Playing Hide and Seek with Ignorance

Why do we feel the need to care so deeply about what other people do? Total strangers grouped together as either an “Us” or a “Them” and we overlook the obvious that most of our daily interactions include people from both sides. We are always a few questions away from being able to decipher who is “with us” or “against us” in our short-sighted minds. What does it say about how we must feel about ourselves, to exhaust so much energy trying to compartmentalize everyone we see, instead of examining why we feel it’s so urgent to “know” where someone belongs in relation to us?

Ignorance loves games made simple; when appearance alone is enough to sort things out. But ignorance lacks such grace in regards to its own self-awareness. When ignorance tries to hide, it fails to realize how it mimics an infant covering its eyes. When ignorance tries to seek, it fails to realize how it looks to itself for guidance, which is futile. Ignorance is a perpetual infant. Yes, what an incredible superpower it would be to be able to cover our eyes and become invisible. To be able to escape reality for a while with a simple gesture. If we never remove our hands from our eyes, we’ll never have to worry about what we can’t see. However, we’re missing the point that we don’t actually have any superpowers. We are human – just like everyone else!

When we cover our eyes and embrace our false invisibility, we fail to see that everyone else sees us for what we’re choosing to do. By doing so, we never let people see what we’re capable of being, and let it be known in the process that we only seem capable of being duped by the same level of trickery that makes an infant marvel. Should we use this as a source of pride? By the time most infants become toddlers and enter kindergarten, they’ve discovered that playing peek-a-boo is just a game. The world of the hidden has been revealed. Their ignorance has been replaced with basic intelligence and rationale thought. As adults, there is no excuse for us not to be constantly reaching towards enlightenment that corresponds with our age. Yet, society seems to provide daily instances of how many of us choose to revel in the pride felt during infancy, and wear ignorance as a badge of honor. Once we leave the comforts of blissfully ignorant toddlerhood behind, we’re always old enough know better.

Cloudy, with a Chance of Anything

Gratitude is “the quality of being thankful and/or readiness to show appreciation for and the ability to return kindness.” The notion of gratitude is inherently positive. However, to practice gratitude we must also have a deep empathetic understanding of just how bad things can be or get. Every bad situation can be made worse. This can be referred to as “negative forecasting,” but it’s intention is to actually increase appreciation of the present. For example, my daughter broke her arm at camp over the summer. No parent wants to receive a call to learn that their child has been injured in an accident, and worse, not knowing to what degree. When they called, they didn’t say it was broken, just that she fell and hurt her arm. The unknown was maddening. Ironically, an hour before this call, we received a call from the nurse informing us that she had been stung by a bee while swimming. So when the second call came, and I saw the caller ID before I answered, I was definitely guilty of my initial reaction being, “Toughen up kid! It’s only a bee sting. You’re not allergic to bees.”

The entire drive to pick her up was a worry spiral, trying to think of the worst case scenario. “It’s definitely broken.” That thought was countered by, “It’s probably not broken.” When I arrived at camp, she was there waiting, in a makeshift sling and looking pale, puffy-eyed, and worn out from pain. Her arm was swollen and curiously C-shaped. She’s a trooper though, and was in good spirits on the car ride despite every bump causing her discomfort. Like the jackass I am, I attempted to make a joke with a layer of perspective wrapped up in it. “Bet that bee sting doesn’t seem so painful now, right?” She shot me a “you’re kidding me” death stare before breaking out into a knowing laugh.

I think we both knew her arm was broken, but remained hopeful that the X-rays would come back negative. They didn’t. A spiral fracture of her right humerus. (Insert, “there’s nothing humorous about that” comment here) Then, the doctor suggested a scenario I hadn’t yet considered. He said, “It’s a bad break. We get broken wrists and elbows all the time, but this, we only see this about twice a year. I don’t think she’ll need surgery though. She’s young and her body will likely heal itself just fine.”

Surgery! I never considered that she might need surgery! The situation could have been worse. On the way home, my daughter was in good spirits, and actually somewhat excited about getting a cast. We had a great conversation about perspective. I explained to her that as a parent, I never want to see her in pain, but I’ll take a call any day that she broke her arm – that she just broke her arm. Because the reality is that, on that very day, there were likely hundreds of parents receiving calls about their children that were far worse. She also learned the valuable lesson that pain is relative, and joked about the bee sting again. Luckily, up to this moment, the worst physical pain she’d felt had been a bee sting, or perhaps a shot at the doctor’s office. How fortunate for her, and for us as her parents. When you consider how bad things can actually get or be, it’s not an attempt to channel the spirit of Eeyore, it’s not pessimistic or cynical, it actually allows you to be appreciative. It’s a way to practice gratitude.

Equidistant

Depth perception is “the ability to perceive the relative distance of objects in one’s visual field.” In other words, how close we are to something or someone. If anyone has ever felt alone amongst friends or loved ones, you understand that physical closeness can pale in comparison to feeling emotionally connected to others.

On the first day of high school, back in the late 1900s, I recall a riddle the math teacher presented to the class as an icebreaker. The riddle was this: How can two people stand on a single piece of loose leaf paper, be facing each other and still not be able to touch each other? The quote attributed to Cesare Pavese, “We do not remember days, we remember moments” is apropos here. I remember this moment simply because I happened to be the one in class that solved it. I felt clever, which was something I rarely felt at that age, and so it stuck with me. It was also one of the last and very select few positive memories of that year and the years to follow. The answer is to slide the piece of paper underneath a door. That way, two people can be facing each other, with both their feet touching the paper, and still not be able to touch each other. Depending on the door, they may also not be able to see each other. It serves as a wonderful visual metaphor for how we can be physically so close to someone, yet literally unable to connect. The riddle is an example of two people being equidistant. Yet, in life, the feeling of being “so close, yet so far” is anything but equal. Feeling alone in the company of friends or loves ones is a terrible feeling.

