Tag Archives: Opinions

Understanding

“Papa, Anna Hazare is arrested”. My daughter was getting ready to go to school and abruptly told me this as I walked in to the room.

 “Who is Anna Hazare”, I asked, curious to know what she knew

 “He is a disciple of Gandhiji”

 “Why is he arrested?” I am more curious now.

 “After Gandhiji died, he started collecting money and gold. And cheated people. So people wanted to beat him. But the police did not allow that, they arrested him”

 I burst in to laughing. But she didn’t seem to care, probably because it didn’t matter to her whether that statement was true or not.

 But the logic is interesting. I think the word ‘arrest’ had a negative connotation in her mind and logically if Anna Hazare was arrested, he must have done something wrong. That he was a disciple of Gandhiji was probably inferred from how he looks. And she cooked up a seemingly logical story why he would be arrested, that fitted the context.

 What is interesting really is the order in which we form associations tend to influence the way we form opinions. If the original news was something like ‘Anna Hazare was garlanded’, I am sure the story would have been something different and positive.

 Look at the amount of opinions and stories we form about people and situations around us. Probably at the deepest level, there is a ‘first’ association we formed that has influenced the whole story. The first association definitely is influenced by memory. But why do we need to form that first association? I think the mind has a compulsive need to understand things; need to label, judge, analyze, categorize and compare.

 If the need to ‘understand’ drops, will all the stories drop? If they all drop, what would life be left with?

 Ignorance is bliss.

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You are what I think you should be…

At my new job,  I was supposed to meet someone for a discussion last week. Just to make sure that I make the right pitch, I enquired with a colleague how this person was. My colleague told me that he had never interacted with him, but from his appearance, he looked like a very irritable fellow. Soon I wasn’t the meeting with a person whose face exactly just said that –I am a very irritable person.

Like most of you, I too believed that someone’s face could tell a lot about his character; which means there is a cruel face, kind face, gentle face, dumb face etc. This incident made me think on this further. Why the hell there is a connection between how someone’s face looks and his character? Do we get it as a package? Or is it likely that one influences the other? Then what comes first? Does the character makes someone’s face the way it is (there are some people who think this way, especially when it comes to things like cruelty) or it is the other way round?

I found it hard to believe and as I thought about this a totally different dimension came to my mind.

There is already an association in the mind which maps different faces to different characters. We have learnt it from our elders, society and mainly films. That is to say, given a set of photos, most of the people would pick the same face for a particular expression.

Fine. Interestingly, this association in the mind forms a strong conditioning that influences our behavior.

 Typically our character has two components; one what we are truly made up of and the other what we develop in response to our environment.

Now assume that someone is born with a face that looks cruel (going by the normal conventions). He may not be aware of that to begin with, but the people around him react (unconsciously) to the way his face looks and this conditions their behavior. What they think of him is now ‘hidden’ in their interactions and his subconscious mind starts to react to this subtle message. If he is more of reactive nature, over a period of time and with many such interactions, he builds the character as conveyed by the people around.

I think this is what happens. People subtly induce the character on to someone depending on a patterns (association) they have in their minds and most of the people have no option than to conform to it. When they approach that person, there is an unconscious message that gets conveyed.

So the problem really is to do with the face and the patters all of us carry in our heads…

If there is someone who’s face and his character does not match (like you think he is a rough guy but he is actually a funny guy..), he is most likely a very creative person. Because most likely he has resisted this massive brain washing that the society attempted on him by being simply what he is.  

Add on:

Once I had a manager who (I think) typically learnt most  skills from books (including parenting, he told me once). There was often a problem between us. When we were in an intense conversation, I would take eyes off his face and stare typically at a blank wall or out through the window. For me these were the moments of intense attention, but he would take it that I have tuned off.

For all these games to work, people should have learnt from the same books or be from the same culture.

Playing with Perceptions

We all form perceptions. We categorize and label people, situations, places and objects continuously, based on some cues that we pick and interpret. They are positive, negative or neutral and are generally harmless in most cases (except that it triggers a pre-conditioned approach or response). When we have formed a strong perception, we tend to avoid situations involving that anyway.

Why do we form perceptions in the first place? I think our minds are trained to logically analyze things around us and this ‘ability’ gets better as we grow. Lot of the work that we do demand this; be it analyzing a requirement or assessing a person. And before we know, it is our personality, and we conveniently label it as ‘sense making’. Even the tools that we use help us reinforce this behavior. Look at this blog itself; I have to categorize every post and add tags and build a meta-data around it.

When do perceptions become a problem? I think, in relationships which are egoistic and demanding in nature. The two most obvious are romance and work. The moment perceptions are taken over by mind and ego, there is trouble. Some times real serious trouble. I think in romance (marriage included) the impact is not that bad because there is some thing called ‘belongingness’ which at times can overrule all such negative tendencies.

