Tag: perception

The Triumph of Tranquility

New York City.  A symbol of human achievement.  Countless busy souls have spent their lives here, crafting.  Building the engines that make the world work

If I were to ask you what your idea of bliss is, what would you say?

I asked a few people, and the answers tended to fall into a few categories:  financial windfall, tropical relocation, and sex with an ideal partner.  They all make a kind of sense we can understand.  Who wouldn’t like to have these?  But for the most part, when asked what bliss meant to them, folks presented a version of inactivity.  Being someplace special or having some kind of amenity at their disposal was wrapped up in it, but they mostly just want to relax.  To sit in place in the sun on the beach as the tide rolls out.  To recline in an old chair by the fire and read a good book.  To leave work so they can travel overseas and just see things.  No labor, no projects, no purpose except to enjoy.

But for me, pursuit of a purpose and enjoyment are inextricable.  My idea of bliss is to choose a thing that I want to work on and accomplish, and to be able to do it, unfettered by responsibilities that interrupt and steal time.  The idea of total inactivity does not appeal to me, except after a long day of work.  Doing nothing, experience has told me, is actually awful.

This empty bird’s nest at my camp in the Adirondacks is also a labor, but one to create a space for peaceful safety.  A toil to escape toil.

I have been wrapped up in the race of purpose my whole life.  Every day, finding the motivation to pursue, pursue, pursue.  Imagine the great things I can do, then fall in love with the work of doing them.  Then, exult in the accomplishment by imagining the next thing.  I have disconnected with the part of me that slows down and finds solace of any kind in relaxation for the sake of relaxation.  Relaxation that is not just a relief from some labor of some kind, but is an intentional act.  An occupation of itself.

And I have chosen this.  But I did not know how deeply this disconnect was affecting me until recently in my life.  Until I forced myself to experience the other side of the coin.  As it turned out, doing this was extraordinarily difficult.  But the rewards are many.  I am still trying to grasp the triumph of tranquility, the purpose-that-is-unpurpose.  And it is not bliss, at least not to me.   But it is valuable, for a different reason.  It is a widening of one’s cumulative intellect:  There are whole worlds of perception and understanding within lengthy, peaceful repose that are invisible to the eternally goal-driven mind.

If you’d like to read about how I came to this understanding, and see some pictures of the setting for the experience, click here.

Employers: Surrogate Parents

There are two types of people in this world.

How many times have you heard that one?

Well, there are.  Those who reject their jobs, and those who adopt their jobs.

Ernie is a job rejecter.  A job denier.  He shows up a little bit late each day, and leaves a little bit early.  He barely does enough of his duties at his job to get by, and will do even less if he thinks he can get away with it.  The work is a chore for him, every minute of it.  There are no joys to be taken.  Little or no sense of accomplishment when he does something well.  He moans and groans about going back to work after the weekend.  He finds petty excuses to call out, or flat out lies.

Annie is a job adopter.  She shows up early when she can, and stays late sometimes, just to finish up what she was working on.  She perceives her assigned duties as a starting ground, and does more as often as she can.  She takes special interest in understanding the jobs of the people around her.  She makes responsible decisions in her home life to make sure she has enough sleep and solid transport to work.  She builds work relationships because it facilitates the work environment.

I bet you have some defined feelings about these two types.  You may feel that you identify with one or the other.  I bet you know someone at your job that you’d categorize as an Ernie or an Annie.

What I have elected to relate to you today, in this entry of the Octopode’s bloggotron, is that I think both types are wrong.  I think they’re both improper ways of handling this ubiquitous phenomenon we all have to deal with, this….employment thing.  Why?  Because both of them take their job personally.

When Ernie’s supervisor tells him he sent a copy of the TPS Report to the wrong auditing office, Ernie gets mad.  He gets upset that he’s just been told he did something wrong.  If someone notices his lateness, if someone calls attention to his lack of output, it inspires anger.  If he is turned down for a promotion, he is insulted, and this may lead to anger as well.  His apprehension about how he is perceived at work may extend outward too, making him sensitive about other aspects of his presence there.

Annie’s output is higher, and like an overachieving child, she uses her good behavior to look for approval.  Her work is very important to her personally, and she thinks about it even when she isn’t at work.  She finds ways to improve, ways to increase productivity, and ways to improve the systems her workplace has in place.  Her ideas, and her effort to implement them, are the things she works hardest at in her life.  They represent the best of her.  When they are rejected, it hurts her.  She may react with deep sadness, anger, or by telling herself that the one who rejected her work doesn’t know what they’re doing.

