Friday, April 30, 2010

Pleasure in challenges vs. Fear of failure

One crucial choice of approach to life we all face as children is how to deal with challenges.

The approach one develops and practices over the years affects one's self-esteem and one's ability to pursue one's values and goals.

Some adults find intense pleasure in complex challenges that take a long time to achieve, while others feel intimidated by them and shy away from them.

The reason for the difference is one's subconscious evaluation of one's ability to succeed, to acquire skills.
The man who takes pleasure in challenges feels pleasure because he judges what he is doing as being on a road to proving his own worth once more.
The one who dreads the challenge has the subconscious evaluation of themselves as being on the way to failure, of which every difficult step is further proof of that impending failure.
In reality they may have everything it takes to succeed had they had different motivation, but their motivation can be such a great barrier that they will never achieve that goal and start building their confidence.

It all starts in childhood when a child faces their first few challenges.
At an early stage kids seek immediate satisfaction without delay. If they solve challenges, they are of a simple, short-duration nature. If a child succeed in solving challenges with gradually increasing durations, eventually they learn that it pays off sometimes to pick tasks with delayed satisfaction. It starts from putting a cube through the right hole, to arranging some pictures in the right order, to building Lego models of an airplane (which takes an even longer time to complete) - to more complex tasks like programming.

It is not all a smooth sail - every kid faces those challenges in which they fails a number of times, and here comes the crucial waypoint where the two opposite approaches form.
The child, having failed several times, and still having the frame of mind of pursuing immediate gratification will face the decision to persist and try again or to give up and go back to the familiar, easy stuff they know how to do.
They have not yet experienced, at this stage, the value of delayed satisfaction and they barely have yet a concept of their own ability, because confidence develops based on success in challenges like the one they are facing in this case.

Here is where the parents have a crucial role in guiding their kids in the right direction. The parents can encourage the child to give up and go back to "fun stuff", or they can push him and slightly help the child persist in the goal.
They can teach the child that persistence in pursuing goals is a virtue, create a comfortable atmosphere for failing (so long as the child tries again) or teach the kid to take the easy road so that they don't have to see the kid upset.

Even given the right idea, a child still faces the choice of insisting on succeeding in a challenge or giving up, but having the right emotional background and (non-verbal) approach play a central role in what would occur to a child to choose.
A child learns a great deal what emotional reaction is appropriate for a situation.
You often see kids look at the parent's faces after some occurrence to observe their parent's expression and learn how they should react.
If they look at the parent's face after failing and see fear, they are likely to decide that this is the right response. But if the see a smile and quiet confidence, they learn that the right approach (or emotional background) is patience and calamity.

The reason this waypoint is so crucial is because those first attempts at a challenge are the base for a child's confidence and attitude toward challenges.
A child that has overcome the initial negative emotions and succeeded several times, develops a positive view of their own ability, of challenges, and learns to associate challenges with reward and self-esteem at the end.
A child that has repeatedly given up, on the other hand, forms a pattern and learns to associate challenges with failure and pain, creating a loop which cannot be broken until and unless the child (or the adult) decides to "do it anyway" and keep on doing it until they succeed.

So the conclusion?

If you have a child, teach them that the appropriate emotional background to challenges is relaxation and patience.
If you are an adult with a fear of failure (as I am, to some degree): Pick some tasks which you want to succeed in, and stick to them. Break them down to small steps which gradually increase in duration and go for it. It is only after succeeding over and over again despite temporary difficulties (or failure) that you will eventually build your confidence and learn to associate challenges with pleasure.

Your feeling about yourself and about what is possible for you in the world depends on it, so the investment is well worth the time.


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Monday, April 19, 2010

The value of Privacy

Would you have a problem living in a house with glass walls? How about having all your conversations audible to all who are interested?

Most people, if not all, would find it very disturbing.

Why is it that people care so much about other eyes and other ears invading their space? Is it a weakness that needs to be overcome? An indication that one is not confident enough or that one does not have an independent mind?
Is it because one is ashamed of certain things and wants to deceive the world or hide one's identity?

No - to all of those. Not as the general answer to the question of the value of privacy.

Privacy is required for the protection of one's mental experience from foreign elements that can interfere, damage or destroy it.