So let’s look at work. Typically in Indian companies, managers are supposed to assess the employees not just based on the work done, but also the behavior, attitude and other soft skills. Perfect setting for forming perceptions, which are ‘professionally right’. I think this is one of the prime reasons for stress at workplace and people leaving jobs.

As I said, mostly perceptions are typically formed based on ‘cues’ and is not substantiated by evidences mostly. How the cues are interpreted depends on the person (and I think where is processed – ego or mind)

Look at this illustration that I think we all can relate to:

Alex is a manager in a company and Erich is a team member reporting in to him. There is another manager David who, Alex suspects to be working against him. All of a sudden, Alex finds that Erich and David are hanging out together often. He is curious but decides to wait and watch. Sometime later, in a meeting David brings up a particular point against Alex, one which Alex thinks is not possible for someone outside the team to know. Now Alex’s perception on David that he is working against him is reinforced, and Alex forms a new perception that Erich is actually bitching on him to David. (Alex’s ego takes over here). Alex gives a feedback to Erich that he is not seen at his desk often and has been taking too many breaks these days. Erich if offended. (His ego takes over). He is now wondering why Alex is trying to find fault with him, while he has been delivering what is expected on time. Erich forms a perception now that Alex is trying to intimidate him. (Why? May be my ideas are better than Alex’s).

Now Erich is careful and but also uncomfortable that Alex is watching him continuously. In the months that follow, Alex is actually searching for cues to reinforce his perception, while Erich is behaving quiet unnaturally, careful not to give Alex any chance to intimidate him. Alex picks some simple ‘cues’; for e.g when Alex gives a smile to Erich when they meet on the corridor, Erich returns just ‘half a smile’ and turns his face away. Fine, Alex is at least confident that he isn’t wrong. The relationship between Alex and Erich becomes very formal and uncomfortable and Erich is now avoiding Alex as far as possible. Alex is also watching who Erich is talking to in the team, subconsciously looking for any changes in their attitude also.

Now Erich talks to David about this and seeks his guidance and in the process David’s perception on Alex, that he is a man on mean thinking, is reinforced. Talking to David reinforces Erich’s perception on the situation that he is being victimized.

 In the next feedback cycle, Alex gives a comment that Erich is ‘spreading negative energy’. Erich is furious and offended (ego is hurt badly) and wants to now prove that Alex has a malicious intention to corner him. His mind is now sucked totally in to this and is completely disturbed. A week later, they meet up to discuss the feedback and Erich couldn’t hold his emotion back and vents out his frustration on Alex. This reinforces Alex’s perception and now he is more the sure that he was right. Alex tries to portray that he is helping Erich ‘improve’ by pointing out a ‘hidden’ problem and expects Erich to thank him for that. Now Erich’s perception is reinforced that Alex has some malicious motive in trying to find fault with him and brand him. Alex also sense that Erich is forming a perception on him, and this reinforces his perception on Erich further.

It’s easy to assume where this is heading to. But the sad part is that we get in to this trap often in life and it sucks all the creative energy in us and makes our lives miserable. What everyone missed in the above example that there could be a genuine positive reason for the connection between Erich and David. And the existing perception of Alex on David, prevented him from seeing it that way or trying to find it out.

One of the most important outcomes of letting perceptions rule relationships is that it creates ‘false identities’ for us. When someone has formed a perception that you are ‘moody’ (and you know it) you will automatically tend to be moody in his presence.

While I do not think that it’s not possible (and not needed too) to completely stop forming perceptions, I definitely think we can stop it from ruining our lives and the others around.

Here are some thoughts and suggestions:

  • I think the first thing is to see situations and people as they are, without the frills around it. Rather easy said than done. But you we are more mindful and understand how ego and mind works, I think you will be able to do this
  • Drop the notion that people are out there to get you. This arises out of fear, and leads to the wrong assumptions we make.
  • Even if you form perceptions, don’t let your ego latch on to it. Without the ‘ego’ playing our side, you will be able to solve it through discussions.
  • Whether you have formed a perception or fighting one, don’t go around discussing with people. It feeds your ego and further reinforces the perception. Seek help if needed from someone who can help.
  • If you are discussing with someone on a perception issue between the two, don’t let your emotions to take over. That will further aggravate the issue. Stay calm and don’t lose your balance
  • If you try are trying to change a perception someone has formed on you and it doesn’t work, just drop it. Understand that it is his problem and let him deal with it. Stay away.
  • Drop the conditioning that everyone has to have good and right perceptions on you. Try to resolve it only if it has any relevance to you. Don’t let your ego chase it.

 

After all perceptions are transient, they are bound to change. No one is going to hold on to a particular perception on forever.