Am I in rigorous training against false impressions?
Yes I am!
Wait…am I? Let’s get real.
I see false impressions coming from a few different sources. There are false impressions that are purposefully made by others (“fake news”), there are false impressions I generate myself because I’m misreading situations (“bad comprehension”), and there are false impressions I generate myself because they fit with my inner worldview/narrative (“wishful thinking”). I think I’ll address these in reverse order, because that’s the order that I have the most control over.
*This is part of the Daily Stoic Journal I’m keeping, which is a companion to the Daily Stoic book. I’m on my 3rd time around reading this book, and can’t recommend it enough if you’re looking for an framework for living a happy life. I don’t (and won’t) post everything I write for this journal publicly, at least not yet. But this is one I’m good with letting out into the wild.
The job here, and it’s a tough one, is to keep my own thoughts, preferences, and opinions in check. Do I perceive this as a good thing because it aligns with the way I think the world should work? Or because it agrees with the way I think the world actually works? Do I perceive it as a bad thing because it goes against the way I want things to be, or the way I perceive they are? Have I decided who the good guys and bad guys are beforehand, then try to cram everything into that narrative?
One thing I do try to guard against is taking events personally. I try to at least look at them objectively to see if they line up. An example would be when I don’t approve of something one of the kids does or says. I have to immediately realize this isn’t (usually) intended to make me angry–it’s to further their personal agenda, which will never line up 100% with the story I’m trying to write about my own life.
Does that mean I let it go? Absolutely not. It just means I try not take it personally.
Am I always successful in not taking it personally? I wish. But not even close. An example would be someone shirking responsibility. See…even in typing that sentence I used the word “shirk” instead of the phrase “not meeting”. I have to set aside my own feelings about people who
shirk don’t meet responsibility to realize it’s something that is common in life, and something I’ve been guilty of myself countless times. But I do have to guard against taking that one personally, especially when it’s a responsibility to me.
In the instances I do take things personally, it helps for me to write them down and try to objectively see them through the other person’s eyes. That doesn’t mean that I always come down on the side of understanding why they did what they did. Sometimes I can still find a rational flaw in their motivation, or lack of motivation. But it at least helps me to find a rational flaw instead of a personal flaw.
And I’m not gonna lie–sometimes I can see no motivation from a person other than them getting what they want without regard for how others are affected. This is a real thing. It happens. And it’s another thing I’ve done countless times. Luckily, lots of people have been gracious enough to forgive me, and I can only make an effort to be just as gracious. But that’s not the topic here, so I don’t have to give myself that examination today. 😀
Another tough one, but at least it’s easier to recover from this one. I can always go back and apologize for misunderstanding. I can always re-absorb the information with more concentration, research the parts I don’t understand, and try to get context. I think the important thing here is to filter out what actually matters and needs further study. A good rule of thumb here is probably to give anything that gets a strong response out of me a closer inspection. If it makes me angry, sad, or scared, I should probably try to understand it better to find out if my reaction is warranted.
I guess this is one reason why I prefer to be alone when something upsets me. It not only keeps me from doing something reactive that I’ll regret, but it also gives me a chance to figure out exactly what part of the event bothers me and decide whether it’s worth being this upset over. Spoiler alert–it’s almost never as big of a deal as I make it out to be initially.
The other side of this is things that make me happy. I try not to inspect these as closely and take happiness at face value. Still, there’s value in stepping back every now and then and making sure I’m not just selling myself the story I want to be told. Part of that is having trust in my own perception, and I’m gaining more of that trust in myself as I grow older and have more experience.
I’m not using this term around the way it’s typically thrown around. I’m talking more about my ability to filter out all sorts of false information–a “BS Filter”. This is where I’m seeing the value of age and experience the most. Over the years, I think (hope?) I’ve gotten better at reading situations and people. I’ve learned that it helps me to look for motivation above all else. I feel like if I can understand what motivates people I can get a better idea of how their actions and words line up.
Take politicians, for example. Are there politicians out there who aren’t motivated by power and perks? I’m sure of it.
Can I name any? Uh…not with any certainty. In my experience, any politicians who don’t have these motivations aren’t likely to have risen to a level that would make me aware of them.
And the politicians are the ones that are actually pretty good at intentionally misdirecting impressions. Most of the people you have to deal with on a daily basis are amateurs at this.
Do I still get fooled? Yep. Does it happen as much as it used to? Nope.
History, both “history-history” and personal history, are a great source to start to understand patterns of behavior and begin to do some predictive analysis. I got a very late start on this in life, and I took some lumps because of it. But, luckily, I have a decent analytical mind when I decide to turn in on and focus, and I feel like I’ve made a lot of gains in the last 20 years.
I think the real key here is to be ok with other people having this “snake-oil-salesman” trait. I have to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume it’s not their fault–they were either born with the tendency to mislead, or they learned it out of necessity. They are what they are, and it’s highly doubtful they could ever be convinced that this isn’t a trait they should foster.
As long as I know what they’re up to, I can manage my relationship with them appropriately. But I have to constantly continue “training against false impressions” by always paying attention and keeping notes.
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in my life is that being burned usually occurs when unrecognized “fake news” is coupled with either “wishful thinking” or “bad comprehension”.
The remedy is to guard against all three.