For those who’ve been away, a long way away, maybe Wales, Japan, Mars – you should know that we’ve just had some European elections and in Blighty a party called UKIP came first – the first non-traditional party to have done so for “literally billions of years” etc etc. “Not since the dawn of time…”
The media are predictably going nutty. They claim that it sends a ‘clear message’ to the heads of Europe that the EU needs a rethink. Some concede that as only about a third of the nation voted it may not be that clear a message and that surveys indicate several reasons for such a vote. But it’s more appealing and of course a lot more dramatic to suggest it’s a ‘clear message’.
What’s interesting to me is the way in which the media’s clustering of disparate ideas, complaints, and protests into one ‘clear message’ mirrors the way our brains work with difference.
It’s often the case that we don’t consider the discrete, separate, possibly complex elements of our life on their own terms but bundle them together with what we know. Thus rather than accept that someone we’ve struggled with may be having a change of heart or is at least behaving in ways which don’t seem consistent with her previous behaviour we have a core definition which we don’t deviate from. Furthermore we want to be on sure ground with our opinions because in the moment of encounter those opinions prepare us. To be open to his or her difference means to let ourselves be less sure and thus more vulnerable.
Neuro-scientists have suggested that there are sound reasons for thinking in this way. To be reactive means to act in accord with information gained so far, to be responsive is to be open. As an evolutionary survival mechanism one can see how we learnt to tread warily in the past. We’re still doing it – much of the old brain is still in charge. The the sage advice ‘Speak softly and carry a big stick’ still works for a lot of people. (I’m not sure about stick sales but you get my point).
What we may be able to do via meditation and other contemplative practices is develop an awareness of how we tend to cluster our impressions together and thus limit the terms of our engagement with people. If we can think about it for a second people are never always bad or good, monstrous or angelic. However hard it may be to accept there will be moments when they escape the definitions we have inadvertedly written for them. But if we act purely from our survival instincts then not only will the encounter be limited it will also limit our ability to gain something – new information, insights, even learning. It may be scary at first to let such determining habitual judgements go so it’ll enough just to be aware of them at first. Remember that they may have a limiting view of you and that your being open to them may engender a similar reaction on their part.
Now try it on your partner. All the best…