June 25, 2011

Context is King

You know when I was talking about being a brain-paraglider and how I'm going to launch a whole new career called 'brain para-gliding'?

Well, here's what gave me the idea that it was possible.

More and more often, on the Internet, I see people who make a living as 'life-coaches'. Like you have 'soccer coaches' and 'tennis coaches' you actually have 'life coaches'.

Up until now, I thought life was something that came naturally to most human beings. You stumble, you fall, you get up and you get back going. That's the one skill God thought of giving us before he sent us on this earth.
That, and in my case, my geniusness.
Actually, the geniusness was also allowed in Albert's case.
Albert Einstein.

But now, we have rendered ourselves incapable of performing this very basic task. Or maybe, because it's so time consuming to do it on our own, we have decided to outsource it. Instead of learning the hard way.

So life coaching has become a full-blown career.
And probably a lucrative one at that.
This means that brain para-gliding has a chance at becoming a popular career choice. A very good chance.
I just have to belieee-ve.
My life coach told me so.

One of the topics that life coaches talk about the most often is self esteem. In today's highly competitive world, everyone is left feeling a little less than the other guy. So you get advice to change your perspective. To talk yourself into feeling better about yourself. To leave post-it notes on your fridge for yourself. To kiss the mirror and so on.

Of course it's important to love yourself.
To know that you're quite okay.
To know that you're special in your own way.

But what happens when the mirror kissing becomes a habit?
I don't mean that literally, but for some, even the literal sense would apply.
I know… Eeewww.

What happens, when you think that your specialty is all there is?
And those who aren't either the same or strive to be the same are lacking in some way?

Why doesn't she read about spirituality?
She's so stupid.
Why doesn't he have an opinion on capital punishment?
He's dumb.
Why does he waste his life partying when he could learn German?
He's an idiot.
Why doesn't she wear make-up?
She could look so much prettier.
How dumb is he to not understand Shakespeare?
Why won't they improve their grammar?
Why do they pronounce 'either' as ee-th-er instead of eye-th-er?
They shouldn't even bother talking in English.

By trying to measure everyone using their own myopic scale, they reduce the scope of their world so drastically that they will only be happy when the world is filled with German speaking, grammatically correct, spiritual gurus with make-up on who talk about their strong opinions on capital punishment, in old Shakespearean language.
As Scooby-Doo would say: Zoikes!
Don't ask me why I thought of Scooby Doo.
Short attention span, I guess.

I think it's important to know that you're not less than anyone else, but it's even more important to know that you are better than no one.

There's a small exception, but you'll have to read the rest of the post to get to that.
Don’t you dare scroll down.
I will know if you do.
I kid you not.

It's always easy to ask why? But it's harder to think of an answer. Because it involves understanding the context. It involves putting ourselves in the other person's shoes. It involves an exercise in empathy. It's a long forgotten skill in this cut-throat world of ours.

Why doesn't she pronounce 'either' as eye-th-er? Why does her grammar suck?
Maybe it's because she didn’t have the opportunity to go to an English speaking school like you did. Maybe, any English she talks at all, is self taught. Which makes her much, much better at English than you, because you had someone teach it to you. So instead of pointing fingers at her pronunciation, you could learn the valuable lesson of perseverance and never giving up. At the very least, admire her willingness to learn something new.  
By the way, I do know that 'either' can be pronounced both ways.
Both are correct.
I just couldn't think of another word as an example.
Ummm...You need to focus on my message here.

Why can't he understand Shakespeare?
Maybe because he was never interested in it. Maybe when you were reading Shakespeare in your room he was listening to his favorite music. So maybe you can quote a line from Act 2, Scene 3 of Macbeth but he could annihilate you when you start talking about techno music, because he knows everything there is to know about it. So instead of pitying him for not understanding Shakespeare you could admire him for being thorough and passionate about something.

Why doesn't she read about spirituality?
Maybe while you were reading the 367 Deepak Chopra and Eckhart Tolle books last year, she was training herself to just place her trust in God. So she may not have a sophisticated vocabulary of zen, chakras, auras, energies other spiritual gobbledygook but she could be far more spiritually enlightened than you. So instead of dismissing her as a spiritual amateur you'd be better off getting her perspective on life and happiness. 
Notice how I deftly included the word gobbledygook without anyone noticing.
I like that word.
It reminds me turkeys.
I don't like turkeys though.

The point I guess I'm trying to make is this.

EVERYONE makes sense in the right context.
By mistaking yourself as being better than anyone, you make the bigger mistake of ignoring the context. You compare apples with oranges and you rob yourself of the opportunity to learn from the other person.

