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Archive for September, 2013

Being Critical

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013

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There is a very easy tendency to take the default disposition of the observer in this world , that being cynical, and transferring our negative sentiments on to the ‘as you see it’ expression. It is in fact to be said that the cynical position is the fail safe way of observing, as it gives you the questioning edge. Why did they do that, what does that do, what happens if… all you have to do now is add ‘to us’ at the end of any of those questions, (purporting our natural inclination towards selfish reason), and you have the perfect concoction to make it a negative. Fight or Flight puts in us the greatest innate method of negativity, being that survival mode dictates we view our surroundings with some suspicion to do us harm.

In a flock of birds, the response of the neighbor to take flight means that everyone must take flight, as they have seen something frightening. Its the same responsive nature that allows a school of fish to swim as one. It is our social drives that force us to be sensitive towards others perplexing responses to the same environment. The social synapse between humans is complex, as we all assimilate our world through individual ideas, long stored history and stories in layers in the mind. However, that innate nature to pickup on the negative expression (our human default), allows for a counter negative feedback that may compel the group to grow increasingly agitated in our social behavior with one another.

Our response may reflect much about the personality we have, if we introvert and withdraw, or extrovert and yell like a screaming goat. We know that the inner anima, animus, conscience, nurture and nature all play out ideas of that same struggling. We have trouble discerning the shadows of our mind when inner conflicts about what we perceive from others, confuses us, introduces new feelings or ideas, putting up a figurative fog of war as it were, where in the moment we cannot understand what is happening over the hedge of our limited understanding. That instinctual part that drives our desires and needs, conflicting with our taught notions of doing what is right for our community or neighbors, confused by irregularities in another persons reaction to something that we originally viewed as innocuous.

With each new situation, we continually learn and grow to understand. By seeing how we react to others we can sometimes surprise ourselves, or have unexpected feelings on how others are reacting to us. We judge ourselves and each other by our reactions. Its taking the plain of fear, like a bird watching out for predators on the physical plain of existence and turning it towards the inner plain of understanding. What is causing this negative feeling I am having by this others persons reaction? Then do we react in an equally confusing way and lash out or do we withdraw and perhaps cause just as much confusion to our neighbor who is trying to understand our reaction?

As humans we have the ability to see it and even override our natural inclinations. How though? Its a problem that many have fought with and struggled with for a long time. Humans have this ability to understand this struggle as a moral dilemma. Theological systems built upon the ideals of doing what is right; “I find, then, this law in my case: that when I wish to do what is right, what is bad is present with me. I really delight in the law of God according to the man I am within, but I behold in my members another law warring against the law of my mind and leading me captive to sin’s law that is in my members”. God has been a moral compass for centuries, and if people actually looked at the tenet of their religious beliefs they would find many very good ‘rules’, as it were, on how to deal with situations. Its unfortunate however that many have also taken advantage of the inner conflict to incite fear and twist morals into radical ideas to make them superior. (Your going to hell if you don’t pay us your tithe.) This all makes the point that the inner struggle to do good for our neighbor can be difficult, especially when we ‘perceive’ them as doing bad.

All the more apparent this becomes when you are even more familiar with your neighbor, especially when they are family. ‘Familiarity breeds contempt’, is a very true notion. When the negative feelings of one member, bring up negative feelings in another, usually we cannot perceive how that is being translated in your acquaintances mind, but with family your already slightly familiar, so it can easily become personal. We know how, either innately or through history, to push each others buttons. This is very evident in spousal relationships. Comments about your personality happen more with family than those outside. They are familiar with you and should know you. Comments about your work ethic, mannerisms, expressions, intellectual ability, social capacity, emotional stability, and simple things like your decorations in your home. If the comments are positive and complimentary, this is huge coming from a person relative to you, but just as important as the negative disparagement they may give in critical way. The importance of delivery becomes even more sensitive in these areas.

When I was studying sociology, I had a great discussion with the instructor about some ideas I had at the time in writing a fictional story about a war. The nature of war and its destructiveness and the causes of wars, she mentioned wouldn’t it be interesting if someone could find a way to write about a constructive war and how that could happen. That perplexing idea stuck with me and allowed me to look at writing about things in a constructive way. How do you perceive a war as being constructive, when by all accounts war has only been destructive. You can’t have an arms race, building weapons, that only leads to destruction. (That and its been done.) To have anything in competition would likely be a war of sorts, but eventually how do you create a struggle or conflict, and keep it positive, constructive. (This is really a story to discuss at another time.) The base of it comes down to, in order to build, sometimes you must tear down or create a level playing field. How do we build a positive response, in an environment where someone, who may be in that default cynical observation mode and alighting on the facts, saying how they perceive the cause of the observed situation to be that of sheer idiocy?

When we choose to try and express the negative feeling and banter in cynical, sarcastic, sardonic or plain mean commentary, the exchange will only exacerbate a perceived dangerous or conflicting situation that may have not existed to begin with. Stopping that counter negative response may be difficult however, when its so easy, taking the path of least resistance in our mind to fight or flee. Its difficult to stop a stream when its already furrowed a pathway, nature has its course and the instincts we were born with are powerful drives telling us how to react emotionally.

In a public speaking course I am involved with, the instructors are always encouraged to first find a point of counsel that was good, a compliment to the persons public speech. They by doing this, they create a positive atmosphere where they are showing that they are going to help the speaker to improve. The instructor will then share with the student how they can improve. By first laying a foundation based on humility and not attempting to prove that their superior speaking skills are the reason they are the instructor, they level the playing field as it were, to have a face value conversation. This allows a normally defensive, cynical person to accept what is being said. Sometimes that trust takes time, to level the field.

In our conversations, we should not open with a negative commentary. Not expressing sentiments that are destructive is the best way of doing that. Comments that degrade anyone or anything. The moment we call someone a derogatory or defamatory name, is immediately destructive. Expressing how unfortunate that someone or something makes you feel, be it angry or depressed, this then turns the conversation not on destroying another, but focuses it on the individual feelings you have. Watching that in a conversation where someone must talk about how another acted or responded, should not turn your attention to that other person, but towards the situation and the feelings that it incited. This can be very difficult, cause usually if one does not want to ‘talk about how they feel’ they will only talk about what they see.

Being aware of negative sentiment and looking for ways to not destroy one another, is a great first step towards protecting each other from harmful elements in the world around us. Like the birds, we can create a positive atmosphere if we show first we are inclined to help others and not express our own self survival mechanism, by only critically demeaning our neighbor or the world. We are a complex social creature, that must work within our social realm in order to prosper and survive happy.

But what do I know, I can only tell you what I’ve seen and heard, maybe you’ve learned differently.