Learning! — Construals

Social psychology teaches us that each person behaves predictably given certain social situations. How we talk to family is not how we talk to friends or people we don’t know. This isn’t a bad thing, of course, but construals, (defined as “how we interpret situations”,) are super important for how we go about our daily lives.

You’re going to treat people differently depending on who they are. If you’re talking to somebody you haven’t met, our brains will try to tell us how we should interact with them based on who we think we are, and it’ll scramble to soak up all the information we can about that person. Consider the story of the Prince and the Pauper. When they switch places, people don’t notice because they don’t perceive anything being amiss.

But the thing I find fascinating about this concept is how it bleeds over into philosophy. Specifically, I’ll bring up Ralph Waldo Emerson. He teaches us that each of us live in our own, individual worlds, created by our own minds based on past experiences and our own personalities (I’m sure you’re familiar with nature vs. nurture).

Our own individual worlds are incomplete. We are never operating with all the facts. For example, I might hate the rain because I work in a job where I have to deal with a lot (and I did have a job like that). You might love the rain because it makes your grass so much greener the next day, and it makes your house looked beautiful. This could, in turn, lead us to regard something as simple as rain as a positive or negative influence/stimulus on our life. I might have terrible days because past experience has taught me that rainy days aren’t good days. Your past experience could say exactly the opposite.

Now, obviously we can’t say either of us is “right” or “wrong”. We’re both right, given the individual circumstances, but what is the “truth”? Is rain a positive or negative influence on society? Even a question like this is fundamentally impossible to answer in regards to Emersonian philosophy because it states that humans are incapable of perceiving reality. It is always under the influence of past experiences, and these cloud our judgment. We can’t jump into the mind of the person that cut us off today to see that they’ve just had a stressful morning and are going to be late to work. If we knew them, we might be understanding, but to a stranger, we hate them because that’s all the information we have on their personality.

The closest we can get to finding the “true reality” is by learning as much as we can. Think of it like a jigsaw puzzle. We can guess what the puzzle may be if we filled out the edge pieces, but the more we learn and understand every aspect of the world around us, the more we start to see the full picture.

Long story short: Don’t jump to conclusions. It’s natural instinct to assume you’re right and the way you see the world as “correct”, but in the end, we’re all biased and seeing it through a narrow lens. So take those construals, figure out why you interpret things the way you do, and see if you can find another way of thinking.

Life — Taking Advice

Advice is a sort of shaky bridge to cross. It’s not easy to either give or take because of its nature of being lost in translation. People give advice based on experience, but one person’s experience never translates perfectly to another’s. Not all advice we are given is advice we should take. The proof of this lies in the fact that I advise you not to take all advice. It can hurt your brain if you think about it too hard. I know mine started to hurt, at least.

The funny thing about this post is that its an advice post. I of course realize that saying some advice is bad kind of ruins my credibility to some degree, but that’s okay. I’d say some of the best advice out there involves helping people break away from needing it in the first place. Being independent and coming to conclusions on one’s own is an inportant skill we should all have.

Anyways, the best thing I can tell you about receiving advice is that it’s always important to look at where that person is coming from. Advice is always meant to be helpful, of course, but the more diverse the life style, the less likely their advice will be accurately translated to yours. When I ask people for advice, I always look for people that have either been in similar situations, or think similarly to me. Yes, a contrasting opinion can help, but in my experience this contrast can often lead to different conclusions about how to handle situations.

So, whenever somebody tries to help you, remember that they are trying to help. If you don’t like the advice, or it requires you to do something you don’t want to for whatever reason, maybe it’s not advice you should take. Keep in mind that their experience is valuable, and you should never just throw it away, but hold to your own truths and values as a first priority.

Basically, follow your heart regardless of what people tell you, but set yourself a wide path. Let people guide you down that path and watch your step when people tell you to, but don’t become a different person and go down the wrong path just because somebody convinced you it was the best (or only) way to handle what you’re going through. Find the way that you want to do things, and take the advice that helps you do those things better.

To quote Emerson’s Self-Reliance, “No law can be sacred to me but that of my nature. Good and bad are but names very readily transferable to that or this; the only right is what is after my constitution, the only wrong what is against it.”

It’s often said that the best villains in any story think that they are the heroes, and it’s true, even in real life. We cannot hold to beliefs of society that good and evil equate to white and black. I do believe breaking the law can be justifiable given dire circumstances. The key thing here is to always do what you believe is right. Just make sure that you really, fully and truly believe that what you do is right.

Mistakes are unavoidable. We can only do our best, so when you’re caught between two bad situations, take the more favorable of the two even if everyone is against you. You must be true to yourself before you can learn who you really are and what you were really meant to be.

Life –Perception of Reality

Based on the readings of The American Scholar and Self-Reliance, written by Ralph Waldo Emerson, I’ve come to learn quite a bit about who we are as individuals and the things we should be striving for. Well, it would perhaps be more accurate to say my personal beliefs were affirmed and solidified by these essays, but in any case they’re good reads. They aren’t too long, so if you’re old or educated enough to read intellectual, nineteenth century stuff, it’s a good read. (Not trying to boast here, but you’ll probably be wasting your time if you don’t take the time to understand what is being said. You have to digest those works, so be patient!)

All-in-all, Emerson tells us to believe in ourselves. We can learn the most about everything in the world by learning about ourselves, and vice versa. We humans are complex beings. There’s a lot going on, just as there is a lot going on with the universe. In fact, we can take our own complexity as evidence that there is some Creator. Imagine, if you will, that all human life has been extinguished in the future. An alien lands on earth and is walking along a beach. He stumbles across an old watch. Opening up the watch, he can see how complex it is. There’s all these gears that twist and turn, and there is clearly a purpose to it. It wasn’t just made for the fun of it. Whether or not he is able to discern the purpose of this watch, he can conclude that at some point, there was some intelligent thing that made it. It is the same with humans.

Now, I don’t use this example to push my beliefs. I in no way am claiming that this analogy translates perfectly to humanity, but it definitely is a strong argument for some higher being. What then, do we do with this information?

Well, what can we do? The only way to truly prove whether or not there is a God is to go and meet him yourself. But we can look to other things to find purpose in ourselves, too.

Living life is the single most divine thing we as humans can achieve. There is a great world around us, whether we choose to see it or not. Even if it wasn’t made by a god’s hands, life is the most important thing there is. Even searching for this “higher truth” would be for naught if we had no life. There is no meaning in anything without life.

So, since living life is the best thing we can do, we can see that in all things, there is meaning. It doesn’t matter if you’re eating breakfast, taking a shower, doing calculus homework, or saving somebody’s life. There is no meaning to any of this if we don’t draw meaning from it. More often than you may realize, we operate on autopilot. It takes no real thought to get up, eat food, get dressed, drive to work, finish paperwork, get home and watch TV. There is nothing to it unless one puts meaning there. What does that mean? Well, whatever you want it to mean.

I know it can be a little frustrating (and as I would call it, a non-answer) to say that life means what we want it to mean, but is it not true? We observe, act, and experience the world one milisecond at a time, and through it we shape the world whether we want to or not. We, as thinkers, as people, as a society, have a responsibility to change the world, to make it the world we want it to be. But the key thing is, that time is passing regardless of what we do with it. We can’t not change the world, because we are by nature a piece in its puzzle.

So, the world really is what you make of it. We can’t all be watchmakers, sure, but we can’t degrade ourselves to mere observers of the world. No matter what we do, we are fundamental participants in its natural transformation.