Through the Prism

After passing through the prism, each refraction contains some pure essence of the light, but only an incomplete part. We will always experience some aspect of reality, of the Truth, but only from our perspectives as they are colored by who and where we are. Others will know a different color and none will see the whole, complete light. These are my musings from my particular refraction.


Connections: Or, Synthesizing Some Thoughts Related to Vulnerability, Empathy, Story, and Finitude

Or, A Late Developing New Year's Resolution: To Become Better at This

One lucky leaf still above the ice, the rest submerged and frozen

No one knows everything.  We all have finite, limited perspectives.  Those perspectives are lenses that color the way we see things.  They filter our perceptions.  They interpret the world for us.  And we create stories to support and reinforce our perspectives, stories that say, "My perspective is Truth."

When we let ourselves become mired in our perspectives, we cut ourselves off from others.  To connect with others, we must step into their stories and learn to understand their perspectives.

In consideration of that approach, I find this article fascinating:
To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This

More than 20 years ago, the psychologist Arthur Aron succeeded in making two strangers fall in love in his laboratory. . . .

I explained the study to my university acquaintance. A heterosexual man and woman enter the lab through separate doors. They sit face to face and answer a series of increasingly personal questions. Then they stare silently into each other’s eyes for four minutes. The most tantalizing detail: Six months later, two participants were married. They invited the entire lab to the ceremony. . . .

The questions reminded me of the infamous boiling frog experiment in which the frog doesn’t feel the water getting hotter until it’s too late. With us, because the level of vulnerability increased gradually, I didn’t notice we had entered intimate territory until we were already there, a process that can typically take weeks or months. . . .

We all have a narrative of ourselves that we offer up to strangers and acquaintances, but Dr. Aron’s questions make it impossible to rely on that narrative. Ours was the kind of accelerated intimacy I remembered from summer camp, staying up all night with a new friend, exchanging the details of our short lives. At 13, away from home for the first time, it felt natural to get to know someone quickly. But rarely does adult life present us with such circumstances. . . .

Much of Dr. Aron’s research focuses on creating interpersonal closeness. In particular, several studies investigate the ways we incorporate others into our sense of self. It’s easy to see how the questions encourage what they call “self-expansion.” . . .

staring into someone’s eyes for four silent minutes was one of the more thrilling and terrifying experiences of my life. . . .

what I like about this study is how it assumes that love is an action. . . .

I wondered what would come of our interaction. If nothing else, I thought it would make a good story. But I see now that the story isn’t about us; it’s about what it means to bother to know someone, which is really a story about what it means to be known. . . .

You’re probably wondering if he and I fell in love. Well, we did. . . .

Love didn’t happen to us. We’re in love because we each made the choice to be. . . . 
Reading this, I wonder if it might be possible to apply the idea to all interactions, with not romantic love as a goal but peaceful, appreciative relationships.  How can we create a habit of instinctively offering and accepting vulnerability, starting each interaction by seeking understanding with a similar set of questions?  Some people seem to love everyone.  Can we all learn to do that?

And, can we create organizations, institutions, and governments; policies, procedures, systems, and cultures that do the same?

An overabundance of related thoughts, most previously blogged here, that inform my perspective:

The Best Stories Feature Characters with Whom We Can Empathize

We can empathize with them because we see their vulnerabilities.  They move us, we connect with them, because we get to really see them.

A quote:

Love and belonging are irreducible needs of all men, women, and children. We're hardwired for connection--it's what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. The absence of love, belonging, and connection always leads to suffering. . . .

Those who feel lovable, who love, and who experience belonging simply believe they are
worthy of love and belonging. They don't have easier lives, they don't have fewer struggles with addiction or depression, and they haven't survived fewer traumas or bankruptcies or divorces, but in the midst of all of these struggles, they have developed practices that enable them to hold on to the belief that they are worthy of love, belonging, and even joy. . . .

The Wholehearted identify vulnerability as the catalyst for courage, compassion, and connection. In fact, the willingness to be vulnerable emerged as the single clearest value shared by all women and men whom I would describe as Wholehearted. They attributed everything--from their professional success to their marriages to their proudest parenting moments--to their ability to be vulnerable.