Daniel Goleman, author and psychologist, has done a lot of research on social intelligence. He tells a story of three 12 year olds walking to gym class on the soccer field. Two of the boys, obviously athletic, are snickering behind the third, a chubby classmate. "So, you're going to try to play soccer," says one of the athletes, his voice dripping with contempt. The chubby kid answers, "I'm going to try. But I'm not very good at it. I'm great at art—show me anything, and I can draw it. Now you," he adds, pointing to his antagonist, "you're fantastic at soccer. I'd like to be that good. Maybe if I practiced…" The athlete, now flattered and disarmed, even offers some help.

Okay, I gotta admit.
I'm taking this story out of the context it was originally meant for.
I think it also illustrates my point equally well.
Which isss…
  • The athletic 12 year old thought he was better than anyone else, the chubby kid in this example. The minute he did this, he robbed himself of the opportunity to maybe learn how to draw.
  • The chubby kid, (in an awesome display of restraint and good judgment, by the way) jumped at the chance to learn something from someone who knew more about it than him. So what, if it had nothing to do with art?
And if I might add, so what if he acted like a conceited little punk?

Who gained something in this story?
Ding. Ding. Ding.
Round 1 goes to The Chubby Kid.

Lets face it.
All of us have judged someone at one point or the other.
When I worked at the bank in London, I'd find it hard to imagine a career that was serious and had nothing to do with finance. And so, when I'd meet someone who was a writer or an artist. I used to think, 'hm… that's a 'cute' career!'

I can't believe he does that for a living.
That's so weird.

If only I'd known, that one day I'd be writing a blog for millions and millions of readers. And drawing little sketches to illustrate my point. I'd have talked to them longer. And taken down notes. I'll never get that chance again.
If only I hadn't been so full of myself…

My cleaner may not have known anything about finance, but I'm sure glad I talked to her while she ironed my clothes every Sunday. Gabriele gave me some of the best marriage advice I could have asked for. And a free lesson in optimism in the face of hardships.
No, I'm not married yet.
But where does it say I can't take notes to prepare for it?
I stayed in touch with her via e-mail long after I'd left London.

The dumb guy from high school who wouldn't be able to carry on an intelligible conversation if you hit him in the face with it? If you could just get over yourself and talk to him, he could teach you how to have fun. Instead of wanting to have an intelligible conversation all the time.

Take it from me.
You'll never be the best at everything. And you'll never meet anyone who is.

When you meet a person, you have a choice. To look at him and say, he's lacking in blank-blankety-blank, so I want nothing to do with him. Or you could say, he's better than me at blank-blankety-blank so I could learn something from him.

Do what's in your best interest.

Now, a note for the skeptics.
The ones who think they're too cool.
Too cool for school.
Yea. You know who you are.

I'm not saying that you need to be in love with every person on this earth. Although, that would be ideal.
Most religions of the world have gone hoarse, by the way, trying to teach us that.

"We are all the leaves of one tree; we are all the waves of one sea"   
-Thich Nhat Hanh

But sometimes, even when you understand the context, it's not enough to make you want to bring some people into your lives.

For example, take a 20 something-year-old spoilt brat who blows up his dad's money on new cars, partying and alcohol. You understand why he's like that. He's never had to pay rent or utility bills. He's never faced hardships in his life to bring in a different perspective, so he will always live in that rosy little bubble of his. Until age, responsibility and maturity poke, push and shove their way into his mind, it's too much to expect for him to change. I guess one thing you can learn from him and his friends is how to have a good time. But is that enough to make you want him in your life?

Probably not.

But it's enough to help you understand him. And not hate him.

And that's a big step.

Understanding this is a big step.
Huge, I tell ya.
Don't short change it.

Because once you understand, you stop judging and you start accepting.

I know what you're thinking.
Judging shmudging.
Is there NO ONE that I can think of being better than?
Are all of us banished to always be the same as everyone else?
Not worse, but never better?
Where's the fun in that?
I'm just building up some suspense here.
Herein lies the beauty of this message.

You are always, undoubtedly and undeniably, better than anyone who thinks he's better than anyone else. Anyone who is stubbornly rigid in their opinions, even in the face of new information. Anyone who imposes their ideas or tastes on anyone else. Anyone who tries to fit the world into their mold.

You'll be surprised at how many smug, know-it-all, smart alecks live amongst us.
And most of them aren't even aware of it.

Such people have, inadvertently, stunted their growth, forever. 

As the saying goes:

Best is good, but better is best.

I'm going to let you chew on those words of wisdom now. So I'll end this post here.
Before I say something stupid and ruin the moment.
Think I just did.
Darn it.
Did it again.
So close.
Dude, I feeleth liketh I be fighting for a lost cause.
I'm gonna stop now.
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The Pious Hippie by Ms. Pious Hippie is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.