Someone Unlike You

In my recent post, I recommended reading Laney’s The Introvert Advantage. The book offers advice and support to the “temperamental minority” of introverts, who make up roughly a quarter of the general population. It emphasizes that the western culture puts introverts at a disadvantage because it’s the extrovert traits that are promoted and encouraged everywhere. It brings to light the prejudice and misunderstanding that surrounds introversy, the shaming and rejection of introvert traits by the extroverted majority.

It’s all true enough but it got me thinking about the other prejudice that you can see some introverts hold: that directed against the extroverted majority. It’s barely noticeable among people – after all, it’s only held by a portion of a minority. But when an introvert talks to another introvert, you may hear critical remarks about extroverted people. “Why are they so loud? Why can’t they stop talking? Why don’t they think properly before doing something? And what’s with this habit of ‘thinking out loud’, why on earth can’t they think like normal people?”

And when the phrase “normal people” enters the stage, it’s usually a sign of some kind of prejudice. Don’t take me wrong: prejudice is just a thing that happens when we don’t know enough about the Other to empathize with them. It’s about a lack of understanding, and it’s about taking the shortest path to classifying the Other somehow. The introverts who don’t understand, criticize, or even reject extrovert traits (I’ve never met with shaming in this context), do this because they never put any effort into trying to understand introvert behaviour, or they did but found it too hard.

Photo of snow flakes by Aaron Burder
Photo by Aaron Burder

And it’s fine! We are different, and differences are sometimes really hard to get one’s head around. I wouldn’t blame another introvert for failing to acknowledge the benefits of thinking out loud – damnit, I can’t grasp this concept myself. But I wouldn’t blame a more extroverted person for thinking it weird to “keep so quiet all the time,” either. Everyone has their limitations when it comes to understanding otherness, and having a prejudice in the first place doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. We hold prejudices because they’re helpful in going about our lives without stopping and thinking about everything that surprises us about other people. In a way, prejudices help us make sense of the human world.

Most of the time they are wrong, though, because we came by them in ways that were too easy: we inherited them from our parents; we took them over from friends who travel abroad more often; we heard them on the radio from a guy whose voice always seemed trustworthy to us; or we formed them ourselves from what little experience we had with a particular group of people. Still, it’s not a crime to have prejudices. It’s just such a shame not to examine them when presented with contrary information, and to hold on to them when confronted with people as they are – in all their beautiful variety.

Because when you stand by your prejudices like they’re some holy text, you shut your mind off from innumerable possibilities to understand more of the world. And you also get really, really, really difficult to listen to.

I have more prejudices than just the prejudice against extroverted people, and I think I’m more or less aware of each. I could write pages and pages about them, but it’s not the point. The point is that life gives us opportunities to learn new facts, think and re-think whatever prejudices we hold, and change our minds if we decide to do so. For example, by reading The Introvert Advantage, I learned something about differences in human temperament, and started to shift from the kind of outlook on extroversy where “extroverts just sort of do stupid things for no reason” to one where… everybody’s different, and that’s fine.

I encourage you to use your opportunities. So go out and talk to someone, or stay in and watch a documentary, or read a book about somone unlike you. It’s worthwhile. I promise.

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The Christmas Weakness

Yesterday, I read an old post by Andreas Moser about how he used to hate Christmas. It emphasized the point that this thoroughly Christian ritual is forever being rammed down everybody’s throat, no matter what religious beliefs they hold or do not hold.

And that’s true. But for many non-Christians, and I dare say for some Christians as well, the religious aspect is irrelevant; what matters is that Christmas is stable and recurrent, and that it gives you an opportunity to connect with the people you trust more than other people (it doesn’t have to be family), and also to rest.

With the stability and recurrence of any ritual, it makes those of us who always hurry to achieve more stop and consider what we have now. It makes us remember about those special people I mentioned – yes, we have forgotten about them again! It makes us consider the people that are missing, too. And other things.

Some of us don’t like to stop in our hurry, and for those, Christmas comes to unwanted rescue. Because sometimes, you just need to stop and think – about the life you’ve been living, about your relationships, about your problems and plans for the future.

And even if that moment when you stand alone by the window – if there’s anyone else, they’re busy talking, staring at the TV in a food coma or they’ve already gone to bed… Even if that moment is a dark one, difficult to bear and you don’t want it, I really think that the essence of Christmas is in there, too. Paradoxically, in the stability and recurrence of those solitary moments, you can learn a lot of new things.

And if churches benefit from our weakness for ritual? If they gather many more people than they usually do, and kindly, in a Christmas spirit, force their ideology upon them? Even if, in the end, they cash in on the fact that we want to feel connected, and need the stability and recurrence that religious ritual gives?

Well, that part sucks.

Of course, we could be stronger, and reject the religious aspect of Christmas. We could just focus on what’s more important for us: connecting with people, rest, self-reflection, the stability and recurrence of it. A ritual can do without a religious back story.

But I guess most people won’t do that even if they don’t like the religious aspect of Christmas. Perhaps they’re too attached to the Christmas they know from childhood, and in their minds it seems criminal to alter it in any way. Isn’t that so?