That's the essential message from Brene Brown's book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead.  My very brief review: "Perhaps not the most captivating writing ever, but full of wisdom. Decent as literature; essential as message. It's okay to be human. We all are, after all. Accept it, go with it, be it."

This is a continuation of what she shared in one of her Ted Talks, which I first shared in Thoughts from a Researcher-Storyteller.  A great place to start.  The book is even better.

So don't be afraid to be like those characters from our favorite stories.  It's how you can become a favorite as well.

Stories are about defining ourselves, but they are just as much about being part of something greater and connecting to others. . . . Because stories of fully flawed, vulnerable, human characters are the ones that teach us empathy.

Much, much more at Spin and Empathy: Know Your Story, Dwell in Others' Stories

People Almost Never Change Without First Feeling Understood

This post's title is a quote from the book I've started reading for the leadership program: Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen, "of the Harvard Negotiation Project." My manager suggested it because she likes it so much and feels it's really impacted her approach.

I'm very much liking the book so far, partly because it makes a lot of sense to me. The big premise is that to best negotiate confrontational conversations, you need to really listen and learn, change your basic stance to a non-confrontational one (without avoiding the issues either--really talk them through, just without trying to "win"). Pretty typically organized book, in that it starts with the premise in the introduction, explains the entire concept in brief in the first chapter, then breaks everything down with more specifics the rest of the book.

I just finished reading the first detail chapter: "Stop Arguing About Who's Right: Explore Each Other's Stories." Basically, everyone has a perspective that is only part of the big picture. We are each right and capturing the truth, but only as we understand it. Instead of pushing our interpretation of things, we need to stand back and listen to their interpretations to learn from each other and get a fuller understanding of the situation. It's not an either-or approach, but an "and stance."

I bring this up here because I feel it explains and explicates what I was trying to capture with this blog's title/description at the top of the page. I've always worried it would be interpreted as moral relativism or lazy ethical thinking, when I really intended it to say what this chapter just spelled out to me. I know I'm right in some ways, but even when you disagree with me you're right too. Let's talk about it and learn from each other. Sometimes I can get a little strident, but that doesn't mean I don't want to hear from you.

There’s Not One Truth Ever, Just a Whole Bunch of Stories

“Doesn’t matter what anyone else would call it, Len,” he says. “This is our story to tell.”This is our story to tell. He says it in his Ten Commandments way and it hits me that way: profoundly. You’d think for all the reading I do, I would have thought about this before, but I haven’t. I’ve never once thought about the interpretative, the storytelling aspect of life, of my life. I always felt like I was in a story, yes, but not like I was the author of it, or like I had any say in its telling whatsoever.

You can tell your story any way you damn well please.


And it’s just dawned on me that I might be the author of my own story, but so is everyone else the author of their own stories, and sometimes, like now, there’s no overlap.


Life’s a freaking mess. In fact, I’m going to tell Sarah we need to start a new philosophical movement: messessentialism instead of existentialism: For those who revel in the essential mess that is life. Because Gram’s right, there’s not one truth ever, just a whole bunch of stories, all going on at once, in our heads, in our hearts, all getting in the way of each other. It’s all a beautiful calamitous mess.

The Sky Is Everywhere

I'm telling you this because the people of your culture are in much the same situation. Like the people of Nazi Germany, they are the captives of a story. . . .

[You've heard of no such story] because there's no
need to hear of it. There's no need to name it or discuss it. Every one of you knows it by heart by the time you're six or seven. Black and white, male and female, rich and poor, Christian and Jew, American and Russian, Norwegian and Chinese, you all hear it. And you hear it incessantly, because every medium of propaganda, every medium of education pours it out incessantly. And hearing it incessantly, you don't listen to it. There's no need to listen to it. It's always there humming away in the background, so there's no need to attend to it at all. In fact, you'll find--at least initially--that it's hard to attend to it. It's like the humming of a distant motor that never stops; it becomes a sound that's no longer heard at all.


People can't just
give up a story. . . . you can't just stop being in a story, you have to have another story to be in.

