Blissful Abyss of Ignorance

stockvault-washington-dc-famous-landmarks112207Ignorance is a flaw. It is an equivalent of suffering according to Taoism and Buddhism. It does not allow us to see the world fully as it is due to our perceptual blindness imposed on us by ignorance itself. Dr Wayne Dyer, a splendid motivational speaker, claims that “the highest form of ignorance is when you reject something you don’t know anything about.”

Sadly, I have to admit that this type of ignorance is the most hurtful yet the most common phenomenon in our society. We tend to rush with judgments that very often are no more than statements saturated with prejudice. The latter word can be broken down into a preposition pre and a stem judicial which signifies something that was pre-judged which means that it was given an opinion based on illusionary facts rather than direct experience.

Such ignorance spiced with prejudice creates stereotypes and discrimination which is highly infectious among people. Behavioural psychology states clearly that certain ideas combined with people’s tendency to conformity creates interesting mingle of behavioural patterns within and outside the society.

In the 1950s a psychologist Minard did a research on a miner community of mixed racial background. It led to rather interesting findings, that is, whenever miners went underground it was the mining community that counted, there was no place for racial demarcation; however, when the same group of people interacted outside the mine, there was noticeable race distinction to be observed.

Minard explains that the notion of conformity is highly influential when it comes to social life, meaning that the group of miners were sociologically forced to adapt their behaviour to the normal social constrains while being up on the ground, whereas those same rules were no longer applicable in the distinctive environment of the mine. Finally, the psychologist comes to conclusion that whether or not prejudice is present depends on the social context.

Ignorance gives a green light to stereotypes and pejorative opinions towards other people, organizations, ideas. But is that all that lures behind this infamous state of oblivion? Unfortunately, it is only a tip of the iceberg. Ignorance provokes dependency, which nowadays is promoted big time.

Current research shows that people in the U.S.A. who know little about economics are prone to entrust this issue to the government, and by doing so, they tend to feel dependent on the currently ruling government. And this beaviour goes further: such people, in order not to get disappointed with the current state of economy, nor to shatter their unshaken faith in government tend to consciously ignore the issue, choosing not to learn anything connected to economy of their own country.

Such dependence is used not only by politics in their campaigns but also by media feeding people with already formed radical opinions which do not give room for thinking about the issue. We are bombarded with ready-made solutions instead of being given a chance to ponder upon a subject and do it our way.

Somewhere on the Internet, among other quotes, I found a statement which says as follows: “you and you alone can salvage your life. You and you alone can walk the path. No one else can do it for you.”

This made me think of how dependent I am of the opinion of the others, of the life style that is promoted by the others. What importance I put into living the life according to the rules that were created by our contemporary consumptionist society. Why? Because it is more convenient for me to live in oblivion of my own needs, to adapt to everything, ignorant of my own individuality.

Why? Because I don’t want to be different, I want to be one of many, a part of something bigger than an individual isolated particle. The need to fulfill my sense of belonging makes me ignorant of my own self.  And in the long run I am glad, because I know that somewhere out there exist people that can finish a sentence for me, people that will emit the same amount of ignorance directed towards certain issues as I do.

I can talk for hours about today’s awful teenagers choosing to remain ignorant of sociological context that is usual an important marker, and of providing any kind of solution – that is my ignorance, I accept it, and I know that there are many people that I can share it with.

Healthy? For sure human …

Apart from this unifying qualities are there any other “blessings” of ignorance? Well, many thinkers and researchers attribute their best performance to this paramount moment when they realise the vastness of their ignorance. Thus, ignorance is considered to be the first important step in education. An American philosopher Will Durant claims that “education is a progressive discovery of your own ignorance.”

Being conscious of how much each and every of us has yet to learn or discover is as essential as learning process itself. It makes us want to aim higher, reach for more, learn more efficiently. It simply keeps our mental self in shape. The need to know more and to go out of the shadow of one’s own ignorance stands behind our educational motivation.

So, after all, is ignorance a blessing or a curse? I leave the answer to you …

6 Faces of Empathy

stockvault-mannequin-close-up113938Imagine yourself being put in a situation that is familiar to you. Your brain recognizes the pattern, and you act according to the definition of reality dictated by your personal experience. Now, imagine somebody else in the exact same situation. Theoretically, you know the outcome. But what happens if the person responds differently? You lose control over the situation, because it is no longer your situation, it is unprecedented and perplexing to you. Now, there are two possible solutions: you can remain lost or you can expand your definition of the situation. Expanding the definition means going through mental effort of understanding motives and behavioral patterns of the other person. This process of putting your psychological self into somebody else’s shoes is called empathy.

