The School Of Practical Philosophy: Philosophy Works - Week Four
Posted February 8, 2011 at 9:05 AM by Ben Nadel
So far, I have to say that week four of Philosophy Works has been the most fun. There was just something very engaging about today's topic; and, I think we were generating some really fruitful conversations in class. For the most part, we get the same crowd each Monday and I think this is paying off dividends in the level of comfort that we have established as a group. Obviously, I can't speak for anyone else, but I found today to be very mentally stimulating - I definitely had the machinery firing at full blast, trying to connect dots.
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As always, we spend the first part of the class talking about our experiences during the previous week. At the end of last week's class, we were left with the practice of being mindful that, "Whoever or whatever is in front of you is your teacher." For this, I shared my experience with Clark Valberg.
Here, at Epicenter Consulting, we concentrate heavily on user experience (UX) and interaction design. This is something that I feel like I am getting much better at; but, Clark still has better, more empathetic instincts than I do on this topic. I know this. I understand this; and yet, when he offers me constructive criticism, I often times feel begrudgal inside me.
It's not that I think his advice is bad; of course, there are times when I do disagree with him. But, more often than not, I know that his advice is spot on. I might even be aware of it in the moment; and still, I find myself resisting the advice.
I'd say that this is an issue of pride; but, when it comes to something like ColdFusion programming, I absolutely love it when people give me advice. In fact, if you call me out on something and offer a better way of doing it, chances are I'll celebrate your advice and spin it off into its own blog post.
Clearly, I am not adverse to learning from others. So, what is it about UX work vs. programming work that inhibits my ability to learn from my teachers?
Perhaps it's simply an issue of comfort level - I am comfortable enough in programming that I am open to advice. What I hope, though, is that simply being mindful of this response will help me overcome it. Plus, I am pretty sure that I can come up with some sort of mechanism to help break the cycle. For example, if I see that Clark's idea is better, I should admit it to myself; now, I'm typically aware of this, but I mean that I should actually take a moment and actively admit it to myself.
Once we finished sharing our experiences, the teacher started to talk about Desire and Action. That, in life, we tend to go from Desire to Action, to Desire to Action, and so on and so forth. Then, she expanded upon this to explain that what we should do is try to go from: Desire to Action to Rest and so on - that it was the constant switch between Desire and Action that fills us with unhappiness.
Immediately, something about this didn't sit right with me. For starters, I had trouble reconciling this concept with the idea that, It's the journey that makes us happy, not the destination. If it's the journey that makes us happy, then what purpose is "rest" serving?
As we started to discuss this idea, one of my classmates shared with us that when he is doing something that he enjoys, he actually finds the Action itself energizing. I told him that I thought what he said made complete sense. And, I then added that the inclusion of Rest only seems valid if your Actions are not aligned with your Desires.
As the conversation progressed, a few people started to talk about anxiety - that performing Actions caused anxiety, which required Rest and recovery. It was at this point that I suddenly connected a few dots in my head.
Thanks to Randall Jennings, I had recently watched a beautiful TED talk on Vulnerability (Brene Brown - The Power of Vulnerability). In the video, Brene Brown talks about the power of vulnerability and the fact that there is a high correlation between happiness and one's ability to be vulnerable. That is, people who aren't afraid of being vulnerable tend to be happier in general.
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Taking this idea of vulnerability and overlaying it on top of the Desire-Action lifecycle, I proposed that it was not Action that caused anxiety; but rather, it was inaction that caused anxiety! By not acting on our desires, we fail to keep our actions and our desires in proper alignment with each other. And, as I hypothesized before, it's this kind of misalignment that wears us down and necessitates Rest and recovery.
As I talked about vulnerability and happiness, I couldn't help but think of the movie Hancock staring Will Smith and Charlize Theron. I'd always found the plot line of this movie to be deeply moving, but I couldn't quite explain why. When you think about the connection between vulnerability and happiness, however, the movie becomes almost magical.
WARNING: Plot spoilers!
In the movie, both Will Smith and Charlize Theron play angels. On their own, each of them is both invincible and extremely powerful. When drawn together, however, they lose their powers and become mortal. Once this is realized, the two have to make a choice - do they stay powerful and remain apart? Or, do they find happiness with each other and thereby become vulnerable?
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Again, we see that vulnerability goes hand-in-hand with happiness and that happiness can be achieved when our actions are in alignment with our truest desires.
Towards the end of the class, we started to talk about Attention and the concept that whatever we give our attention to, grows. We can give our attention to negative thoughts or positive thoughts. Our exercise for this week is to become more aware of the things to which we give our attention.
I couldn't help but think of House as another example of the correlation between happiness and vulnerability. He seems to possess neither of those qualities, but instead exudes power and misery.
So if the goal is to gain in happiness, how does one successfully achieve vulnerability? Deciding to be more "open" would be a start, I suppose, but we know that the first time we are faced with damage, or even the threat of damage, the resolve to be more vulnerable may fail. How do we stay the course?
