The Wandering Monk

Brewmaster Rysu – New Posts On Tuesdays

The Contrast of Perception

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Perhaps I’ve talked about this a lot.  Perhaps I’ve even talked to you about it directly, depending if you’ve known me long enough.  If so, you’ll know that I look at perspectives with an inquisitive mind.  Perhaps it’s a bit abstract, but I try to see the world in terms of cause and effect.

With this in mind, one general rule I’ve come to rely on is that people gain perspective and learning experiences based almost completely on how sharp the contrast between what is ‘normal’ and what is ‘extreme’.

For example, if a boy grows up his whole life being screamed at by his parents or in a noisy, squabbling sort of household, he might not be as affected when, in his adult life, he is again yelled at.  He will have generated coping mechanisms that he uses to get through it.  He becomes callous to it.  Sure, it will probably also not help him heal; he’ll probably be more prone to being reminded of that if it was traumatic for him, but realistically he’ll handle it better than a person who wasn’t yelled at at all in their lives and then suddenly gets screamed at.

Imagine you’ve never seen, felt, or in any way experienced fire.  Then someone gives you a glove and tells you to pick up a hot pan.  You don’t feel the heat of the pan because the glove insulates against it.  You’ve yet to learn that lesson.  The lesson that fire burns.

But then, once, you forget to put the glove on.  In your naivete, you grab the pan and the searing pain shoots through you like a thousand needles of screaming agony.  This shock instantly burns into your mind that you should not touch things that are hot, why safety is important, and what the consequences are for such a mistake.

Now imagine the opposite — you have the unique experience of having a family of metal workers who regularly involve you in their work.  Since a child you’re used to the heat and you’ve probably burned yourself hundreds of times, each one teaching its lesson.  In your adult life, you aren’t nearly as responsive to the occasional sting of fire.  You might touch a pan that’s too hot once, but you’ll be more tempered than our last example.

The driving point here is contrast.  If ‘normal’ is closer to the ‘extreme’, then the reaction is lessened. 

Think about this in terms of everything in our lives.  At work, I do IT.  Often, I’m called upon by the end user to fix problems.  Every single one of them says to me, in some way, “this is critical for me to do my job” or “I NEED this right now, or I can’t work.”

They’re doing this because they want to apply the shock of their situation to me, so that I am (I can only assume) more motivated to resolve the issue.  What they don’t realize is that it’s not motivating, it’s annoying.  I don’t like to complain, but in this, it seems like they’re insinuating that I’m some how not going to put their problem in the correct context.  I’m not going to give them the priority they think they deserve.  And they think that if they tell me all their worries and woes, that it’ll make me some how summon a greater sense of empathy and compassion that I already have for them, in order to get them what they want faster.

The truth is, I do my best to get everything done as quickly as I can, and psychological manipulation attempts don’t change how I do it.  But I also imagine that this works for other people, and that’s terrifying.  Imagine a world where people overreact to a self-proclaimed crisis and try to pull the fire alarm every time something even minor goes wrong.  That behavior teaches our children and shapes our culture to become alarmists and to stop developing coping mechanisms.  It enables panic as the first response instead of critical thinking and common sense.

It’s the opposite of an intellectual reaction.

My biggest challenge here isn’t the people who knee-jerk react.  It’s the people that support it.  There has to be a manager or a thinking person somewhere in the chain that says “Listen, I need you to calm down and put this into perspective.”

And this person should be the one that’s supported by his or her management.  Not the knee-jerk crowd who thinks stamping their feet and yelling louder is going to make a difference.

Talk to you soon.

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