subjective side of our nature.

In fact, it has been my observation that the more we try to deny our subjectivity, the more likely it is that we will become a victim to it. It's like having a broken step in our staircase of thought and refusing to believe it is there. If you believe it's not there, then there is no reason not to step into the area . . . and then falling into the hole of your own biases. If you accept that the step is broken, then you can step over it, or step lightly on it; thus avoiding becoming stuck in your own subjectivity.

In psychology, the phenomenon of denying one part of one's nature and over-emphasizing its opposite is called suppression. It's great for short-term crisises (all coping mechanisms exist for a reason), but it's probably one of the greatest causes of neuroticism. Joseph Zinker in his book Creative Process in Gestalt Therapy, gives vivid examples on how "owning" one's suppressed characteristics can actually improve the desired one. As he states, "if I don't allow myself to be unkind, I can never be genuinely kind." (p 202) I know of several people who are so caught up with the notion of having to be nice, that they are actually more cruel because of their rigid beliefs in what nice should be. Some of them go even to the point of being domineering and controlling of others, chaining them to situations or solutions to the point that person being "helped" by these beliefs of "niceness" could conceivedly find death a less painful experience.

As hard as it is to believe, there are many case examples of people becoming more of what they desired, by accepting what they disdain in themselves. This doesn't mean becoming Mr Hyde. As Zinker points out, a healthy person may not always approve of their darkness, but acknowledging it allows them more freedom to be more effective with their lightness. John Bradshaw, in his book Healing the Shame that Binds You, likens suppression to hungry wolves at the door. It takes a lot of energy to starve and block out your dark side. When you let it in and feed it appropriately, several things happen. First, you usually find out that your dark side isn't as bad as you feared. Second, you have better control over your dark side. In fact, if you treat it more as a tool in your toolbox, than a demon to be banished, you can use it to your benefit. Instead of "giving in to the dark side" and letting it take over, you are truly taking the reigns and giving your darkness direction. You are the one in control of your desires. Also, you have more energy. By making your "wolves" work for you, you can get more done. Bradshaw has a wonderful exercise in his book, called "Making peace with all of your villagers". In it, not only do you identify the parts of yourself you are suppressing, but you find out how those parts, properly used, can help you in healthy and acceptable ways.

If you want another way to look at it, consider Viktor Frankl's theory on paradoxical expectations. My son has used it for years to control some of his more anxious behaviors. I don't know why it strikes such a chord with him, but it works better for him than me. I guess I'm not so convincing to myself.

So, tying this back to Pattanaik's talk: to understand people, it helps to understand what you are prizing in your world view and what they prize in their world view. I believe that each encounter between individuals has a cultural clash involved, which may or may not create misunderstanding. I was going to use a book I recently start reading to explore this, but as I began to analyze the differences in my world view and the author's, I discovered that what we really had was a congruency clash, not a cultural clash. Books I have culture clashes with do take longer to read, but I usually walked away with a better understanding of people, even if it doesn't transform my world view. Books I have congruency clashes with are another matter. I can more or less read anything non-fictional as long as the writer is congruent in his or her views. I may still disagree with them, but I can stick with their idea development. However, if they can't stick to their own idea development, I start to become agitated. If they can't stick to their own idea development AND start writing in a defensively persuasive way, I had to push the book away. As someone who is very skilled in defensive persuasion herself, I can spot when someone is writing out of a fear-based agenda, even if they are claiming to have the objectivity of a computer.

Anyway, I could try to force myself to continue reading the book out of an attempt to be open-minded, but these types of books tend to make me more narrow-minded because of their combativeness. Reading it out of principle would subvert that principle. So, I am going to put this book aside and see if I can find a book on the same subject written by someone who is less defensive.

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