I think it must take some kind of faith. Maybe faith in yourself, maybe in the form of that most elusive thing called self-confidence. If you are confident (have faith) that you'll be ok on the other side of that damage, then you have the strength to forge ahead. If you're not, then you retreat into your shell of invulnerable misery. So how do we grow the self-confidence it takes to forge ahead to the land of vulnerability and happiness?
Nice comparison to House (most excellent show, by the way). Clearly, he takes comfort in his power; but, at the end of the day, I am sure he would be much more happy if he just allowed himself to open up.
As far as finding the courage to open up, that's a good question. Perhaps you just need to do it in little ways to see that it works; and then, from this stable base, move on to larger things. For example, it's going to be a lot easier to tell a woman that she has beautiful hair or a lovely shade of nail polish than it is to tell her that you love her; but, if you start small and you see that giving love in little ways makes you feel good and allows your actions and desires to align, I am sure that it will be easier to eventually take that bigger step.
In my life, it has definitely been my experience that being vulnerable leads to good things. In fact, I can't really think of a time where it has not worked out (or at least that I have been significantly hurt). But, I am sure this started with baby steps.
-Randall Jennings is awesome
All these points I agree with. With House, they're really exploring his psychopathic ways and recently they started chipping away at that (Cutty's daughter for instance) -- minimally. He's still got major issues that I don't think they'll ever write out of the show.
Anyway, much like my last post (SOPP Week 3), I think the baby steps would help you TONS, Ben. Maybe I see myself in you which is why I get so irritated seeing what a great position you're in and why you should change your course of inaction to be one of action and a little less thought.
Here -- try this today on your way home: compliment a random stranger. Male. Female. Whichever. Report back tomorrow. :-D
Tomorrow, compliment a random female. Thursday, a known male. Friday, a known female.
Consider yourself challenged!
I'm enjoying this series.
For me one of the benefits of rest is that we can take the time to consider the things we have learned during our most recent "Action". We can go back through all the good and bad points to validate our beliefs. At that point, with the new information, we can modify our beliefs if need be.
I believe this is, in a sense, vulnerability as well.
I am getting better at complimenting people. Complimenting random people definitely is outside my comfort zone; plus, in NYC, that could come off as creepy... not sure :) Trying to make baby steps out of my shell.
I think the problem is that "Rest" is a rather loaded word. In class, the teacher even expressed the idea that in action, there is rest - that we can never cut out rest completely. So, I suppose that you could also say that self-reflection is an action unto itself. Self-reflection definitely rocks - that's awesome that you do that!
@Ben - once again, thanks for pointing out this post to me as it relates to the other. And by the way, it's AWESOME how you link your posts to other resources that relate. :-) I like that.
The part where you were talking about constructive criticism -- I don't know if this relates to you or not; it may not. But for me, I have found that I take criticism so much harder on things that I am intensely passionate about or care deeply about. And tying into vulnerability...some of those things, I care about so deeply and take the criticism so personally, that I won't even open up and do those things in front of people (or in front of most people). And that may be traced back to certain things and certain people who were SO critical of certain things in my childhood which shaped me into this mess that can't be vulnerable about certain things. I'll give you an example to illustrate the point I am trying to make. One thing that I am passionate about and care about is music and singing and songwriting. I have written a few songs, and I intensely enjoy singing them. A "magical" moment for me, perhaps the only "true" magical moment in my entire life occurred when I had written a song and got a musician to look at it and put music to it. I wrote the words in a matter of 5 minutes (or so). It was a crappy little song, and I just wrote it because it was a new experience for me and I just wanted to write a song. I wasn't prepared for the magic I would feel singing it.
The musician was a guitarist. He denied that he was a singer, and said he would never sing in front of anybody. But because of the aforementioned problems I have with singing in front of people, I was a little gun-shy at first. And I had never done this before, so, although I wrote the words, I wasn't REALLY sure how they were going to fit into the music. So I told him I had no idea, and he would have to sing it to start it out. Of course, we argued, since he said he would never sing in front of anybody, but eventually I won and he gave in and started it. It was like 2 seconds before the magic kicked in, and my throat somehow took the song away and my voice completely carried it. But it was magic in that I wasn't doing it myself, or not consciously, but I could just feel the music carrying my voice to where it needed to go. I am a very left-brained mathematical person, and there was nothing logical about this...it was very magical. It made no sense, but that was part of the beauty of it.
The reason for the above anecdote is to illustrate my passion for music/singing/etc. I really got caught up in the moment and right then, singing that song I had written, I probably wouldn't have cared and could have done it in front of anyone, and I probably wouldn't have cared what they thought, but that is the exception and a part of getting caught up in the magic of it. But normally, I can not sing in front of anyone, unless I achieve this almost supernatural level of comfort with them and/or know for a fact that they will love my singing and praise it. It's the same way with a few other things, things I love and am passionate about, but this is just an example.