Empathy is the key to control your reality by seeing a bigger picture, and accepting its existence. Using empathy in your personal and professional life can expand the range of your social roles, making your life a lot easier and certainly more fulfilling.

THE SOCIAL CHAMELEON

Empathic thinking can help you adjust to every social situation you find yourself in. You just observe people that surround you, and accept their presence. The more you pay attention to them, the more it is likely that you will involuntarily mirror their posture, even sometimes their accent. Unintentional mimicry is typical of people with highly developed empathic skills. The research has shown that the chameleon effect increases the level of likability, and allows every interaction to go smoother.

THE MAN OF PERSPECTIVE

Empathy allows you to mentally step aside, and observe the situation from a more objective point of view, which is very helpful in problem solving, because perspective thinking is a perfect tool for providing long-term solutions. When you detach yourself from the situation and look at it less emotionally, you are able to redefine it. Moreover, perspective thinking help you act, even if you are shy or indecisive. How is it possible? It is pure biology; perception and action have the same code of representation in our brain. Whenever perception thinking stimulates the brain, it simultaneously sends signals to the motor areas, provoking us to act immediately upon receiving a satisfactory solution. Marina Abramović, a Balkan performer, often uses this link to convey her artistic statement. ‘I want people to stop being the observers, I want them to be active, conscious.’  She does it by torturing herself or letting others to do “whatever they please” to her. There are people who hurt her, but there is always somebody who finally finds courage to stop the performance.

THE TEAM LEADER

Have you ever been to a meeting which ended up with everybody jumping to each other´s throats? It often happens when people just spit out their opinions not paying any attention to the aim of the meeting, nor to its participants. But what happens when people allow themselves to understand, and take into consideration more aspects? Their thinking is radically changed, they form a social linkage which units their perspective. The picture is bigger from now on, but it is more coherent, hence easier to manage. Great team leaders and successful negotiators use this basic feeling to achieve their goals. ´Empathy demonstrates accurate, non-judgmental understanding of another’s needs and interests,´ says Robert Mnookin of Harvard Negotiation Research Project. By detaching yourself from emotions and restraining from social or racial background, you can see more options, thus be more resourceful.

THE PEACE-MAKER

Being able to recognize emotions of other people puts you in a better position during every dispute that you might find yourself in. Naming the emotion lessens the impact which it carries. Your goal is to make a person think rationally, and provide a mutually beneficial solution. Emotions like anger, disappointment or despair are irrelevant to solving anything. They cloud the picture. People often forget about the aim, stuck in the phase when they just blame each other. Being able to put feelings aside and look at the problem from the perspective of both sides involved, allows you to deal with the unpleasant situation more efficiently – without having to pay high emotional costs of every quarrel.

THE STOIC

Recognizing emotions of other people can teach you how  consciously and objectively name your own feelings. Empathy is not only about other people, it is also about you. But recognition is not everything. Now you have to understand the reason, use your empathic abilities to research yourself, to understand yourself. Sometimes the reason you are angry or disappointed is minor or does not matter in comparison to the bigger picture. Upon understanding it, we are often surprised by our own emotions, and accordingly, we adjust them to the redefined situation. The more you detach yourself from the source of  bad emotion, the more objectively you can look into the situation. Such developed self-control makes your life better, since, according to Dr Kentaro Fujita of Ohio State University, with improved emotional responses you gain self-esteem and increased satisfaction from your life and from people surrounding you.

THE ACHIEVER

Empathy forces you to rethink, and redefine the situation by widening your point of view through other possibilities. Those mechanisms prevent you from automatic decisions and actions, that you are accustomed to. When you stop acting automatically, you start acting consciously, meaning, you are aware of your goal, and you are working toward achieving it. Having a precise aim helps you achieve it quicker, saves you a lot of energy. Upon understanding what you really want to gain, you can set a conscious and short path for obtaining your goal. Defining the goal makes you feel better about yourself.

Empathy improves the performance of a social group. You don’t have to change the world, but you can try to change your personal environment by changing the way you think. You are the most important person in your reality, but at the same time you contribute to reality of others and vice versa. Remembering this simple truth can in fact change your world.