This is paradox of self-improvement. When working on yourself and pushing yourself to be the best version of yourself, you often feel isolated. When you try to rid yourself of ego and maintain the even-keeled stoic state of being, you fail often and often feel alone. In striving to develop deeper connections, you may feel like you are slipping away. In your quest for depth, you may find it in a deep dive, only to realize your lost in the deep, murky unfamiliar waters, tugging at your lifeline and feeling no response. It’s a dark place to be – in waiting for a response, waiting for others to realize where you are. Do you wait? Or, do you keep swimming to save yourself?

As we wait, time doesn’t. Not all truths are warm and fuzzy, but that doesn’t make them any less necessary to know.

Stakes to the Heart

We’ve all heard the expression “risk vs reward”. This is the ratio of what you’re putting up in relation to what you can lose/gain by doing so. If the loss is too great, it’s not seen as being advantageous. The risk determines the worth. This is understandable in terms of business, or where there are perhaps monetary stakes, but what about when the only thing to gain/lose is expectation? This is a far more common occurrence. When is it worth it to risk the reward?

When it comes to right action, the answer is: always! For example, it’s worth the disappointment of holding the door open for someone, because the only thing at stake is not receiving a “thank you” for doing so. We can control our expectations. Even better, we can choose not to have expectations of others. We can choose to simply have expectations of ourselves and ourselves in relation to others. This affords us the freedom to risk all day long without consequence. Unexpected behaviors happen all the time. They are actually quite expected. That’s why expectation is the root of disappointment. Without unexpected behaviors, there would be no need for the expression “I told you so.” And we all secretly love the times when we get to tell someone, “I told you so!” Why? Because it means we were right! The reward is sweet validation. But how many storage units and safe-deposit boxes do you currently possess to stow all the pats on the back you’ve received for being right? Validation in this regard neither takes up any real estate nor has any monetary value. Therefore, risk the reward! Risk being proven right or wrong when all that’s at stake is validation. Why? Because it’s just easier to do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do, the kind thing to do, the compassionate thing to do, the empathetic thing to do, the decent thing to do, the polite thing to do – the human thing to do. Go “all-in” when the stakes are validation, because the true reward is the courage to risk being let down, knowing you’ll be unfazed by that outcome.

Curiosity Killed the Assumption

Resist the urge. Resist the urge to judge, to make a blanket statement, to write something or someone off, to jump to a conclusion, to assume you already know.

If that feels like an impossible ask, simply turn your assumptions on yourself. Make yourself the target, and simply assume your ego is in control opposed to your reasoned choice. Now, resist the ego’s request to ignore this idea – take a breath and take a moment. Simply pause long enough to allow curiosity to enter. Begin with considering what is so scary about getting closer? What’s so scary about moving in opposed to pulling away? Then, go deeper! Challenge the fragility of your false absolutes.

Curiosity slays assumptions, and in its murderous wake, so dies hypocrisy.

The Me in Metamorphic

When we hear the word, metamorphosis, we usually think of a cocoon, and the process of a caterpillar turning into a butterfly. We see it as a beautiful transformation. What we often miss is that although that magnificent change is complete, it’s still day one as a butterfly. There’s still learning to be done as the butterfly adjusts to its new life. The change is not the final step, but the first step of a new life. Does the butterfly mourn the loss of its former self, or simply move forward, knowing that going back is not an option? Does it realize that going back to the drawing board in this case means drawing up an entirely new design? An entirely new playbook? An entirely new path?

When we have transformative experiences, we often continue to dwell on the past, or continually examine the impetus of the metamorphosis, more than we choose to figure out what else we must leave behind in order to move forward. It’s important to consider what needs to be subtracted, however, it’s for more powerful and productive to consider what we will now add to our lives in order to create a stable foundation for this new way of being. Either you’ve changed or everything else has, but in a moment’s time, it was most likely you! That’s far easier to accept because you have control of you – you are the “me” in your metamorphosis. Onward!

Mind the Gap

In the absence of knowledge the mind will make connections wired by assumption. Bridging the gap in this manner serves no one well. We tend to fear vulnerability as a means of self-preservation, which may feel like a quick fix, but lacks foresight. There too is a balance between leaning into vulnerability for the purpose of meaningful communication and oversharing. Vulnerability exists on the surface and in the present. It’s taking ownership of how you feel in the moment, and expressing it with wholehearted courage. Being vulnerable doesn’t mean doing a deep dive into past pain to justify your present state of well-being of lack thereof. There’s a specific audience for that, and it’s up to you to know the difference. For example, it’s not the burden of your co-workers to entertain your excuses. That level of insecurity borders on arrogance. Everyone is dealing with life, which means everyone is living somewhere on the spectrum of joy and pain too. To presume your reasons are more valid than someone else’s, may very well lead them to assume your are unable to maintain your professional responsibilities. Conversely, never speaking up and/or constantly making excuses that don’t speak to the reality or severity of your situation is equally ignorant. Now you’re allowing plenty of runway for assumptions to be made, which will likely not be made with much empathy. The phrase, “Mind the gap” is used as a visual or audio warning, calling your attention (making you aware) that there is a gap to be mindful of. Minding the gap is the starting line of self-awareness.