And really, it has nothing to do with skill level of said activities either. There are things I know I totally suck at, and I have no problem doing them in front of people...dancing could probably be considered one of these things. But with dancing, I just don't care passionately about it or what people think of my dancing, so I could probably do it and make a fool out of myself in front of just about anybody.
And with singing, if other people sing in front of me, I am not critical at all of them. But boy, if I sing, I HATE it if I hit a wrong note. lol. I also hate it if I can tell the other person doesn't like it...and I probably pay attention to it to the point to where it does make the singing worse than if I would just let it go and not worry about it.
The Desire and Action explanation was interesting, but I surprisingly don't have much to say about that...I'll have to chew on it a little while and maybe get back with you.
On happiness, though...I guess this does sort of relate to Desire and Action, but the way I am going to discuss it, it will relate more to vulnerability.
I have this "problem"...well, it's not a "problem" really, but it is a chemical imbalance. It's really hard to explain, but I will try. I am sure you are aware of people who are medically depressed (which is sometimes referred to as uni-polar depressive). And of the people who are classified as bi-polar manic-depressive. Well, I have the opposite problem of the first mentioned, and 1/2 of the second mentioned...I have problems with mania. The way I define it is being "too happy"...it sounds insane, I know, but I am happy nearly all the time, and most of the time for no real logical reason at all.
One evening, as a computer scientist, I sat in the lab at my school laughing my head off at some problem I had come across while coding a project I was working on in c. It did attract the attention of at least one of my classmates. I am sure he thought I was loony. But I digress.
The point is, I am happy nearly all the time, and without cause. On the reverse side...yes...I can get sad at life events, but because of my imbalance, I handle them differently emotionally. As you can imagine, this can be very hard for a guy to take who has just broken up with me. A lot of guys have been distressed that I wasn't destroyed over the breakup. I tried to be sad, but I just couldn't. Now, granted, there have been a few where I had indeed been sad, but my "sad" is just different from other people's, and it is hard to explain. And a lot of guys had trouble, too, with the fact that I was independently able to be happy on my own without them "making me happy".
So, when people talk about things that can encourage happiness, it is very difficult for me to understand, because I am happy without cause. I have tried to understand other people and the whole happiness issue for other people, but it is very hard for me.
But, anyway, on to the point about vulnerability. I have already admitted that there are things that I can not or have trouble with being vulnerable about. But I am a huge risk taker. And since I can't "make" myself happy, or things don't necessarily "cause" happiness in my life (because I already am, due to my condition), do you think maybe that the causal relationship is the other way around with me? Do you think that it is because I am happy that I am a risk-taker? In other words, the happiness I have naturally causes me to allow myself to be vulnerable? Or maybe it is cyclical, but it just doesn't come back around for me since the happiness thing is an innate characteristic for me? (and by cyclical, I mean that you do things out of vulnerability to make yourself happy, and then you are happy because you allowed yourself to be vulnerable, and in turn that happiness allows you to do things out of vulnerability, which comes back around to happiness and so on). But with me, maybe it's just that I am happy all the time, so I just allow myself to be vulnerable all the time (with the exception of the things I am passionate about and can't take criticism about)
Wow! I'm liking you more and more after reading each of your comments. Whenever I'm hesitant about any life situation that I may be putting myself in a vulnerable situation. I ask myself "am I going to hurt someone by my action?", "what's the worst can happen?" Preparing for the worst case scenario makes me feel less vulnerable as I am ready to face the consequences. I also believe like Ben mentioned the journey is more important and crucial than the destination since through the journey you discover yourself which is a bigger prize than making it to the destination, like you said when you just started singing as it carried you through.
It's so interesting that you mentioned about the importance of rest. Many times it had happened to me that I'm struggling with a design or coding issue with few different options that I truly don't like then I go to sleep and next morning I come up with perfect solution.
Oh yeah, House is such an amazing show. House cuts through all the superficiality and makes us face the core truth in all of us. He cares so much for everyone but masks it through unbearable annoying behavior. I love him....:) I tell my husband I wish House was real, then we can go to him even for a viral fever...:) and probably would get yelled at...:)
Thanks for reading it! I leave very long posts sometimes. Sometimes ridiculously long. :-) And it gets worse late at night when I have insomnia, can't sleep, and crazy stuff flowing through my mind. :-)
I can totally related to you about taking a break from coding, and while I am not really consciously thinking of it, coming up with the perfect solution. I mentioned that to @Ben in one of my posts, actually, about how with coding, sometimes, I just have to take a break from it, and it comes to me. :-)
Love House! Blockbusters are closing all around, and they have quite a bit of stock on sale. I got House seasons 2, 3, & 4, so I have all of those now. Unfortunately, they didn't have 1...I guess it sold out fast. I love Season 1, so I may go buy it at a store at full price, like at F.Y.E. or something.