Know Thyself

1335 Relax and Succeed - Where do our choices come from

I’ve noted before that one of the advantages of working with younger people is that they’ll often play video games, and there will be patterns to which games they are attracted to. This can tell me (or a parent) a massive amount about how that kid sees the world and their place in it.

Do they like cooperative games, or ones where it’s every person for themselves? Do they like to destroy enemies, or co-opt them? What kind of avatar do they use? After all, that is the face they chose to show the world. That is how they want the world to see them. That might be a facetious use of a character or wishful thinking, we have to listen more to know. But the things we’re interested in say a great deal about who we are.

This applies to fashion, hairstyles, what movies or series we watch, what books we’ll read, and what sort of jobs we’ll take, as well as what people or organizations we’ll invest energy in. Despite the fact that these are completely guided by how we see the world, it is amazing how few people even begin to look for patterns in the things they consume.

Why do we like some characters in stories and not others? Why do we like some kinds of stories and not others? What do our tastes tell us about our view of the world?

And what about those closest to us? Parents, siblings, spouses, children, business partners, coaches etc. What do they like and what can that tell us about them and how can that knowledge improve our relationships?

Some people (like me) prefer to spend time with people smarter than us, and different from us, who can challenge us with ways of thinking we haven’t encountered before. Others are more intimidated by new information or change and prefer to associate with only those that already agree with their current world view.

Do we like books about weak individuals? Are our favourite movies all about little people defeating big people? Do we dislike ambiguous endings and abstract art, or do we prefer it? Do we like games where we build things, or destroy things?

1335 Relax and Succeed - The things we're interested in

Do we like board or card games that require tricking others, or by negotiating in good faith? Do we avoid playfully spiteful board games or card games (Aggravation and Spite and Malice have those names for a reason), or do we prefer games with multiple ways to win?

Maybe we like shocking hairstyles or fashion that helps us gauge how open new people are. Or maybe we’re a teacher, and we prefer the quiet studious kids to those that are more kinetic and that might become ballet dancers or athletes. Knowing that can help us make decisions about our joy and our growth.

Since knowing ourselves can add value to our lives, let’s take the rest of the week and let’s look at our own lives. Let’s study our bookshelves, music collections, wardrobe and even our relationships etc. And then let us ask ourselves what these things say about how we see the world and our place in it.

While no way to be or set of interests is right or wrong, these things do influence which decisions we’ll make, and therefore which challenges we’ll face in life. They’ll also inform where we’ll feel comfortable, or where we’ll experience more stress. These represent our ‘crosses to bear.’

The aim here isn’t to improve ourselves or others, it’s merely to know ourselves and others better because that creates more empathy and better relations.  And that knowledge can help us enormously when it comes to making decisions about our future.

For those that engage in this seriously, if you’ve never thought of yourself in these terms before, prepare for some surprising self-discoveries along the way. We’ll all likely find patterns that we didn’t even know we subconsciously had chosen.

All this being the case, let’s all take the rest of the week and get to know ourselves. After all, we’re worth it.

peace. s

Unconscious Mannequin Egos (U.M.E’s)

1217 Relax and Succeed - Girl's LifeWelcome to today’s lesson in awareness and consciousness. Take a good look at the meme above. In creating it, an internet artist juxtaposed a normal reality with what is presented as a girl’s life in the media. It’s not difficult to see the point the artist was making. There’s a tense discrepancy between the one’s shallowness and the other’s depth. The piece feels like the sort of thing Banksy would have done if he was a young female artist.

That tension created by the discrepancy above is what today’s blog is designed to reduce. There are undoubtedly some beautiful works of art in fashion and I applaud people’s right and freedom to wear what they like. But that is a separate issue from discussing how adults come to feel tortured. And when we delve into why, it’s almost always due to their egos, which were themselves often created and fomented by marketers and advertisers who were understandably focused on sales, and not on human development or actualisation.

Ever since brands figured out that they could also sell the idea of being stylish, attractive, smart or even beautiful to men as well as women, the onslaught to change us all became genderless. Slowly, men are seeing their lives similarly invaded by notions of perfection until, maybe in some distant future, we’ll get anywhere near where women were in the 1920’s. Today women are literally bombarded all day long with appeals to their egos and the associated myriad of ways to fail. And of course there just happens to be a cream or top or shampoo that’ll help us bounce back. And that bouncing motion is what they’re counting on.

1217 Relax and Succeed - Boy's LifeCapitalism exists but its aspects don’t have to take control of your life. You can develop a healthy awareness that can insulate you. Next time you’re in a store waiting in line and you can see the magazines, just look at the headlines on the cover and decipher how they are tugging at your ego–how they are suggesting the importance of some ideal? What mechanisms are they using to convey that you or your life is lacking or wrong? Photoshop? A headline? A tip?

