September 4, 2011

Self-Unawareness for President

You know why we invented the remote control?
Or a washing machine for that matter?

Better still, do you know why we, as humans, invented buttons?

It was to regain control.
To satisfy our hunger for control.
To help materialize our yearning for some sort of CONTROL.

The three lines above mean exactly the same thing.
I realize that.
Thank you.

I'm trying to bring in some dramatic effect to increase the impact of the statement.

I read somewhere that repeating the same thing in different words helps increase emphasis.
The side-effect of it is that the reader gets bored and stops reading.
But if you're still reading this, I guess I don't need to worry!
Helloo… ?!
you're there right?!?!
You scared me for a bit there!

As I was saying, we like control.
We are control freaks.
And buttons, any kind of button (except the kind you have on your clothing), provide us with the illusion of control.

You press this button, the door opens.
That button, the car starts.
Click, Click, click… and the machines we invented will do our bidding.

And you know why we like control so much?!?!


Because in reality we have very little control.
Over anything.

I, The Pious Hippie, would like to put forth the following evidence for the above statement:

  • Our brain: Doesn't really listen to us. 
    And this one is easy to prove.
    Unless you're an accomplished meditator, I dare you to do the following.

    Firstly, prove that meditator is a real word.
    And secondly, close your eyes and just tell your self to follow your breath.

    Watch yourself breathe in and then breathe out. Just watch. In less than three minutes you’re going to be thinking about something else.

    I would bet my life on it.

    I can't- but I would.

    And if you force me to, you're just mean.

    So, clear simple instructions to your own brain- and your brain acts like it didn't comprehend.

  • Our body: Not only does it NOT listen to us, we aren't even aware of what is happening with it at any point in time.
Unless you're a doctor.
Maybe not even then, sometimes.

We can tell our body to lose weight every minute of everyday, burn more fat- but does it listen?!?!
Say it Tarzan style- for fun.

In the winters, you can tell your body to not catch a cold- but does it listen?!

You can tell your muscles to toughen up and get all shapely, you might even help them with exercise… but you tell them to stay that way for a few months… without you exercising… do they listen?!

They don't.

Stubborn little pieces of flesh.
I hate them.

HATE them.
*Foaming at mouth*  

Annoying fitness experts may make you believe you have control over your body. But don’t believe them. They're lying but they don’t know it. YET.

They'll tell you that if you exercise regularly, your body will listen to you.
It will behave itself. But that's not true… I'm pretty sure.

Because sportspeople exercise- but they have injuries too.
They're bodies don't listen to them.

Yeah right.
They "misused" their bodies.
It's all a sham I tell ya.

Gyms, running tracks- they're all fraud factories.

I'm sorry.
Fitness and exercise- they're sensitive nerves for me.
I have often been misled into trusting them- thinking they'll help my love handles.

Its all a BIG fraud, I tell ya.

Anyway. I digress.

  • Our circumstances: This is a little philosophical- so I'm not going to dwell on this for too long. Not half as long as the previous point.

We have very little control over our circumstances. Everyone knows that.
From the household we are born in, to the hand that is dealt to us.
It's ALL out of our control.




If we work hard, we can change our circumstances.

Who let the motivational speakers in?!?

But a LOT also depends on luck.
And like other stuff.
I'm not sure about the details.
But there's gotta be other stuff.

I rest my case.
Oh wait…
There's more.

The last thing we have very little control over is us- our personalities.
Our reactions, our behavior.

Although you might argue that this is the same as us not having control over our brains- there is a subtle difference.
And if you don't agree -I'm not listening to you.

This is what my whole post is about- so I would appreciate it if you zip your lip.
Wow, I don't think I've said that since kindergarten.
Zip your lip.
Do the zipping of your lipping.
Your lip needs a zip.
It's such a versatile phrase.
I should use it more often.

Anyway, I think we have as little control over ourselves- as we have over our bodies.

