I recently posted a picture of strawberries on Instagram which had been filtered in a specific way to produce a visual illusion. My friend Nick who is pretty savvy with pictures and Photoshop was quick to debunk the claim that it contained no red pixels. I have been thinking a lot since then about how much our beliefs colour our perception and experience of the world.
You can link through to the Twitter feed of Akiyoshi Kitaoka here. He regularly posts pictures which offer various optical illusions. I don’t know enough of the requisite skills to test his claims. Nor do I care to learn them. But even if I did, would I test them? Or is there something operating in me that encourages me to believe in wondrous things? Whether I would check or not is moot really. Although it is important to catch myself in this reaction of blind belief. The answer to the latter is: yes. I will default to the wondrous over the ordinary even if it is accompanied with a healthy scepticism.
A movie I watched recently, Now You See Me, briefly explores this idea in various theatrical ways. (Actually I watched both this and the sequel, which both play on this same theme and I can’t recall in which it was said specifically). The gist was that the allure of magicians is that people have a need to believe that anything is possible.
I can identify with this. Not only that, but I have specifically and deliberately tried to train my thoughts to tend in this direction. A while back now, I struggled with depression. I recognised my habit of seeing obstacles and unchangeable truths. I also recognised the absurdity of these claims and the changing nature of everything. One practice that resulted was that whenever I noticed any negative statement I might tell myself, I would counter it with three things I was grateful for. Slowly but surely, I began to associate negative feelings with an opportunity to find things to be grateful for.
Step by step, I was able to change my world view from one of insurmountable obstacles to one of possibilities. The world changed from a place where every struggle was ultimately pointless to a place where amazing things happen every day and challenges are an opportunity for growth. More directed learning helped consolidate and strengthen these ideas as well as understanding just how important those default beliefs are to my perception and ultimately to the outcome.
This extended eventually to realising how important it is to be aware who I spend time around. I like doers. I like dreamers. I like people who choose to see obstacles as problems to be solved. I like people who tell me how great it is that they got sick because it reminds them that they are neglecting their diet or lifestyle. I like people who take personal responsibility for the things they don’t enjoy in their lives.
This week, I have seen two more examples which have troubled me. I wasn’t sure how to write about them but I felt it was important to discuss them… at least with myself if not with others. The first was something posted by a teacher of mine at university. An exercise physiologist, he was posting an article about the dangers of the developing acceptance of obesity as the norm. When something which is harming us becomes our standard for normal, we are creating a toxic cycle in our reality. There are other examples in our everyday lives that we could all identify if we cared to and each will affect us in different ways to varying degrees.
The second is that of resistance to change. Several smaller organisations I have come across recently have been led by people who seem oblivious to the changing world around them. Convinced that their experience of 20 years, 30 years, or more of doing the same things makes them an expert in doing what is best. Yet they fail to see their failure to improve their operations in this time. They fail to see their failure to generate income to improve the resources they have to work with rather than suffer due to lack of funds. They struggle to recognise that their opportunities to flourish have increased while they were busy proclaiming their martyrdom. Their song is the same: “We’ve always done it this way. It’s worked for … years. These people don’t understand”. Yet the facts and examples happening all over the world around them speak to the falsehood of their claims.
I will suffer brief conversations with people who tell me how hard their life is. I will tolerate those who insist on swinging conversation to complaints about spouses. I will sympathise with the person who insists they have no choices or is stuck in a rut. But I will never choose to be around that person for any more than the bare minimum time I can manage. These are the emotional vampires who will suck you into their world of inevitability and self-pity. These are the people who will infect my psyche with their poisonous world views lest I fail to recognise it. It’s never worth trying to convince this person they have choice. It’s not worth it to make change my job. People have to be ready to choose a different way and it’s likely to harm me if I try to help them on the way. Yet my default is often to try.
I think the most important thing we can do in life is to notice and reconsider our beliefs. They are our most important tool to shape our lives. People interact and events happen around us but the only thing we have control over is the way we react to them.