preparation for something nervewracking

The person who is best prepared to live your life is you. Other people may be better swimmers or be smarter or whatever, but we have each adapted to our environment. The experiences we’ve had make it so that wherever we end up, there’s been a path of moments to lead up to it. For example, you don’t just end up on stage giving a speech. Somehow, somewhere, you have to have been good at something, even if that something is getting past security.

Think about the toughest people you’ve ever met. They are confident and know what they are doing and we think that there must be an incredible character behind it. However, having incredible character isn’t innate. It’s a matter of choice, consistently making decisions to take the higher and more difficult road.

When we find ourselves overwhelmed or ready to underestimate ourselves, stop for a moment. Think about what’s happened before. You have overcome every difficulty in the past. You never died (or if you did, you made it back). In your life, surely you’ve made decisions that were tough for you. Yet all of those efforts you have taken are now tied to You and your character. Today isn’t so bad because you’ve faced worse. And imagine, theoretically, that you are in a completely novel situation: by definition, you can’t have been prepared for it. There’s too much out there to learn and do, we can’t know everything.

And that’s okay. The “tough” person decision is deciding to try your best. Even if you don’t know what to do or how it’s supposed to go, you are never walking into a situation blind. Behind you, you have every moment of experience to lead you to it. You are meant to take hold of your life and live it. You can do this.

*photo creds to Cathy Barnard

the hocus pocus of phonemes on your life

Language is incredible. Strictly speaking, it is the process of conveying ideas and information. It is ambiguous, changing, expressive, yet structured and adherent to basic blocks. Animals can communicate with each other, even plants communicate through neurotransmitters sent out through their bodies, yet humans have gone beyond other creatures with language. Within words and phrases, we can express entirely fascinating thoughts, in such nuanced ways! When humans grow attached to animals, it is often because they can understand how that creature is feeling or desiring. Not too many people care about lamps, but creatures such as dogs can display emotions that we relate to.

Furthermore, even when we don’t realize it, we judge people based upon their language use. Education and socioeconomic status have been so tightly knit together throughout history, we assume those who are rich are able to speak more effectively. One of my favorite movies as a child was My Fair Lady, with Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn, in which a snobby misogynistic linguist trains a poor cockney flower girl to speak like a duchess to win a bet. By the end of the movie (spoiler alert), Hepburn’s character manages to convince a linguistic expert at some fancy ball that she is royalty from a foreign land. I loved it because the whole “experiment” showed that there was nothing defining the rich from the poor except how they held themselves, and the only reason they could hold themselves that way was because they had the time and resources to learn to do so. 

If we can communicate well, we are better adapted to succeed in our social connections, and can use those social connections to be better at our jobs. However, in order to become effective communicators, we need education. In order to receive high quality and quantity education, we need money. In order to get money, we need to have high paying jobs, ones that say, are dependent on knowing the right people and having the right social connections. There’s absolutely other factors involved, but language is one of the main dividing barriers between class. Beyond class issues, language can improve your cognitive ability to process complex issues. 
Don’t underestimate the power of language. Learn, read, try to expand your vocabulary! Knowledge is power. If you feel like you can’t express yourself, look through the dictionary until you can.  If you want to be better at life, learn how to communicate with the humans around you. 

“I want to die. lol.”

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The most beautiful part of any day is the fact that it exists. Particularly among the younger generations who’ve grown up alongside social media and computer technology, there’s a generally negative culture. Posting something means you are motivated emotionally to do so, and in most instances, we tend to feel more motivated by negative emotions than positive ones. That means what’s going onto our walls and blogs reflects those same emotions. There are jokes about the void, nihilism, and the ‘sweet embrace of death’ because we deal with these heavy feelings through humor. Linguistically, we’ve developed a form of hyperbolic speech contrasted with minor events and appropriated entire concepts into slang like “same”. However, we can get easily overwhelmed by this constant stream and begin to cultivate unhealthy thought processes.

