I read about how ants communicate with each other by touching their antennae, and I felt that is fantastic! So many times I felt myself lack of skills of communicating my real thoughts to the people around, for quite a long time I dreamed of, it would be nice if I could tell my true feelings via some kind of “antennae”, like a handshake, a hug, or even just letting people look at my eyes, see how sincere I am. If I could tweak any part of the human DNA, I’d add the antennae.
But recent years I’ve come to realize that, actually I’ve been using that fantasy as an excuse of my poor communication skill. I blamed it so I could escape from that thing, I justified it as if I was nothing wrong, it was a flaw of human nature, life would be easier if we could communicate like ants.
Apparently I was wrong. There’s a huge difference between just thinking inside your head than verbalizing it and walking your talk.
When you are in school, you’re guaranteed to hang out with your friends, it’s granted, it doesn’t take too much effort. But once you step into the social society, it takes quite a lot of efforts to physically hangout with your friends. It takes your time, your attention, even you money and resource to do so. But all these efforts, because of the inefficiency, it means something, and your friends would appreciate it. It means in the busy world where we want more and more but the 24 hours today just feels less than last year, we choose to spend the time together with our family, our friends. It doesn’t happen by default, we make it happen.
It’s not rare that your good friend lives in the same city yet you’ve only met once a year. Some relationships do need your effort to maintain. It’s not a bad word, it doesn’t mean your relationship is not sincere. Because it matters, that’s why you need to put efforts, otherwise the world has all sorts of ways to get us derailed from the essentials.
So, now I don’t want any “magic antennae” anymore, all I want is to be more intentional about how I spend time with people who are truly important in my life, and really put it into action.
Again, it makes quite a difference, if your thoughts are sincere, you got to find a way to verbalize it, to act it, to find the exact word to describe it, to sacrifice your resources to make it happen. It’ll pay off eventually.
How do you see yourself, and how would you describe it?
Until I read this book, I’ve seen myself as a rational, reasonable human being, most of the decisions I made were the best judgements I could give given the situation I was in. Of course I made mistakes, and there’re some “would have’s” but most of the people would’ve done the same. I act like as a humble person everyday but I do know deep down there’s a arrogant aspect of myself, and I’m fine with that.
This book just helps me to uncover those events I consciously or subconsciously self-justified as “I’m right”, it could be perfectly described as:
When we explain our own behavior, self-justification allows us to flatter ourselves: We give ourselves credit for our good actions but let the situation excuse the bad ones.
The book explores self-justification through the territories of family, marriage, memory, therapy, law, prejudice, conflict and war. It helps us to preserve our beliefs, confidence, self-esteem and self-image, but also could get us into big trouble in all these areas.
You may or may not be aware of it, but it’s happening everywhere. Like when you take a super cheap economic flight you would speak to yourself, “look at how much money I’ve saved, this is definitely worth the pain and inconvenience”, and once you get the chance to take on first class, “look at the service and comfortable seat, this is definitely worth the extra money to enjoy a good journey”.
There’re some fascinating writings and stories in the book, how politicians could ever speak like a silly person, how the law enforcement is flawed, how even professionals reject obvious evidences and still claim they’re right, how convenient memory is and could be tweaked to support our version of self-image, how perpetrator and victims interpret to same event, and how a person who seems perfectly normal could ever firmly truly believe he’s abducted by an alien and even have children with them.
Here I’d like to pick up a few topics and add some of my takeaways.
You may have heard the quote: “We are the choices we make”, that’s indeed the truth but itself fails to reveal a compound effect of decision making. It’s as if we we gain 1 point when we do one thing good, and -1 when we do something wrong, but it’s not that flat.
This book introduces this new concept of pyramid, a pyramid of choice. At the very beginning, we’re all at the top of a pyramid, and then we face a situation in which both choices have each benefits and costs, like cheating or not cheating in an important life-changing exam. Then you make a decision with an implicit side-effect: you’ve justified it. Next time when you encounter the same situation, you’re highly possible to repeat the same action you made before, otherwise how would you explain the last action? Admit you’re wrong now?
Whenever you make a seemingly just one-time decision, you’re actually starting a process of entrapment — action, justification, further action — that increases your intensity and commitment and may end up taking you far from your original intentions or principles. So each time, remind yourself: how do you want to step down the pyramid or just want to be slid down to nowhere near your initial goal. Once you slide down you would fight yourself so hard to climb up.