It's only worse because we live under the impression of being all self-aware- or as I call it- the 'Shroud of Self-awareness'-which only makes it worse.

I think a few agonizing personal life examples are in order here.

So I'm a Libran.
And if you read the personality sketch of a Libran girl, you will see patience figuring at the top of the long list of coveted qualities that we possess.

And I've read close to 276 character sketches of Libran girls.
Oh okay fine.
I thought 276 seemed more believable.

You see, I like to learn about myself.
Especially from fortune tellers who don't know me.
I like to think of it as open-mindedness.
Which by the way is another quality they say I have.

So up until a couple of years ago, I thought it was virtually impossible to get me all worked up.

Worked up? Me?!
When pigs fly.
And when turtles moonwalk.

I took note of every time I thought I didn't raise my voice and took it as confirmation of my patient personality.

And then- during one of my arguments with my best friend- she pointed out that I might not 'raise' my voice when I get worked up- but I get shrieky.
Painfully so.
And she said that just after I had shrieked.
Which technically is just another form of screaming.

And I was dumbfounded.
I would have been offended if I hadn't just shrieked.
I would have spent a few months in denial- and then would have stopped talking to her.
Or maybe pointed out some of her personality flaws.
Or made up some flaws and then pointed them out to her.

You know why?
Because I thought of myself as a very self-aware, responsible person who knew exactly what she was doing and had a good reason for her every action.
And because I knew myself.

And it was this 'Shroud of Self-awareness' that precluded the possibility of me being anything else.

And I'm not the only victim.
We are all victims, to a greater or lesser extent.

There is this category of 'Intellectual snobs' who often are the biggest victims of the Shroud of Self-awareness.

The intellectual snobs- often tend to be well-read.
And they tend to derive all their self-respect from the books that they've read and the 'informed' opinions they have formed as a result.
And they are severely offended if someone challenges their point of view.
Often quoting the books they have read, dropping Russian sounding names that you don't know about and using Zen proverbs- as evidence that they are right.

But the Black Swan author (Nassir Taleb) has addressed their problem specifically, when he said:

'We tend to treat our knowledge as personal property to be protected and defended. It's an ornament that allows us to rise in the pecking order'.
This is wrong.

He didn't say it was wrong.
But I'm sure he meant it.
Read the book, if you don't believe me.

By the way- if you tell him I said that…
I'm going to deny it.
So put the phone down, nice and easy… and no one gets hurt.

Then there was this other case of an intellectual snob I know about.

He finished his degree from an Ivy-league university in the States and decided to renounce everything - to work with Indian farmers in small villages.

Ordinarily- a decision like that would make my eyes widen with awe and reverence and I wouldn't be able to stop 'WOWWWW-ing' about how cool that was.

The incongruence of it all was highlighted when I realized that he'd left his dad to repay his student loan and got his family to buy him a new state-of-the-art laptop which he would regularly use to post pictures of himself toiling with the farmers on Facebook.

Can you believe that?
And I'm not even kidding.
I would tell you his name- but I'm afraid he'll sue me.

Oh and I'm pretty sure he's thinks of himself as exceedingly 'Self-aware'.
By the way, he does consider himself to be- intellectually- a cut above the rest.
My imaginary lawyer told me to include this note here: The persons mentioned here are purely fictional in nature. Any resemblance to any person living or dead is purely co-incidental.

Not really.
But apparently, I have to say this.
Lawyers are weird.
Specially imaginary ones.

For a person who shuns societal rules, his whole life seems to be dictated by society. Only- the other way around.

He does exactly what society doesn't expect from him- even if that's not what he really wants to do.

And I'm sure staying in these Indian villages isn't what he really wants to do.

Anyone who still aspires to own expensive laptops and regularly post Facebook status updates from remote villages- can't really be down with the whole 'living off the land' routine. So in a way, he's still doing what he doesn't want to do- because of society.