Just take a moment to pause yourself and think about what you see everyday. We like to think of ourselves as unaffected by propaganda compared to the normal population (It’s called the third-person effect) but the truth is that, statistically speaking, you are affected by the media. There’s a whole slew of phenomenon and theories about it, but spending hours on social media has an impact on your psychological health. I am not immune, you are not immune, your friends aren’t immune; it’s just a result of living. It’s not always a bad thing either, but it is always good to be aware of what we are reading.

When you read these jokes and are surrounded with an atmosphere that mocks existence, it can be easy to feel purposeless. However, the existence of existence is important. Some claim that it would be better to not have been born at all. If you weren’t born, after all, then you would’t feel all the pain of living. You also wouldn’t even be able to appreciate nonexistence. Because we are, because we exist, we can feel every emotion. We can feel the positive feelings as well as the negative ones. We can laugh at stupid jokes and feel idiotic for not seeing something obvious. Existence and nonexistence aren’t comparable. Existence means being able to do something and grow past the difficulties. Existence means that you have the opportunity to both screw up your life, and also to fix it.

 

 

Davison, W. (1983). “The third-person effect in communication”. Public Opinion Quarterly. 47 (1): 1–15. doi:10.1086/268763

 

What we think we thought when that thing occurred isn’t necessarily what we thought when that thing occurred

Every time we ‘remember’ something, we recreate the situation in our mind. In fact, we can recreate and be influenced after the fact so much that we even create false memories. That’s why eyewitness testimonies aren’t as reliable as we think they are; by the time they get to court, they’ve talked to so many people, reimagined the events so many different ways. The way someone questions you can alter your memory so subtly and yet it makes all the difference. We see the past how we want to see it at the time. Mean people become kind, kind people become cruel. Memory is always faulty to some degree, but we can’t operate without it.

That’s why living in the past is so dangerous. Everyone knows people who are bitter. You say one thing and they can’t seem to let it go. Every inconvenience seems to be some large conspiracy against them. Bitter people usually get to that point because they’ve gone over their memories so much, they’ve recreated their entire past to always lead to the present moment of pain. Either everyone else is wrong and forced them into their current state, or they loathe themselves for every action they committed, or some combination of the two.

It’s not wrong to think about the past. You can learn things from history, can take valuable lessons away from events. It also can be a pleasant activity, remembering happier circumstances.  I’m not saying we should doubt every memory and try to live like a blank slate; it’s just not healthy to dwell on the past too much. Things change. Our feelings affect what we think happened. If there’s some knot you keep going over in your mind, don’t hate yourself for picking up the rope, get help trying to untie it.

Godzilla isn’t attacking NYC right now

Our instincts aren’t always the same. The concept of “Fight or Flight” is pretty common, but it’s actually not the full story. True, most people either run or try to take on danger when it comes up. However, some bodies’ react by becoming paralyzed. A few people want to change the concept’s name to, “Fight, Flight, or Freeze”.  That’s why there are those few ‘idiotic’ people in thriller-apocalyptic disaster movies that just stand there when buildings are crashing down all alongside them. When it comes to these certain core reactions to danger, we don’t really have a lot of choice. If Godzilla really attacked, you probably wouldn’t be carefully deciding what to do. Luckily for us, most of our interactions aren’t controlled by instinct, but rather by a filter of thoughts.

The Myers-Briggs test is a popular personality test, and one of the items measured in a person is their tendency to be either a ‘feeler’ or a ‘thinker’. Feelers tend to value their emotions over logic, the feelings of others and themselves are a primary concern. Thinkers tend to value logic and reason over emotions, with reason as a primary concern over emotions. It’s a spectrum rather than a binary, so one ‘Thinker’ may value logic more than the other. This thinking/feeling spectrum basically describes how much logic is in the filter you process your emotions through.