This also reminds me of the hot news: FBI tries to force Apple into a backdoored iOS for “just this one time, we swear!”. Cook tells them no way. Apple is refusing to do so because that means to create a “master key” that could unlock any iPhone and no one could guarantee to do no evil.
Comparing the technology news to psychology may sounds absurd but I can’t help thinking, does it also mean whenever we use the excuse “just this one time I swear” to indulge ourselves, we’re indeed trying to forge a “evil master key” that leads to a dark path we definitely don’t want to go in the first place.
The big question is, again, would you like to step down the pyramid, firmly, towards who you really want to be, or just slide down with some crappy excuses to nowhere near your original destination?
The structure of book is Chapter 1~7 to explain in very details of self-justification in various areas, and then Chapter 8, the last chapter to give you some advice you can take once you’re aware of the wrongs and want to make it right. Maybe it’s constructed exactly this way to prevent people from hunting “quick-fixes”, but if you’re suffering extreme regret of actions you’ve taken, and eager find a way to cope with the scar on the soul, I recommend you to pick up this chapter first.
The book says there’re 3 stages in the act.
People can’t just skip the Act 2 to true redemption. It says “Active, self-reflective struggle to see the silver lining is a key ingredient of maturity.”
The guidelines I summaries is:
In our private relationships, we are on our own, and that calls for some self-awareness. Once we understand how and when we need to reduce dissonance, we can become more vigilant about the process and often nip it in the bud, catching ourselves before we slide too far down the pyramid. By looking at our actions critically and dispassionately, as if we were observing someone else, we stand a chance of breaking out of the cycle of action, followed by self-justification, followed by more committed action. We can learn to put a little space between what we feel and how we respond, insert a moment of reflection, and think about whether we really want to buy that canoe in January, really want to send good money after bad, really want to hold on to an opinion that is unfettered by facts.
Because most of us are not automatically self-correcting and because our blind spots keep us from knowing when we need to be, external procedures must be in place to correct the errors that human beings will inevitably make and reduce the chances of future ones.
Something we did can be separated from who we are and who we want to be. Our past selves need not be a blueprint for our future selves.
The road to redemption starts with the understanding that who we are includes what we have done but also transcends it, and the vehicle for transcending it is self-compassion.
Getting to true self-compassion is a process; it does not happen overnight. It does not mean forgetting the harm or error, as in “Ah, well, I’m basically a good, kind person, so I’ll treat myself gently and move on.” No; you might be a good, kind person but you are one who committed a grievously harmful act. That’s part of you now, of who you are. But it need not be all of you. It need not define you—unless you keep justifying that act mindlessly.
At last, as the book says, the most dangerous thing is not you make a mistake and find an excuse to escape from it, it’s the terrible thing you committed and are still being blind about it. I was that person, and I’m feeling extremely thankful for this book to make me open my eyes and reflect on past events.
I confess, I was wrong, I’m sorry.
Well actually to put it correctly, it takes a lot of time to change, but when it’s happening, it happens in a second. But we’re all suck at noticing those subtle signs, slowly fill up the tank.
Life is full of those unexpected changes. Not sure if I want to mention things that come to my mind right now, but when I look back I do have experienced a lot in recent years. Anyone, anything you firmly believed in might change in the next second, expected or unexpected, predictable or unpredictable.
So how to and what to prepare? You can’t prepare for all, so you’d better to have some wise advice, or further more, principles to follow.
You can’t do everything you want, but you can do anything you want.
When you look back, how many plan B turns out works way better than the initial plan A? If all my plan As worked I wouldn’t come to Japan, I wouldn’t have the desire to learn English, and I wouldn’t writing this piece of post for sure. Those examples will just get more and more when you grow older.
React with your best judgement at that moment. And how to make better decision in those situations? I think it’s through daily practices. How you feed your brain with great contents, how you educate yourself and tweak little parts towards mentally tough everyday, does have a huge impact when that day, that moment comes. Would you just let your emotion and impulse take control of your body and do whatever they want at that moment, or you could still be yourself, pause, and respond properly?
10% of life is made up of what happens to you, the other 90% is decided by how you react.
I believe there’re lighthouse principles that never change. They’re universal, and timeless.
One of the many famous quotes from Stephen R. Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. A set of principle based values will show you the direction, provide you clear sense of vision, purpose for the future, that you live by.
Surprisingly I found a draft principles I wrote in 2014, what a timely reminder. Don’t think at the time of writing I followed any formats or guides, some of them are probably not that universal and some are event just questions, but after reading it I felt quite, content.
Progress. Not Perfection.
(Just some random midnight thoughts)