The way their feelings are wrapped up in their jobs is the problem.  Their personal validation hinges on what they do in the workplace, and the way it is received.  Ernie wants to do as little as possible, but this is mostly a defense based on the explicit idea that he doesn’t care about his job and how he is perceived there, a lie he tells himself to protect himself from being recognized as a failure or as a fraud.  Annie pushes herself too hard and is far more productive than is called for at her job because she is desperately trying to prove herself, to herself, and to everyone else, particularly those whose opinion of her she values.  This is why when a negative opinion is expressed, she devalues that person in order to save herself from their disapproval.

They’re not opposites, these two.  They’re actually substantially the same:  Both of them need to be validated by their workmates/supervisors.  Both of them are using their jobs as one (likely of many) mechanisms to culture appreciation from others, which they need just to feel OK.  In short, they take their jobs personally.

And it’s not acceptable.

If I could reach into these two employee archetypes, which in my perspective are at least nine of ten employed people out there, I would switch their regard for their jobs from personal to business.  I’d make a third type of person, the type that I try to be.

The businessperson.  That’s what it is, isn’t it?  It’s business.  It’s employment; it’s a company paying a person for their time and effort, working on tasks the company needs done.  But this nonsense is childish bullshit, and no supervisor should have to coddle their staff just to keep morale up.  Since when are our jobs a daycare?  Forever, I’ll bet.  People walk into their jobs with all their issues in tow, and express them there as they do everywhere else.  And the bait is strong—you see a paycheck for what you do there.  A chunk of money is a big deal, its delivery on a regular basis is nothing short of life-sustaining, and it adds quite a lot of weight to what the employee who earned it is doing.

But this is not personal, folks.  It’s a transaction.  It’s buying groceries.  When was the last time the grocery store manager came up to you as you’re pushing your cart to the register, and with a sullen look on his face, said, “Were you okay with the selection of spaghetti sauces?  I tried to get the best ones but I don’t know….I guess I don’t really know what you want but I hope you’re happy with it.  I always try.  Sorry if it’s not OK.”

You shouldn’t have to make that grocery store manager feel better about himself.  And likewise, he shouldn’t have to make his employees feel better about themselves.  Yet he likely does.  And what’s more, he thinks it’s normal.

When you go to your job, there is an expectation placed on you.  You’re being paid to do X.  Not X minus anything, not X plus anything.  If you give more than is required, your supers won’t complain, but if your extra work is not accepted and you become unstable as a result, you’ve just failed to do X properly.  Further, anger over your behavior on the part of your coworkers may interfere with their ability to do their X.  And if you’ve got an office full of Annies and Ernies, that’s an even bigger problem.  Employees who are already validating themselves do not heap insecurities upon their boss.  They just do a good job and go home.

So, how to make it just business?

The goal is to meet what is expected of you, your X, at a level consistent with your own work ethic.  And that concept contains the key:  you are working for you.  You are earning money for yourself.  Focus on what you think is the appropriate response to the work that you are being prompted for, not what it feels like your supervisors will like.  Ask yourself, “What am I really being asked to do?”  Make a list.  That list might include going above-and-beyond, as some employers do look for that.  But this only means that going the extra mile isn’t really extra at all, it’s required.

Many employers are highly experienced at giving employees emotional validation for doing good work.  Be a foil (and likely sweet relief) to that.  Give them what they want, simply and easily.  They’ll quickly learn they can count on you.  And you in turn will receive job security.  But most of all, you’ll be at peace about your job and your performance there.  You’ll feel simple satisfaction, and you won’t worry about it anymore.

But, how to do this if you are naturally an Ernie or an Annie?  That’s hard to say, since one’s own security and self-validation are the things that lead to the negative behaviors they exhibit.  But there is one simple, mechanical thing you can do to help, in addition to making a list of your duties and adhering to it:  you can refrain from making personal connections with coworkers.

Stop making them your friends!  So they’re great people, so what?  So you want them to like you; overcome this feeling.  They are not your friends when you walk in, and hanging that mantle on them invites the kind of personal connection that will enable validation-seeking behavior.  Keep them professional colleagues.  Do not associate outside of work.  Do not trade phone numbers for any reason except work-related.  Do not send personal emails.  Do not confide about your personal life at all, in fact deflect questions about it.  Don’t be a dick about it, just hold your horses.  Find your friends elsewhere.  You and your coworkers are teammates, not friends.

Does this mean you can’t joke around?  Sign the birthday card going from desk to desk?  Of course not.  Participate in the office food event.  Use first names.  Encourage your coworkers in their work-related endeavors.  But draw a defined line.  Deflect personal conversations about others and absolutely about yourself.

