Habits of Mind

Habits of Mind

I occasionally use metaphors from the predigital age. They may seem out of date to some people, but I like them!

For example, when speaking to my children (who are all adults now), I sometimes say it is best to live in the present moment – play – because this is actually all we really have, and is the most appropriate place for us to be at the moment.

I tell my children it is better not to live in the past – rewind – because that means dwelling on what happened or didn’t happen before now, regretting the passage of time, and feeling defeated because we are unable to go back in time and correct our mistakes.

I also sometimes say it is better not to live in the future – fast forward – because that means being anxious about what may happen tomorrow, next week, next year, and how difficult that may be.

Another predigital metaphor I like is the cracked record, going back to the time when vinyl records were pressed, whether 33 rpm, 45 rpm or 78 rpm. Of course, long-playing vinyl records have microgrooves, along which a stylus passes, vibrating and reproducing the recorded sound. But if you scratch the vinyl record, then the stylus skips and often gets caught on that part of the record, repeating the same musical phrase over and over again.

Some people are like that! They repeat the same behaviours, by reflex, automatically, reacting the same way whatever the situation. It even gets to the point that you can reliably predict how they are going to react, because they are unable to break the pattern of getting caught in repetitive behaviours – they may even be unaware of it.

And of course, LPs are brittle. You can scratch them but you can also shatter them. I remember playing frisbee with LPs once, when I was a teenager. My friend and I shattered a few LPs, flinging them against trees. The game didn’t last that long…. Of all the dumb things….

It strikes me that people are often subject to habits of mind, by default. These habits of mind condition their interactions with other people. They seize the opportunity to reaffirm something skewed in their personality that has become a structural necessity – and that “necessary” response doesn’t always sit well with what’s really happening around them.

For example, the short end of the stick: whatever the situation, a person feels disadvantaged, victimized, on the defensive, convinced he is going to be treated unfairly, cheated or even humiliated. Failure is the inevitable consequence of other people’s malice, and since there is no end to that malice, there is (potentially) no end to failure.

Reconciling opposites: when there are contradictory or conflicting views around the table, a well-meaning (controlling) person moves in to harmonize everything, minimize differences, denying there is any gap or rift in the first place. In extreme cases, this involves taking over other people’s lives by default, and forcing harmony on them. Reconciling opposites by default is a kind of intolerance. Of course, people often disagree in the real world, and it is no crime if they don’t see things exactly the same way.

“You are my destiny”: this often happens with young people on their first romantic encounters, when they lock onto somebody else, fantasize about that other’s person’s hidden potential, picture themselves as called upon to unleash that potential, and build up a compelling narrative about some hidden power lining things up, bringing the two of them together, and controlling their personal fate. The intensity of feeling shields them from insecurity, at least for awhile. When feelings are reciprocal, this can lead to a fusional relationship.

Picking an argument in an empty room: I know someone who is belligerent, argumentative, and always ready to launch into polemics, positioning herself as right and condemning others as wrong, no matter what. It makes you wonder whether her arguments continue behind closed doors, when she is completely alone. Somehow she reminds me of angry wasps swarming out of a nest, looking for someone to attack….

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October 31, 2019

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