The centre of our own universe

Although we are loath to admit it, we’re inherently self centred.

It’s not just that we’re selfish and that we pursue individual agendas, but that our entire worldview seems to begin and end with our own Ego-centric model of the universe.

We sit at the middle of our own experience and assume that the full extent of everything expands out from ourselves. Everything exists in relation to us. Its position, its meaning, its function.

This viewpoint isn’t necessarily our fault per se, it’s the effect of our culture on our perspective and it’s so deeply hardwired that it’s tough to unwind.

In fact, given how entrenched it is, it’s often tough for us to even recognise that there might be other viewpoints – other modes of function.

A great example of this is how sufferers of schizophrenia from different cultures tend to view auditory hallucinations (voices in their head).

When our individual nature is given absolute primacy, these other voices can’t be interpreted as anything other than an affront. They are invading our sense of self. An assault on our precious ego.

But what if it didn’t have to be this way?

A study of the interpretations of auditory hallucinations experienced by people from different cultures, found that our own society’s view of the self has a huge impact on the experience of hearing voices.

Participants from Ghana and India often reported that the experience of the voices could even be a positive experience because they were representative of their more relational and collective view of the world.

Instead of the voices being an intrusion, there were playful or even divine. In these cases, the voices are a boon, not a curse, because they represent an amplification of what is culturally important, not a challenge to it.

This is a potent example of how our deeply entrenched cultural viewpoint has a huge impact in how we interpret and then respond to an experience. It’s also an illustration of how fundamentally our own view of the world might be biased in ways we can’t even imagine.

In order to solve some of the world-sized problems that we’ve created, we’re going to have to develop some equally large solutions. And by large, I don’t mean scale, I mean that these solutions might fundamentally challenge some of the core beliefs we hold about ourselves, the world and our place in it.

Our view of ourselves, isn’t based on logic built up, brick by brick, from first principles – it’s based on assumptions. And we need to be prepared to challenge some, many or even all of those assumptions if we are to break the bonds which prevent us from looking at the world in rich, new ways.

Outcomes and effort are not the same

effort-by-tom-woodward

We often conflate and confuse effort and outcomes – to our detriment.

An outcome is something we can work towards, but ultimately it’s not completely within our control. It’s at least partially determined by external factors: the market, the weather, the thoughts and opinions of others.

Our own effort – including it’s magnitude and direction – is within our control. And it’s only through the application of our own effort that we can pursue preferable outcomes.

Effort is the hammer, outcomes are the nail.

When we reflect on our actions at the end of the day, it’s tempting to review our performance based on outcomes. Did we achieve what we wanted? Did we get the preferred outcome? While these are helpful to be aware of, they should not be the measures of our success.

Effort is a much better yardstick for evaluation. Did we apply our effort in the wisest, most just and courageous manner? This is a much more constructive question, because it focuses on what we can control.

If we didn’t apply our effort correctly, it may have compromised the outcome, but it will rarely, if ever, have been the sole determining factor.

If we optimise our application of effort, the outcomes will take care of themselves.

Nail your colours to the mast

pirate-flag-by-paul-horner

It’s easy to sit on the sidelines and point out what everyone else is doing wrong.

Your detachment from the action might give you a valuable, external perspective but it’s unlikely you’ll find an participant in the action who will listen to your opinion.

Opinions are like arseholes – everyone has one – and right now, you don’t have any skin in the game.

If you want to change the flow of the action, the most direct way is to act yourself.

Your actions will have an impact on the dynamics of the situation and the action itself will have an impact on your opinions and perspectives.

They’ll be more valuable now they’ve been tested and vetted by the game.

Other actors will also be more likely to listen to you now that your opinions have been forged by participation.

This means you have to nail your colours to the mast and get out there if you want to make a real difference.

But who ever said it was otherwise?

Hero or villain? It’s all in the edit

The amazing Spider-man overpowered by the rampaging Rhino by Levi Espino

You could have really made a good 2-3 minute trailer of me looking like an absolute arsehole yesterday.

As I tried to get 3 kids ready, around a museum, home, fed, clean and to bed – I snapped, cajoled, threatened, bribed, carried and ignored.

If you just saw those moments, then I would have looked like one of the most unsuccessful and unlikeable fathers in Christendom.

On balance however, the day was really good. For each shitty moment of parental-desperation-versus-child-set-to-weapons-grade-misbehaviour, there were lots of good times and a couple of absolute gems.

You could have probably also made a trailer of these highlights – although I suspect the audience for them would be pretty damn small.

And yesterday wasn’t a stand-out day because of these highs and lows – it was par for the course. Every day is filled both with moments we’d rather nobody saw and others we’d wish that nobody missed.

And this is precisely what we see of other people’s lives. We see moments. We see an edit. That’s all we get.

Sometimes we get the highs, sometimes we get the lows and sometimes we see a more balanced mix – but it’s important to remember that we’re only ever seeing a trailer. No matter how good or bad someone looks in that trailer, the full story is undoubtedly more nuanced (and mundane).

Similarly, it’s worth keeping in mind that other people are only seeing a small edit of our days.

Yesterday was a good day – but there are about 25 people floating around London that probably saw an edit of me yesterday which was probably worthy of a scathing mumsnet post.

It’s worth us remembering that other people’s stories began before we were paying attention and will continue long after we’ve drifted away.

The only reason that some end with “happily ever after” is that someone yelled “CUT!” before everyone in the story got explosive diarrhoea*.

* Thanks to Justin Hamilton for this wonderful idea.

Smoke a mental cigarette

Smoke by Centophobia https://www.flickr.com/photos/centophobia/

There’s a big difference between being focussed and mindful of the here and now and being caught up in the drama of your current situation. I should know – the latter is almost my holiday house.

When you’re flustered and panicked and feel cornered by the situation, go outside for 5 minutes and take a mental cigarette.

Look around at all the things which are going on without you, oblivious to you and your current plight.

You’re not looking to feel the indifference of the world, but its broader perspective. Breathe that perspective deep into your lungs. It’ll make you cough, but that’s just your me-centric view of the world making an dramatic exit from your body.

Count to ten, go back inside, and then tackle the shit out of your tricky task. But this time, tackle it with a lungful of fresh perspective.