If you do this exercise for the rest of this month, you will easily notice that most modern popular magazines are quite literally about how to be a shallow person and base your happiness on your appearance and/or your reputation for being hip; they set impossible standards and create ridiculous expectations, and they encourage both narcissism and the formation of a goading ego. In fact an ego is essentially what they are selling. A Mannequin Ego, where a person gets reduced to being a walking advertisement; a hangar for products.

I love design and I love artful clothing. But you seeing something and feeling that it’s right for you is a much, much different thing than being shoehorned into something “fashionable;” which only means it’s been marketed to the point of being the tyrannical uniform of “cool.” Look around you. That’s why everyone’s dressed so uniformly. They’re literally worried about stepping out of line. No one wants to be that Gary Larson cartoon about the deer with the birthmark.

1217 Relax and Succeed - Gary Larson Deer Birthmark PartialGet conscious. Witness how our egos are products that companies sell to the real us. Start making a conscious connection between that fact and your dissatisfaction with your life. I’m not saying never go shopping. Go. Enjoy. But go consciously. Don’t be buying things because they’re in alignment with what your social media feed told you you’ll get “liked” for. But what you–the real you–feels natural in. That’s the path to more peace of mind.

Watch your newsfeeds. Watch your TV and Web series. Watch your magazines and listen to your radio ads. Get out of your busy thoughts by focusing instead on who originally put those dissatisfied voices in there in the first place.

Start today. Become more conscious and more spiritually connected by seeing through the ego utilized in advertising. Because on the other side of that is a kind of peace, satisfaction and contentment that far surprasses the feelings that any external thing could ever give you.

Now go use your powerful mind to go create a worthwhile day. And keep your eye out for manipulations to your thinking.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.

Parenting in the Digital Age

I do not envy the people struggling to pull off raising a child in the new millennium. There are challenges today that have never existed before, and many routes through life that most parents have never even considered as a part of their parenting options. But if we want healthy children then we must consciously give them an environment that promotes both their physical and mental health as well as the ongoing maintenance of both.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn creating this post I came to learn that it is best presented as a four-parter that includes last week’s Friday Dose (which includes a set of links to relevant documentaries etc.), and yesterday’s Other Perspectives. In this posting I will cover the culture of fear and the value of freedom, mistakes and the nature of growth. In the next I’ll cover advertising, ego, insecurity and inter-personal connection.

First off, let’s remember how different it is for kids now that just a short time ago, because these are the biggest changes that the human brain has had to face since the construct of abstract language. This is big. Really big.

Let’s talk about children’s media environment rather than just the internet. When I was a kid you were too focused on playing outside to really find TV all that inviting. Yeah you had your big shows you watched, but we only had three channels so even until the invention of video tape there was no way to even see a re-run. The three channels shut off at 1am and turned back on at 6am and that was it. That meant we used to be influenced primarily by our family’s values and the values of their friends and the immediate culture you lived in. Today you’re influenced by your friends and peers even at home—via social media—but more importantly you 607 Relax and Succeed - If you don't fit inare influenced by two additional groups, and those groups do not have the same agenda for your life that you have at all.

Politics and advertising create most of the current zeitgeist. Countries used to be much more unique, and while they still are to some degree, the spreading of media has homogenized the whole world. People are dressing more alike, listening to the same music, and eating the same foods. What’s important is that the homogenization was designed by people who had a motive. Your motive is to raise your kids to be happy, successful, good-quality citizens who can contribute to their culture in a meaningful way all while building a life they find to be largely secure, rewarding and enjoyable. Politicians want you and your kids to vote for them, and advertisers want you to to get you and your kid’s money. How this shapes your brain is no small issue.

A key political strategy almost everywhere is to create an us by creating a them. The them is generally another society you can compare yourself against—so when your own country is in political turmoil politicians create an enemy. Maybe that’s a war with another country, or maybe it’s stoking fears at home about who among us might be untrustworthy or dangerous. It’s very easy to ask people to support your politics if you want to stop crime or violence. Who doesn’t want to do that? But there’s tons of research: jails don’t stop crime and there’s no indication laws do either. The one thing that science has proven over and over is that the easiest, cheapest way to stop crime is to make a solid investment in early childhood development. Norway did that and ended up having to close a large number of their jails.

607 Relax and Succeed - My friends love is better than anger
At this writing there’s an upcoming Canadian election. This man was a politician but I’m not attempting to influence anyone politically. My use of it is strictly for the quote.

Now the fact is that, no matter where you are, there have never been fewer criminals and there’s never been less violent crime. Never. Anywhere. And yet in survey after survey people are worried about what might happen. The biggest fear I hear about is abduction, and yet this is remarkably unlikely. Yes, agencies that get their funding for children’s protection will give you statistics that don’t mention they include stats on every divorced spouse who was turned in for having their own kids back to their vengeful spouse one hour late. Think about how seldom you hear an Amber Alert. Hardly ever. And when you do, you almost always learn it’s one of the parents or a grandparent that has taken the kids away from a situation they (rightly or wrongly) feel is bad for the kid. That’s not the sort of abduction that they do fear-laden TV shows about.