Instincts are different, our filters are different, our behaviors and thoughts are all different from person to person. Yet we are all similar in that we operate using both emotions and reason. We are heavily biased to change our thoughts and justify our emotions rather than fit our emotions to logic. Living is hard. Existing takes a lot of effort. You can be a feeler or a thinker or something in between, but it’s important to remember that most situations are not fight or flight (or freeze). We aren’t animals, our instincts aren’t the be-all, end-all, nor are even our more common emotions. Our self-control gives us an incredible ability to fight instant gratification so that we can make our future better. Use it.

Finding your optimum prime

Looking at bright happy things primes us to be happy.  Listening to sad music makes us sad. Of course what we see and hear and percieve affects our mood. Just saying it seems ridiculous, it’s common sense. However, we have a habit of forgetting this piece of “common sense”. We surround ourselves with people who make us angry, listen to angry music, which makes us remember all the times we’ve been angry, and then wonder why we’re angry all the time. It’s not just with anger either. As much as we would like to see oursleves as independent agents, the different parts of ourselves are brought out based on the situations we’re in. 

As much as we want to disown our flaws and take credit for the development of our positive attributes, both are a part of us. There will always be a weakness inside. However, what we can control is what parts we chose to grow and advance. A massive part of that is being a careful consumer of what you surround yourself with.

If you want an attitude change, you can’t do it while repeating all the same behaviors as before. If you feel unproductive, you’re going to need to turn off the phone that’s distracting you. Thoughts and actions are intimately related. You can’t do one without the other. We are primed by our context, influenced by basically everything around us. There’s only so much we can do to control that, but we aren’t powerless either. Don’t let things just be, this is your life. 

The nature of courage

Being able to learn is a gift. One of your common phrases of conventional wisdom is that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result. The idea someone would purposely do the same thing over and over again is absurd because who would ever want to live that way? Stagnant? A common horror trope is having someone live the same day over and over again. Even if it’s a wonderful day, over time it becomes a miserable prison. The real question, however, is why we let ourselves remain stagnant when we’re not even caught in such a loop. 

I’d argue that we are mostly held back by our fear. It’s easier to fear the unknown, so we tell ourselves its okay to live without ever really moving forward, even if we’re miserable there. It’s not that you don’t want to be an artist, it’s that you fear being able to support yourself. It’s not that you don’t want to write a book, it’s that you fear no one will like it. It’s not that you hate strangers, it’s that you fear they will hate you. The core destroyer of dreams isn’t some parent or teacher or reality even, but the fact that we are afraid of what we don’t know. 

And yet! We long to grow. It’s the most satisfying part of every narrative. We are humans who love to learn, we’ve developed entire fields based on a simple question: “Why?” Maybe you feel 100% content with your life, but if you do, you are in a very small number. Everyone can improve themselves, everyone can learn to be better than who they were yesterday. Fear is always there. Courage, however, is being able to scream and crawl your way past it so you just get it done. Be courageous, learn and grow, even when you want to play things on repeat. 

Action and Caring

The thing about kindness is that you don’t have to really ‘mean’ it. If you are a human that exists, you have affected other people, thousands of people, even if only in some minuscule way. Each action says something about you, whether you want it to or not. While it would be amazing to able to care about everyone all the time, we can’t psychologically handle that. People across the world tend to be too abstract for us to care about. That’s why we have things like religion, belief systems, and morals in place: You don’t have to be emotionally involved to show kindness. If you work at a soup kitchen, being supportive and bubbly is awesome, but even being there grudgingly helps out too. We have this strange idea that if we can’t put 100% into something, we shouldn’t do it at all. However, we get excited by the things we do. If you never do something, you’re never going to be excited for that thing in the first place.

Our thoughts become our behaviors, we know this. If you expect the party to be horrible, you’re going to act more anti-social and won’t enjoy yourself as much. It’s a self fulfilling prophecy to some extent. However, it works the other way around as well. Our behaviors influence our thoughts. Sometimes you have to be at the homeless shelter to actually care about the homeless. Perhaps the greatest gift our humanity has given us is the motivation to do things we don’t want to do initially, things that don’t directly benefit us.