But I guess the Shroud of Self-awareness is much too thick in his case to actually ever realize the contradiction in his actions.
And I'll bet you anything- that if you point this out- he's going to be like:

'Uh. You're stupid'
'You will never understand and I don't feel the need to explain'.
'Uh. You're stupid. I read that in a book'.

And then proceed to use these big words to personally attack me with carefully worded, irrefutable arguments. And I'll run to the bathroom and cry my eyes out.

Calvin illustrates my point better than I ever could:

Calvin: Some people complain all the time! They complain about the least little thing! If something bugs them, they never let go of it! They just go on and on long after anyone else is interested! It’s just complain, complain, complain! People who gripe all the time really drive me nuts! You’d think they’d change the subject after a while, but they never do! They just keep griping until you start to wonder, ‘What’s wrong with this idiot?’ But they go on complaining and repeating what they’ve already said!

Hobbes: Maybe they’re not very self aware.

Calvin: Boy, that’s another thing that gets on my nerves!
I guess what I'm saying is that self-awareness is over-rated.

Because being self-aware gives you the impression that you know yourself- quite well. When the truth is- I am the one person who is least likely to be objective in my assessment of myself. Least likely of all.
And that's true for you too.
And you and you and you.
I don't know why I said that.

And self-awareness creates the illusion that we know ourselves. And we, as humans, 'tend to take what we know too seriously' (The Black Swan says so).
And you can't argue with that book.
That book is wayyyy smart.

Like so smart- I need to read every sentence twice to understand what it means.

Quoting the book again, out of context again:

'We are phenomenally skilled at self-deception'

Being self-unaware allows you to find out more about yourself- instead of vehemently opposing feedback.
Being self-unaware- allows you to be less stubborn and open your mind.
Being self-unaware allows you to become a better person by allowing new information in.
Being self-unaware is awesome!
Self-unawareness for president.

Again, just to clarify.

I'm not saying all self-aware people are stubborn.

A friend of mine, provided the best example of this- during my recent holiday.

I was meeting her after about a year and a strenuous geographical relocation later. And she asked me:

'Have I changed?'

So much wisdom in such a simple question.
The quest for self-awareness tempered with open-mindedness.

So I'm just saying that it's a proven human tendency that people tend to hold on to their beliefs (especially about themselves) with considerable tenacity- leading to a mindset which is unwilling to take in new ideas or feedback.
Which not only inhibits growth- but also irritates, frustrates and exasperates the people around.
We may strive to know more about ourselves- but shouldn't hold on to beliefs without allowing them to be challenged or changed.

And if you don't agree, you're probably an intellectual snob.

Just another clarification -

There's a difference between doubting yourself and, therefore, accepting any criticism that is thrown your way and being self-unaware.

I have assumed that all of us can differentiate with a certain degree of accuracy which opinions have negative intentions behind them and which opinions we should be open to because they actually matter.

The Shroud of Self-awareness prevents the latter from being acknowledged.

You should totally ignore the former.

I would never suggest that ALL feedback is important-no matter who it's from.
That would be the stupidest suggestion in the world.

Like someone will come and say to you: You're stupid!
And you'll be like: Hm. I don't want to wear the Shroud of Self-Awareness, so I might be stupid. I'll work on it. Thanks.
That someone: You're stupider that I thought! I'm insulting myself by talking to you!
You: Okay. I'm going to try to improve. But thank you, for letting me know what you think.
That someone: You're boring me. I'm going to go pick on someone else now.
You: Okay. Stupid, more stupid than originally thought and boring.
That's a lot to work on. Thanks again.
That someone: Weirdo.
You: Stupid, stupider than originally thought, boring and weird. This is great. I hope I can pay you back for all this one day.
(Long pause).
That someone: AAAAHHHH!!
Is it weird that I'm beginning to like the second approach ?!
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The Pious Hippie by Ms. Pious Hippie is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.