Cases where it isn’t someone known to the kid are so rare they make international news. Remember the British girl who went missing in Spain? That was 2007. Or the little girl who was kidnapped and murdered in Toronto? That was 2009. Just try to think of them and you realize there’s hardly any and there’s billions of people who’s children can make the news. If you were in poorest parts of Asia or Africa or South America I can see being concerned about your kids being grabbed because there’s an easy profit motive there—mostly so they can sell them to rich white people. But for the average North American, European, or even most Asians, Africans or South Americans, there is no rational reason to worry about your kids every day.

The number one place by far for a child to die is in a car with their parents. So why are parents so casual about driving around, and yet people are getting complaints from schools and parents, or their kids are even being taken by police or child services because parents let them walk to school??? So we don’t worry at all about the still-very-unlikely but much much much more likely 607 Relax and Succeed - Miracles start to happenstuff? Instead we’re going to freak out our kids by worrying about things as likely as lightening strikes? If you’re doing this you need to realize that you’ve been living in a culture of fear and it is adversely affecting your children.

Children learn from experience but adults can get like insurance mathematicians who are busy calculating the extreme potential downsides to every single thing that the child even might do. A woman in an interview said that she wouldn’t let a 10 year old and a six year old walk home alone because if something happened she didn’t think the 10 year old would know what to do. When the reporter asked what sort of things might happen outside of the aformentioned highly unlikely worst case scenarios, the best the woman could come up with was that the six year old might fall. Fall? From the height of a six year old? Oh yeah, you need maturity and a medical degree to deal with that, don’t you?

Let’s not be ridiculous. Can something happen? Of course, the aforementioned girl in Toronto was walking with her brother but he regretfully left her to walk another kid home. But it’s important to place that in the appropriate context, which is that hundreds of millions of young people made it to school just fine that day and hundreds of other days entirely safely. So why would anyone presume to load their kid with the entirely unrealistic fear that they have to limit the child’s life in the hopes of lengthening it? To avoid something incredibly unlikely? Generations of kids walked to school. I never ever remember hearing of a kid falling on the way to school and getting hurt. And even if they did, we’re going to limit the hundreds of millions of kids lives to try to potentially save one all while we’re losing thousands in cars?! It doesn’t even make sense.

We are teaching children to be afraid. Youngish parents write to me as though it’s the generation behind them that’s afraid, but my generation can easily see that there was a change, and for those paying close attention, it showed up when TV and later the internet took off. Kids didn’t used to read the paper. But they could overhear the news. And as more stations were created there was more competition for advertisers and so the news got increasingly sensationalized in the fight to get people to advertise to. News stations then went to 24 hours, so they had to find and even create news. As I’m writing this Fox news was just noted world wide for having had to apologize four times in a single day for reporting fear-mongering things that they later admitted were based on absolutely nothing. So why did those alarming stories get reported if they were made up? OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABecause they would attract viewers. That’s great for shareholders but very bad for your kid.

We’re also teaching children to be weaker. There are studies going on regarding why kids increasingly have no sense of direction. What they know so far is that modern brain scans show we all have neurons that keep track of where the sun is as you walk, and with experience it helps your brain understand where things are in relation to each other. So there’s no such thing as a bad sense of direction, there are just unpracticed and undeveloped senses of direction. But if a kid gets driven everywhere, how are those brain structures going to get built? They can’t. And so the kid becomes smaller than the parent when the idea is that the parent helps the kid be bigger than they themselves ever could have been.

You only have two jobs as a parent: to teach your kids what they need to know to live without you, and to love them. Of course they need to know they are loved, but they also need to know how the world actually works. Insulating them from that is literally constructing an incapable 607 Relax and Succeed - A child does not have to be motivatedkid and it’s why we’re increasingly seeing parents showing up to conduct their kids job interviews. My instructions to the companies I advise is to never hire these individuals because their parents are very obviously proving that they have built a child that is actually entirely unprepared for the workplace, or likely even society in general.

Sitting in a jungle four degrees off the equator and most of the way up a 4,200 meter (14,000 foot) mountain I asked an anthropologist what she had learned from the tribes she had studied for 23 years. She told me it was that she had unwittingly but grossly underestimated her children. We saw children as young as five walking across tree trunks to cross very high gorges and they would do so without an adult nearby. They were trusted and they responded to that trust by simply watching the people around them, all of whom walked confidently across the makeshift bridge. And then the kids did what every kid does—and they mimicked it.

So you can teach your child to mimic fear. Or you can teach them to act confidently. Because in 23 years that anthropologist never, ever heard of one of those kids falling. And even if one did, that wouldn’t change those parents. Because they’re not busy worrying. They’re not guided by fears about jaguars or snakes. They’re busy living a good life and in doing so they’re showing their kids how to do the very same thing. And every kid needs parenting like that. So who’s teaching your kids to avoid fear and enjoy life?

peace. s

Note: Tomorrow we’ll talk about how advertising and social media are changing how children’s brains are structured and what that means for them/you as adults.