Friday, June 12, 2015

Bubbles and Walls

Who says something often matters much more than what they say. An object's story often matters much more that what the object can do. How we feel determines our opinion much more than what we think. Even if we can't make a rational argument, we know the answer.

People are essentialists. We will value a piece of clothing that has been worn by a celebrity more than an identical piece that hasn't. We will even value an unwashed piece of clothing by that celebrity more! If someone we know to be senior, someone with gravitas, tells us a pearl of wisdom we will listen with bated breath. Exact same words coming from a minion and we will laugh them off. If we are given a mug, and then asked how much we will sell it for, the price will be higher than if we are offered a mug or money. We owned the mug. That changes everything. It becomes part of our essence.


Part of our own essence is the story we tell ourselves about our identity and the world. The story fills the gaps that we don't understand so that we have confidence to get on with things. A core part of that story is that we are good people. Nothing gets people more fired up than feeling judged. Our feelings of good and bad are so deeply wound up in our story that they don't change overnight. We have to overcome the massive barrier that allows us to think we are still good people, and we always were. Even if something we used to think is repugnant to us now.

Source: explosm.net HT Cammy

An example of this is the argument around eating meat, which becomes a discussion around factory farming and climate change when it gets to the 'moral bits'. I think it is pretty difficult to engage with the facts of the story and come away without your head spinning. Watching some documentaries about how we are treating animals is usually enough to buy a few weeks of fruit and veg for dinner. Culturally though, meat eating is so much a part of our story that it is ridiculously difficult to change. One of the hardest parts is being in social settings. If you refuse meat, you can be socially difficult. Special meals may be required, or simply not being able to be an unfussy guest makes things awkward. Your story may be that you adjust easily to other people's stories. More awkward is when people feel you are judging their behaviour. Because essentially you are (even if you don't make a big deal of it).

The easiest way to deal with offence is to leave the group. To defriend someone who has a morally repugnant view. Find like-minded people. The problem with this is that what we do as individuals is to some degree irrelevant. If a handful of people give up meat, nothing changes. If there is a massive shift towards plant based food, and farming techniques become more humane, and we get a handle on the climate stuff, then 95% of the battle is won.

That is just one example. There are plenty of other places where good people disagree on things that make them question whether the other people are good at all. We quite simply can not understand how the other person could possibly disagree. To do that we may need to let go of our story. That requires bravery. That requires empathy, compassion and to be honest... acting. We have to lean into the role of seeing the world from their perspective. We have to trick our body into feeling the way they do to even start to understand. Discussion isn't enough.

If we retreat into our bubbles, the bubbles eventually become walls.

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