One way to facilitate this feeling is to dress at least a little formally at work.  Dressing casual at work is a quick way to invite casual interaction.  Another thing to do is adhere strictly to your own work ethic, which means that you should explicitly define it (write it down).  Being lazy about tasks or producing subpar output is a gateway to perceiving disapproval in your supers, often that isn’t even there.  Another trick that I’ve found helps psych myself out about what I do, is to write down at the end of each day a short list of what I’ve accomplished at work.  Just brief notes that I can understand.  Then when I get a paycheck, look at the check and the list at the same time.  Get a visual of exactly what you’ve been paid to do.  It throws all the superfluous fluff that goes into holding down a job into contrast.

If you can manage to make your work less personal, you can only benefit, no matter your employment future.  In the immediate, what you will find is greater job satisfaction, better overall performance, and a quieting of worries.  In time, you’ll get praise from your supervisors (though you won’t need it), and maybe even opportunities to take your game to the next level.

But the big payoff is that you’ll drive home from your job every day feeling calmer, less stressed.  And the ridiculous games that Ernie and Annie play all day at work, and which infect and detract from their home lives as well, will stand out in high contrast.  You’ll be above that nonsense.  They’ll look up to you in time, jealous on a level they don’t understand.

It’s your job, folks.  It’s business.  Don’t take it so personally.

The Rule of Skeletons

Here’s a thought for you:

Physically, we are hardest in the center—our bones.  The skeleton is the hardest part, then the softer tissues layer outward from there.  But psychologically, we’re hardest on the outside, and the least concrete in the center, where we are unbuilt, and where our concepts and ideas float without metaphysical moorings, like print written delicately over a soup skin.

I think that the skeleton itself is an uncomfortable concept due to the unconsciously understood notion that we are softer inside, not harder. Beneath the representations, posturing, and defenses, is the utterly vulnerable core.  We see a skeleton in a scary movie or in a classroom and it smacks of cadaver, so we feel that fear that comes from seeing things associated with death, but beneath that I think there is a discomfort that comes from seeing something that is supposed to be human but is intrinsically opposite.  Like a mirror image, except instead of being a dimensional opposite, it is an inversion.

We do not carry hard centers.

Even just saying it makes me aware of my defenses and my armors, like they were glasses of water on a table someone nudged as they walked by.  Just mentioning my mechanisms of self-protection perturbs them. I see their surfaces lurch and rebalance.

Let’s extend the metaphor.  Look at the exceptions to this…rule of skeletons:  the marrow in the bone, the brain in the skull, the organs in the ribcage.  In particular the ribcage.  A bizarre thing.  As though the architect, knowing the organs needed protection, assembled a crude basket with sticks.  And with time our soft tissues loosen and sag, our skin and all else, and droop in the basket like rotting fruit.

In the ocean it wasn’t always like that.  Beneath the waves we had bones, but if you go further back you find a time when we did not.  When the rigidity required to make a brief stand against the more severe effect of gravity on land was not a concern.  And they’re still there:  the other ancestors.  The ones we could have been.

Some with rigid bones, others soft.  Some with outer shells, some without.  Some soft through and through.  Many, for which the only durable portion of their existence is the teeth, the beak, the mouth.

There is a moment of recognition when you see an injury and white bone shines through.  Even if it is blood-covered, you see the white beneath the red.  You know that the bone is seeing light, and you are witnessing a small portion of the inflexible system that scaffolds the body, girds it, and is an invisible part of every move it makes.

Let’s stretch that metaphor even farther. Engage your imagination for a moment.  What would you say if you met your skeleton in a pizza shop down the street?  Somehow it has escaped, and had a hunger for cheese and pepperoni.  It slipped out your mouth silently while you slept, and now you’re chasing it down, your soft flesh struggling to support you.

You see it standing there near the garbage can, using the posture you do while you’re eating pizza.  Slightly hunched, shoulders bunched, leaning slightly on one foot.  It has a paper plate in one hand and a napkin pinched in the fingers holding it, its head is downturned but still gazing out the window, jaw slowly rocking back and forth.  The other hand is holding the crust of a piece with several bites removed.  The crust is bent into a V, index finger in the cleft, thumb and other fingers on the outer sides of the bend.  It is chewing with distracted slowness, gazing out the window at the busy street.

You address it like a lost lover, I imagine.  You grab its attention with a  touch or a word, something quick and too strong, then there are long moments of no communication.  As though it were very important that you know you are near each other, but nothing needs to be done.  You tell it that you do not walk well without it.  It tells you that it does not taste well without you.  Nothing changes.  And you watch each other without seeing, across a gap of inches, or miles, or years.

Objectivity vs. Freedom & Why’s It Always About Sex?

 “I would say any behavior that is not the status quo is interpreted as insanity, when, in fact, it might actually be enlightenment.  Insanity is sorta in the eye of the beholder.”
-Chuck Palahniuk

This blog entry is wordy and not particularly funny, fair warning. And I’ll tell ya, bringing this one up gets people heated!  Even just exploring the topic, most folks start getting defensive right from the get-go.  I’m curious what you delightful readers think.

