“At 50, everyone has the face he deserves.” ― George Orwell
I told my dentist the other day that I was in my declining years. These days, each time I visit someone in the healthcare profession it’s bad news. Something big needs to be shifted, repaired, pulled-up, re-examined again and again or prescribed. I’m not sure if I’m going to make it to the end all in one piece. When I was younger, I just don’t remember all this excessive misery associated with keeping on. I think about it each time I bend over to pick up something off the floor in the kitchen. How long has that been such a pain to do?
My mental faculties are also starting to leak out of my ears as I sleep. If I don’t do it right now, I’m sure to forget a few minutes from now. I’m now more conscious of being unconscious. Does that make any sense?
“When I was younger, I could remember anything, whether it had happened or not; but my faculties are decaying now and soon I shall be so I cannot remember any but the things that never happened. It is sad to go to pieces like this but we all have to do it.” ― Mark Twain
Actually I was reading last night and it helped me realize that much of what I’m experiencing might be related to being locked up like a hostage for a year – and having to completely change how I work and live. The other dramatic emotional and cognitive catastrophe that I haven’t had the space to process is my own grief over the loss of my spouse. She passed away to heaven in the Fall before the Spring pandemic hit.
“I wanted to get the tears out of the way so I could act sensibly.” ― Joan Didion
Surely that’s part of what’s going on with me, the lethargy, the cognitive fugue, the confusion and even the disassociation from reality (what does that look like these days?). What about everyone else? Seems like each time I turn on the news our civilization is experiencing some sort of existential crises.
My own life is so often real only in the ways that I perceive it to be.
The current world around me, family dynamics, relationships that are changing, work and interests – all that’s happening in this swirling context that is life – is actually real to me only as far as I perceive it to be. I’m defining situations all the time. I hope to be accurate but so often my moods, fears and knowledge are turning my vision in different directions – sometimes away from the truth. Often what I want isn’t the truth but confirmation, comfort, or control. It’s the same for the whole world. A world with a cell phone stuck in their face.
“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.” ― William Blake
Why do many in our society feel so much disconnection and confusion?
I’m certain that the pandemic and lock-down has been at the root of much of our social feelings of calamity. But I also believe that there’s more to it than that. Something deeper. The way that individuals and groups perceive their situations – the worldview they use to define their reality – helps to explain why members of a society can function most of the time and, some times, can’t seem to get even the simplest goals accomplished.
I was working online recently with colleagues from other universities. We were examining extensive research a graduate student had completed on the college experience of students who are in the minority. The research was conducted using surveys of students from across the country. As we talked about a number of variables, all I could imagine was the vast difference in the ways that todays students might define some of these terms. Were we really getting accurate feedback on the research topic we intended to measure? Or were we seeing a wide range of different perceptions. I was afraid we were ending up with eighteen different versions of “when was the War of 1812?”
Theses days, I sit and listen to the “talking heads” on the television and I shake my head at all the confusion about basic definitions. I realize that some time this is deliberate, but mostly I suspect that people are just being ignorant. All the talk that’s swirling around in our information drowned society and much of it only generates confusion, not clarity.
“A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” ― Mark Twain
“The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend.” ― Robertson Davies
Maybe the best moral to my current story is that perception isn’t always accurate. It’s distracted by our physical and mental situations. Perception is often subconsciously used as a tool to manipulate others. So, here are the lessons I need to be learning as I sometimes feel like I’m falling apart and living in a society that might also be coming to pieces:
Don’t personalize everything – people (including me) are shaped by their context much more than anyone realizes.
It’s actually very liberating to listen to where others are coming from and to put words, comments and ideas into a larger framework. No one is an original. We are products of our family, our times, and early experiences. So much of why I do what I do is because of the roads I’ve been on and the people who still live in all of my cabinets.
Don’t ignore the wooden plank in your eye, while you criticize the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eyelashes (Jesus) – Matthew 7:4
Pay more attention to your conversations – how much time are you talking and how much are you listening?
We all start talking for many reasons. Not everyone is good at hearing themselves. This piece of advice takes concentration and practice. I’m still working on this one – mostly failing. I have to pay attention before social encounters or I’ll go into autopilot (and talk, and talk, and talk!).
Even a fool who keeps quiet is considered wise, for when he keeps his mouth shut, he appears clever. – Proverbs 17:28
Ask people genuine questions about themselves and their ideas – demonstrate real interest in others by going past the surface.
When you ask questions and listen for answers, it keeps you from talking too much (see #2). It helps you demonstrate your real self. When you ask questions you get the chance to go deeper, find out more about context (see #1), and practice listening. I was sharing with a friend the other day and I wanted to know some details about his life so I could frame his experience. But I told him, right from the start, that I wanted to focus more on his feelings than on the facts. I am typically never that conscious during conversations. Let’s all hope I get better at it.
We should stop looking out for our own interests and instead focus on the people living and breathing around us. – 1 Corinthians 10:24
Once I got my second vaccination I began to feel as if I (and civilization) was moving forward, inching toward an end to all of this turmoil, fear and uncertainty. Going to all those doctor appointments helps me to feel as if I’m a little more in control of my decline. Our medical care is so incredible these days. The fact we can immunize half the population so quickly is also unbelievable, isn’t it? As we venture into our post-pandemic lives, there are so many bits of advice floating around out there. Most is about lessons we should have learned.
“Perhaps the truth depends on a walk around the lake.” ― Wallace Stevens
When those feelings of falling apart surface, that’s the time to find ways to fall together
What I want to do is slow down and think more deliberately about my perceptions, about my situation, other people and myself. What about you?
“If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.” ― C.S. Lewis