Learning to See

We only perceive the things that we are programmed to perceive.

We recognize only the things for which we have mental maps and categories.

As such, mental maps and categories govern our perception.

Therefore, understanding the mental maps and categories that govern our behavior, the behavior of our communities, and those that lead us is paramount to seeing the world as it is

A simple example to explain what I mean:

Pro wrestling is fake.

Somewhere around the age of 8 or 10 years old, someone told us that pro wrestling was fake.
Each of our reactions likely differed – disbelief, confusion, anger or sadness.
However, because we trusted the person that delivered the news, we decided to put in the effort to see for ourselves.
Suddenly, we see that every move and every interaction is scripted.
We see that the elbow drops don’t make contact.
We see the fake blood.

The thing is, once you see that it’s fake, that it’s scripted, that it’s all invented – you understand how it works and you think about it differently.
From that moment on you can no longer unsee what you had previously failed to see.
Your perception is forever altered.

A few questions to consider:

What is school really for (here’s a hint)?
What really drives the economy?
What does television distract us from? How to broadcasters make money? (here’s a thought)

What does that tell us about their incentives?To educate? To entertain?
Why do we go to war?
Why is the national defense budget larger than and grows at a faster and more consistent rate than the budget for education (by a rate of 6 to 1, if you’re curious)?

The biggest barrier to learning how to see is fear.
It’s scary to see the world as it is.
It makes us confront the assumptions that we may have inaccurately grown accustomed to.
It forces us to ask why, the answer to which is usually not readily available or emotionally comforting.
Most importantly, it forces us to change our behavior and to act as if.
To act as if we have the power to change how other people see the world.
To act as if we don’t have to do things merely because “that’s how they have always been done.”
To act as if we care.

As we learn to see, our posture is forever changed.

As I see it, there are only two options:

1. Embrace the tension
2. Keep believing that pro wrestling is real

The choice is yours.

Fear, Tension, & a Spray Bottle

Not being a good husband

Not being a good father

Being a bad friend

Not being a good brother

Not living up to the expectations I have set for myself

Not being able to handle the adversity life throws at me

Not following my passion

Inability to identify my true passion

Not giving back to my community

Not making a difference

Losing my parents

Losing loved ones

Not taking enough risk

Losing my current sense of self and purpose

Inability to adapt to change

— — — — — —

The list above represents all of the things I Fear, or at least all of the things I could come up with in five minutes. The idea of Fear is an interesting concept. It is defined in the dictionary as,

“an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain or a threat.”

At the core of that definition is emotion, which is defined as:

“a natural instinctive state of mind deriving from ones circumstances, mood, or relationships with others.”

As the definition illustrates, there are a number of factors that impact our emotional experiences. It is my belief that while we cannot control many of the factors listed above, we can control our state of mind and how we experience these emotions. Therefore, we can control how we think about Fear and how we experience Fear.

It is my goal to embrace Fear and the inherent tension that is present in the outcomes that I seek and there underlying fears. As I reflect on the list I came up with, the things I Fear are decaying relationships, unsuccessful outcomes, not making a difference, and the loss people that are important to me. Fear, I would like to argue, signifies importance or significance. As such, by embracing Fear, we can use the things we Fear as a compass to make sure we are investing our time and energy in the things that matter the most to us.

Embracing Fear is like a spray bottle. Just as with Fear, there is a tension present in operating a spray bottle. To have any outcome at all we must embrace the tension, and press the handle of the bottle. The mist produced by a spray bottle goes in all directions, there is a level of uncertainty regarding where exactly the water will fall. The same uncertainty of outcomes is present when we embrace our Fears. However, just as with the mist released from the spray bottle, the water or outcome will land somewhere in the vicinity we were hoping for, an outcome that we are satisfied with and can live with.

Will you press the lever on your Fears?