We follow in the old footsteps… whose footsteps these are, we don’t know. They’re old, so they must be right. We will continue in this way for a long time.

…But who can blame us for being weak?*

* In Poland, people say that one’s point of view depends on the point where one sits. So just to explain mine: I was raised Catholic in this very Catholic country but later lost personal interest in religion, and now I’m just watching how the church here piles up reasons to be rejected by the people but nevertheless remains privileged and strong.

Fixing

Once again it took another blogger’s post to motivate me to post something myself… and here it is.

Some people think I’m awesome. Some even think that because I work at a company people generally associate with phone making, I know how to fix their phones. The latter couldn’t be more mistaken.

I have a phone that keeps switching off at random moments during the day. Low or fully charged, it just keeps doing that. I thought about replacing it with a new one but then again, it’s a good phone. It works like a phone should, it just switches off sometimes. Also, it cost an amount I’d never paid for a phone before. And you know the story about sunk costs.

As I find it switched off for the n-th time during a day, I usually just think “oh, well” and don’t go on with any heavy rant about life, coping with difficulties and stuff… but let me have it just this once.

In the ideal world where I am a highly skilled phone fixer, I’d fix that phone myself. I like fixing things. It gives me an incredible sense of pride and power, greater even than any little neo-Nazi piece of shit can imagine.

But it rarely happens: I’m no phone fixer, and as far as other things go, no one ever taught me how to fix them either. So my skills are rather lousy, and my attempts at fixing things — clumsy and frequently inefficient.

Still, I believe in fixing. Don’t know where that comes from — if I was a diligent student of life, I’d be happy to accept things as they are without trying to fix them. But some time ago, I decided to fuck this and be a creative student instead.

A creative student deals with problems by trying a variety of solutions and inventing new ones if the old ones don’t work; gets into uncomfortable situations due to this silly inventiveness; fails exams that are easy to pass for anyone with some degree of self-neglect.

There are things that nettle me much more than my silly phone, and I spend a lot of time thinking about how to fix them. Simple things, all of them. I think about how to make getting out of the bed in the morning easier. Where to find enthusiasm for my translation studies. What to do to stop feeling low.

These are all simple and private things, which is one of the reasons why I won’t share any of my solutions with you here. Chances are they wouldn’t fit your problems/personality/temper anyway. The other reason, hinted at above, is that they’re not very good solutions.

So this post won’t be about sharing my awesome experience with self-fixing. It will be about one fundamental principle of fixing anything, which I finally formulated for myself some time ago after much self-reflection and people-watching.

There are two ways of fixing a thing that makes you dissatisfied, both generally recognized as valid paths to improvement. One is to try and actually fix that thing. It requires a hell of a lot of thinking. Before you do any fixing, you need to identify what it is that makes you so unhappy. Is it the weather? Come on, it’s never really just the weather. Is it a shortage of positive experiences? If so, why is that the case? Is it too much work? Then think about why you are doing this to yourself. Is it someone who promised to call but didn’t? Just coming to an answer to the “What is wrong?” question is extremely hard work in itself.

Then, there’s the fixing part, which may turn out even more difficult. Try to find a non-stupid, effective and long-lasting solution to your dissatisfaction that doesn’t make anyone else unhappy in the process. Ha! Shit’s difficult, there’s no denying. So you find a stupid one, one that doesn’t really work in spite of all your effort, one that works only for a while, or one that hurts somebody. I guess that’s the necessary risk to be taken when you decide to fix something by yourself: your solutions are shit.

The other way to fix things is to replace them with new ones. It’s quick. It’s in the ads. You can do it if you don’t know any better. Sounds perfect, huh? The drive to acquire new stuff, aggressively encouraged by everyone who has something to sell… The “dump him” advice that a friend gives you off the top of her head… The objects, careers, hobbies, courses, people and fucking aquarium fish [*] that you throw out of your life to quickly replace them with new ones, hanging on the promise of their novelty…

I’m not saying it’s all bad, or that it doesn’t ever work. I suppose replacement might be the best of possible ideas in some cases. But I’m suspicious of this idea. I’m afraid of rushing to something new to replace the old too quickly. I feel bad about the unused resources we all have at our disposal to try and really fix the things that make us unsatisfied.

So the principle I’m holding on to is to avoid replacing, and focus on the possibilities that are there to fix things. To fix ourselves, too.

And believe me, it’s not so difficult to hold on to that principle. For me, the things I most often feel the need to fix, the ones I’m most often dissatisfied with, are my lousy mood and lack of concentration. So there’s not much I can do other than trying to fix myself. What can I do, buy a new brain? Come off it man, that’s illegal and wouldn’t work anyway. Plus, there’s the pride factor that I mentioned earlier. So be warned, neo-Nazis, I’m trespassing your domain. Feeling more and more pride every day in my shitty fixing skills.

And a final word to the readers: sorry if I let down your expectations of something more conclusive to come at the end. Hope I gave you food for thought, though.

Have a good day,
Mulan

[*] My father threw my brother’s aquarium fish into the toilet when they were ill. It happened some ten years ago but I still can’t forget it.