What is perversion?  Specifically, is it subjective, or objective?

If you ask people, and I have, you may find that most people divide everything into two groups:  what is acceptable, and what is unacceptable.  But there also seems to be a danger zone on your way to unacceptable behavior, i.e. this behavior is okay, that behavior is questionable, and that other behavior is not okay.

Another interesting aspect of this topic and the way people handle it, is that in nearly every case, when posed with the question of what is deviant, perverse, or unacceptable, people answer with information regarding sexual behaviors.  Not violence, not language, not politics….sex.  Always sex.  It’s not really the focus of this blog entry, but my position on the taboo nature of sex is that it is completely arbitrary and inappropriate.  Sex is as natural as scratching an itch and the fact that it is so universally illicit in human cultures is a strangely beguiling phenomenon, especially when you consider how utterly pointless this is.

So people stratify behaviors into what is acceptable and what is perverse, and then they classify somewhat loosely the things in between, that flirt with being unacceptable, but are not, strictly speaking, categorically reprobate.

But in order for a thing to be unacceptable, there has to be an acceptor.  One who deems it unacceptable.  For instance, a person finding a way to cover the Earth in a mile-deep layer of poop is unequivocally unacceptable…to me.  However, if I did not exist, this behavior might be acceptable.  If no life existed on Earth, wouldn’t it be just fine to coat it with excrement?  If not, why?

If you look up words like aberrant, deviant, depraved, you find that the definitions all include directly or indirectly subjective terms. They’re tied to a subject, a person, an acceptor.  And if you look hard enough, you can find people in the world who do not believe that the behavior you condemn is damnable at all.  These same people will likely see ordinary behaviors of your own as debauchery.  Who’s right?

I asked some people if they believed that there are perversions that are objectively unacceptable, not just subjectively.  And I found that folks enjoyed being able to further stratify behaviors according to the level of personal offense.  For instance, non-life threatening sexual violence was deemed perversion, but not something to put a stop to.  That is, as long as all parties consent.  You may share this opinion.  But why?  If the parties consent, why is what they are doing even questionable at all?

And if they do not consent, why is it unacceptable?  We mostly agree that this is the case, but why?  It seems that we share a value in this regard:  that it is proper to do what you would like, as long as you do not hurt someone who does not want to be hurt.  But is this not a personal value, and one that not everyone shares?  Additionally, it is one that is flexible for many.  For instance, is it okay to hurt someone who does not want to be hurt, if they are themselves hurting someone else who does not want to be hurt?

My point here is that it is a personal choice of what is right and wrong, therefore is it not subjective? Isn’t it all subjective?

If you look at a broader view of humanity, you do see trends in values.  Things that are virtually universally accepted, or mostly so, etc.  I think this stems from universal concepts, things that arise from the facts of our shared perceptions of the world.  Folks are fond of pointing out that colors may look entirely different to different people, for instance, but I do not think so.  The way light plays against the machinery in our eyes and brains is not different, and I think we experience it very similarly.  Why else would favorite colors tend to be so telling, personally and culturally?

As a rule, I believe in an objective reality.  I believe that our perceptions of this reality lead to concepts and ultimately to values, which largely (but incompletely) determine our behaviors.  Less intuitively, I believe that the degree to which someone aligns their concepts and values to objective reality is congruent to the degree to which that person will succeed in life, as in achievement of valuable experience, as well as noble achievement (accomplishments).

So if our mental constructs are basically “takes” on reality, wouldn’t it follow then that there is an actual objective basis to morality?  Couldn’t you trace concrete, logical values from the basic axioms of metaphysical reality?  And wouldn’t these values provide clear delineations of what is acceptable, and what is perverse?  These boundaries would be definitive, insofar as our reasonable arrival at them is unflawed (which cannot be known for certain, but can and must be reliably assumed).

The application, however, is another story.  And it acts against the premise I’ve laid out above.  The concept of objective morality is dangerous, to say the least.  In practice it is terrifying.  Is this why I prefer to see perversion as a completely subjective concept, when in fact my basic value system implies it is not?  Am I lying to myself to save myself?  This could be.

Must we as a thinking, reflecting species allow fluid boundaries between what is acceptable and not acceptable, worldwide, in order to maintain the understanding (illusion?) that we are free?  Knowing that in some contexts what is unacceptable may be acceptable helps each of us to feel that we live in a world where anything is possible, and the constraints of the objective reality we’d like to assume exists do not extend so far into our choices as to restrict them.  In other words, ignoring the truth so that the lie will set you free.

A curious concept.  Cognitive dissonance on a global level.

Your thoughts?