Third in a sequence. Earlier posts:
This post continues the “why isn’t everybody already in touch with what they can tell for themselves?” question and highlights how in addition to all of the little moments named in the previous post, many cultures have a more background pressure against knowing what you know.
A lot of contexts require everybody, to greater or lesser degrees, to diminish either our sense of “I can tell for myself” or our honesty—where by honesty I don’t just mean “not lying” but “saying what seems true and most relevant”. In these contexts, if we name what is obvious to us, what happens is some mix of:
Consider the child who highlights hypocrisy in their parents or teachers, or the institutional whistleblower, or the challenge of highlighting the baselessness (let alone falseness) of assertions being made by politicians or religious leaders, or a domineering boss at work (whether the claims are about the work itself or about society). And of course in extremely oppressive regimes, saying the obvious gets people killed. And I don’t want to say these are the same, or equally bad, but they have similarities.
What do we tend to do when we’re in oppressive contexts?
If we can leave to a better alternative, and the stakes are high, we tend to leave. Bessel van der Kolk, who wrote The Body Keeps the Score, has said “healing from trauma amounts to learning that it’s okay to know what you know and feel what you feel.” Part of why a lot of trauma occurs in childhood is that we don’t have the option (psychologically or physically) to leave. If we’re in an environment where we aren’t allowed to know what we know, and we have an option to go to one where we can, this tends to be better for us. It can be scary to leave an unhealthy relationship (even if it’s just warring blindspots, not abuse) but once we take the plunge, things do often lighten up. Part of why people stay stuck though is that there may not be a better option, and even if there is it can be hard to imagine.» read the rest of this entry »
“I can tell for myself” is the kind of knowing that nobody can take away from you.
Nobody can take it from you, but they can get you to hide it from yourself. They can put pressure on you to cover up your own knowings—pressure that’s particularly hard to withstand when you’re relatively powerless, as a kid is. This pressure can come from the threat of force or punishment, or simply the pain of not being able to have a shared experience of reality with caregivers if you know what you know and they don’t allow such a knowing.
Ideally, we integrate others’ word with our own sense of things, and smoothly navigate between using the two in a way that serves us and them. Others would point out where they can see that we’re confused about our own knowings, and we’d reorient, look again, and come to a new sense of things that’s integrated with everything else.
But, if you’re reading this, you were probably raised in a culture that, as part of its very way of organizing civilization over the past millennia, relied on getting you to take others’ word for it even when you could tell that something about what they you being told was off… to the point that you probably learned that your own knowing was suspect or invalid, at least in some domains.
Did you cover up your natural sense of appetite, with politeness, when parents or grandparents said “You haven’t eaten enough! You have to finish what’s on your plate.”? Did you cover up your natural sense of thirst when parents or teachers said “No, you don’t need a drink right now.”? Did you forget how to listen to the building pressure in your lower abdomen, in the face of a “You don’t have to pee! You just went!”?
Did you override your sense of relevance and honesty when someone said “You can’t say that!”? Maybe someone close to you said “You didn’t see that!” or “you didn’t hear that!” or “that didn’t happen!” — as a command, not a joke… did that make it harder to listen to your own senses or vision or hearing? Not altogether, but in situations where you could tell others wouldn’t like you to know what you know. Did someone say “Come on, you know I would never lie to you,” twisting your own sense of trust in others’ honesty and dishonesty, around the reality that you did not, in fact, know that, and (since this was coming up at all) may have been doubting it?» read the rest of this entry »
I realized recently that while I’m pretty consistently operating out of Growth Mindset, there’s another mindset shift that I’m often missing.
I was reading an insightful book called Influencer. One of the sections of the book describes a man with a love of chocolate, who wants to lose weight and tries to replace his chocolate-snacking habit with a carrot-snacking habit. I know the feel—chocolate is very compelling to me. From that book:
“Initially, failure signals the need for greater effort or persistence. Sometimes failure signals the need to change strategies or tactics. But failure should rarely signal that we’ll never be able to succeed and drive us to pray for serenity. For instance, you find yourself staring at a half-eaten ice cream cone in your hand. Should you conclude that you’re unable to stick with your eating plan so you might as well give up? Or should you conclude that since it’s hard to resist when you walk past the ice cream parlor on your way home from work, you should change your route? The first conclusion serves as discouraging brake on performance, whereas the second provides a corrective guide that helps refine your strategy.
The book describes the first response—concluding you can’t do it and giving up—as Fixed Mindset, and the second as Growth Mindset. They depict an overdramatic Fixed Mindset internal monologue:
“Henry wonders if he can overcome the genetic hand that he’s been dealt… has [no] self-discipline… surely he’s doomed… believes he hadn’t been born with ‘the right stuff.'” …etc.
I basically never have thoughts like that.
Which led me into the puzzle of why, if I’m consistently operating out of Growth Mindset, do I not consistently respond in that second way? That is, using each failure as a corrective guide, tweaking my path so I don’t encounter future temptations. » read the rest of this entry »
This post was co-written with my friend Duncan Sabien, a very prolific doer of things. He had the idea of writing the article in a sort of panel-style, so we could each share our personal experiences on the subject.
Malcolm: At the CFAR alumni reunion this August, my friend Alton remarked: “You’re really self-directed and goal-oriented. How do we make more people like you?”
It didn’t take me long to come up with an answer:
“I think we need to get people to go and do things that nobody’s expecting them to do.”
Duncan: When I was maybe nine years old, I had a pretty respectable LEGO collection dropped into my lap all at once. I remember that there was one small spaceship (about 75 or 80 pieces) that I brought along to summer camp, with predictable results.
I found myself trying to piece the thing back together again, and succeeded after a long and frustrating hour. Then, to be absolutely sure, I took it completely apart and reassembled it from scratch. I did this maybe forty or fifty times over the next few weeks, for reasons which I can’t quite put my finger on, and got to where I could practically put the thing together in the dark.
These days, I have an enormous LEGO collection, made up entirely of my own designs. My advice to pretty much everyone:
Growing up, you make decisions, but it’s kind of like a Choose Your Own Adventure Book.
Finally, you reach grade 12. It’s time to choose which university to attend after high school!
- To check out the prestigious university where your dad went, turn to page 15.
- To visit the small campus nearby that would be close enough to live at home, turn to page 82
- To take a road trip with friends to the party college they want to go to, turn to page 40.
That’s a decent set of choices. And you know, there exist hypothetical future lives of yours that are really awesome, along all pathways. But there are so many more possibilities!
Both personal experience and principles like Analysis Paralysis agree that when you have tons of choices, it becomes harder to choose. Sure. But, to the extent that life is like the hypothetical Choose Your Own Adventure Book (hereafter CYOAB) above, I don’t think the issue is that there aren’t enough options. The issue lies in the second sentence, which contains a huge assumption: that in grade 12, it’s time to choose a university to attend. Sure, maybe later in the book is a page that says something about “deferring your offer” to take a “gap year”, but even that is presented as just an option among several others. And so it goes, beyond high school and post-secondary education and into adulthood.
What you don’t get to do, in a CYOAB, is strategize about what you want and how to get it. » read the rest of this entry »
I'm Malcolm Ocean.
I'm developing scalable solutions to fractal coordination challenges (between parts of people as well as between people) based on non-naive trust and intentionality. More about me.