How many times do you turn on the news and witness horrible events? Now, think about how many times you’ve genuinely cared about that, how many times you’ve donated your time and money to help. Churches and temples and synagogues and other places of worship usually involve some amount of charity because it takes higher forces to convince us that giving our time and money to others is worth it. In Puerto Rice right now, they don’t have power. In many areas, there’s not enough water resources for thirst or basic hygiene. This isn’t some minor hurricane that the island is used to, there are 3.4 million US citizens who are struggling to survive and no one seems to be trying to help.

The basic fact is this: you probably don’t care. This doesn’t have an obvious affect on you in all likelihood. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t help. You don’t have to care, you just have to do something. The act of putting in your limited resources is a show of strength of character. We can afford at least some small act of charity, some small thing that will bolster our own self-esteem. Donating for selfish reasons is better than not donating at all, don’t wait for your ‘heart’ to be in it, just help. The action will affect your thoughts, and your thoughts will affect your future actions; no small act of kindness is ever wasted.

Orange’ya glad I didn’t compare you to an apple?

It’s strange to consider that oranges, which are now commonplace in America, were once considered to be rare treats, gotten maybe one or twice a year. Oranges are sweet, but I doubt most people would consider it to be like a candy. We wouldn’t because we have actual candy to compare it to. Even though oranges themselves haven’t altered, they’ve been debunked from a candy to a sweet addition to a meal. The oranges didn’t change, the things around them did. If we consider ourselves to be an orange then, how do we take and utilize this principle? We start off by not comparing apples to oranges.

For simplicity’s sake, let’s say you have a generic person who has an IQ of 100, as that is the average. First, you put them in a room full of people who have an IQ of 90, learning a task the generic person already knows but the rest don’t. Then, you put them into a room full of people who have an IQ of 110, learning something that everyone else knows but they don’t. These situations aren’t fair. However, even if the generic person knows the situation, they are still probably going to feel brilliant in the first class and like a moron in the next. That’s considering the situation while knowing that it’s unfair.

We don’t know the situation a lot of times. We make attribution after attribution on halves of knowledge. Our sense of who we are and what we can do depends tremendously on who and what we are around. It’s not everything, of course, but the environment is a huge factor in our identity. Let me suggest this however; you might be an orange once a year or you might be the commonplace orange. If you think you’re all that, you might just be surrounding yourself with people who are less skilled than you. If you think you’re worth nothing, you might be leaving out a massive chunk of the real population. We don’t have glasses that tells us how much money, IQ, or how many friends each person has. We can’t see the details, we don’t know where people are coming from a lot of times. Your ‘sweetness’ is relative.

So what can you do? You can keep on being sweet. You can keep trying your best, because that’s the best you can do. Help others, be kind. Be ambitious and chase down your goals. Try to keep in mind that both fruit and chocolate bars are sugary and delicious but taste completely different. Keep going, you can do this.

Appreciation of Originality or lack thereof 

When an artist sits down and creates something, they view that thing as original. However, are we ever truly original? Even more accurately, do we ever really “create” anything, or just reorder materials? If it’s an almost an exact reordering, then its either a dispicable plagery or a marvelous copy. What is “new” depends on the situation, on our past experiences, and the knowledge that nothing is 100% original. We just do the best we can. 

To do the honorable thing would be to understand each process, to see each mechanism and appreciate its origin. But frankly, little Eli isn’t going to be thinking of the history of wax when he scribbles on a piece of paper. For most people and most situations, we don’t think about the origin. Are french fries really french? Why do we say “from out of the blue”? What makes blue frosting blue without tasting like blueberries? No one cares because it’s not as pressing a matter.

However, as we grow older and become more educated, we should. If you take the metro everyday, shouldn’t you understand it’s past and creators? Everywhere we look we can see where people have put in effort. We just don’t focus on it because it doesn’t particularly matter to us. Still, maybe even just once a day, look around. Be grateful. 

In the words of Ferris Bueller, “Life comes at you pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around every once in a while, you could miss it.”