From More Book Quotes

For the past few years I've had a fascinating and fun journey working my way through a good collection of titles about how thinking works; more specifically, about how thinking doesn't work the way we think it works. That we are constantly lying to, misleading, and deluding ourselves. That our knowledge, perceptions, beliefs, memories, and actions aren't nearly as rational and reasonable as we like to think. That many of our decisions, both the little, daily ones and the big, life-changing ones aren't as sound and carefully reasoned as we believe.

From So Tired of Being Called "Negative"

Why celebrate delusion?  What's the point in making the case that there's no point in making a case?  It might seem like I'm saying we might as well not even try to understand each other or get along since we're so illogical that it's an impossible endeavor.  In fact, it's just the opposite.  It's about helping each of us realize we don't have a monopoly on logic and truth and the "correct" way of thinking.  It's about adding a fair amount of reasonable doubt about ourselves to counter our instinctive sense of assurance in the absoluteness of our own thoughts and feelings so that we're more reasonable when encountering the differing thoughts and feelings of others.  If I know what I have to say is influenced and shaped by biases, irrational emotions, and logical fallacies, then I should more readily accede there is room for me to be complemented, supplemented, or even corrected by what others have to say.  We need self-knowledge, in other words, to help us be more open to other-knowledge.

From America, Know Thyself (Part 3 of 3)

What Is Your Perspective? (Part I)

The Noise is a man unfiltered, and without a filter, a man is just chaos walking.

We all have filters. They are what allow us to make sense of the vast, overwhelming storm of sensory input, information, thoughts, memories, and associations that assault our minds every moment. We ignore much of it and organize and categorize the rest. It's how we think. It's how we stay sane. . . . 

Filters are essential. They are necessary and good. They are a consequence of our being finite and limited. They also determine and are determined by our perspectives. As the heading under my blog title above says, we are all situated in a certain time and place, formed and shaped by particular experiences. Life is the biggest filter of all in determining who we are and how we think.

And we are at the mercy of our filters.

In Truthiness Is Reality, I wrote of another book, including this: Each of us thinks that on any given subject our views are essentially objective, the product of a dispassionate, realistic accounting of the world. This is naive realism, though, because we are incapable of recognizing the biases that operate upon us. . . . The bias we see in the news isn't strategic. It's real. It's real to us, at least, and that's as real as it gets. . . . We all harbor a different idea of what an objective news story should look like. . . . we all want objectivity, but we disagree about what objectivity is.

We are not objective; we are the very subjective products of our perspectives and filters. Even admitting that, though, we like to think we are the masters of our filters, that we choose our perspectives as something we consciously and actively control. But that depends on the experiences and information we are fed--our sources, if you will--being objective themselves.

What if our sources themselves lack objectivity, come pre-filtered with hidden perspectives? The truthiness post talks about a book that explores this issue in terms of media and marketing. The video below explores it in terms of the web. Did you know that your Google is not my Google? That we all get different results based on who we are? That we get no choice in the matter?

As if we're not situated enough into our own particular perspectives by the very nature of our beings, our latest technology is working to entrench us even further. . . .

From A Pre-Election Thought: Skepticism As a Habit of Thought

Confirmation bias is the default mode of human thinking – the cognitive pathway of least resistance that we will tend to follow. If you force people to slow down and think harder, even in a manner tangential to the question at hand, confirmation bias is moderated by deeper evaluation. . . .

These experiments . . . demonstrate very interesting principles – that many people are capable of thinking more deeply and objectively about topics, even those that are highly emotional and political. In these studies external factors were used to increase abstract thinking and reduce confirmation bias in the short term. What if we can internalize these effects in the long term? . . .

This, in essence, is scientific skepticism. Skeptics are those who do not simply flow down the path of least resistance, giving in to the lowest energy state of thought, surrendering to cognitive entropy. Skepticism is about understanding the nature of cognitive biases and then doing the hard mental work of thinking complexly and abstractly about important questions.

The trigger for skeptical evaluation needs to be internal. In this way being a skeptic is partly just a habit of thought. The skeptic stops and asks, “wait a minute, is this really true?” When confronting an opposing opinion or interpretation of the evidence, the skeptic tries to understand the various points of view and will at least try to fairly assess each point, recognizing that many topics are complex, with good and bad points on all sides.

Being a skeptic is also about applying the findings of decades of psychological research to our everyday lives. . . .


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