I am not talking here of obvious things such as noise or people physically standing in one's way. Obviously, if a place is so crowded as to not allow one to spend time standing comfortably next to someone else or hear what they say, that is a disvalue. To understand the value of privacy as such I eliminate such conditions and concentrate only on the silent presence of the consciousness of other people, similar to how it would be like if your life were recorded and broadcasted over the internet.

So when I say that the presence of the consciousness of others is enough to disturb an experience, that is the sort of situation I am talking about.

In what way, you may ask, can the consciousness of others disturb our mental experience? These people are, in this hypothetical situation, just sitting there.

The answer is that keeping in mind the mental experience of others creates an emotional response which will mix with the emotional response to any experience. For example, suppose you are dancing to a favorite song of yours, you think you are all alone and let yourself loosen up and express your feelings when all of a sudden you spot someone looking at you, smiling. Their expression introduces into your mind a whole different universe than your own - a different way of looking at things, of judging things and feeling about them. So while you may value your dance a lot and see it as something precious, the person you caught looking at you may see it as something silly. While it may be entirely OK with you for someone else to consider something you do silly, at that moment of experiencing your own world so ecstatically, having the emotional view of someone else shoved into your mind is the mental equivalent of a punch to the face. Holding the two sets of emotions at the same time regarding something precious to you is very unpleasant.
In the rare case of having one's world view shared by a stranger the experience of "invasion of privacy" will be significantly reduced. However, in general privacy is a value because one cannot assume that strangers out there in the street share one's view of life or share the understanding of the meaning of one's actions.

Even if one has a fiercely independent mind, sharing one's emotions about a value (like being in love) with someone who would not understand it (or even ridicule it) would be a very unpleasant experience simply because of experiencing colliding emotions simultaneously.

You may ask further, why would anyone consider the experience of someone else? So what if I spotted this person looking at me - do I have to think about their expression? The answer is; yes, we do. We do this automatically.
We don't have to think further of the meaning of the expression we saw, but the initial understanding of what it stands for happens automatically in our subconscious.

Privacy is a value because we can act and pursue our values knowing that our experience will not be disturbed by foreign elements.

This remains true for wanting privacy with someone else. A couple having sex, for example, ideally share each others world perfectly. Knowing what the other is experiencing is a celebration of one's own experience - an enhancement of it. But if a group of strangers were to gather around in a stadium-like arrangement watching the act, that would introduce a foreign element. Those strangers can never possibly share the mutual understanding the couple has. The content of the crowd's mind is a foreign element that interferes with the concentration on the mind of the partner.

So... does it make sense to share your vulnerable moments and your precious experiences only with your close friends or those you trust would understand it? Yes, it does. Does honesty requires that one broadcasts everything openly to all? It most certainly does not. Honesty as a virtue has its context - and the context is a selfish pursuit of one's values.

In light of all of this, I find two more related topics interesting to analyze.

One is artists - especially of the performing arts. Art, unlike other professions, involves an open expression of the artist's emotions, view of life and personality. One can dance or perform mechanically, but to make it good one must open up and express fully one's emotions.
In the performing arts the dancer or actor must do it in front of a live audience. There is no privacy shielding one's inner world from others, save the fact that the setting is such that everyone expects the performer to act this way, and one is necessarily aware that others are watching their actions. I think a good dancer/ actor must therefore have the following two components: 1. The ability to maintain focus on their inner world despite a watching audience. 2. A positive view, as a whole, of the audience.
Without a recognition that somebody out there understands what the performer is doing and can admire it, there would be no motivation to "open up" and offer what one has inside to the world.

Second is pornography. In writing this piece I've come across the question of how come the people who play porn have no problem with the lack of privacy in having sex? The answer is, I believe, that they seek intimacy with a collective, based on a very shallow level of values. When a couple requires privacy it's because they want to guard the mutual understanding that they have about each other, and they want to be admired for those things they understand about each other. When one is having sex with a stranger for all to see - one has no understanding with a partner. Instead what they seek is admiration from a collective - being wanted by an abstraction represented by an unknown collective - based on the value of their physical appearance. They might even project on the crowd whatever values they want to be had for, but there is no need for privacy because in this sort of sex there is nothing to guard. In fact, if somebody shows up that knows the porn star well, that might be what they would want to guard themselves against, because that, ironically, threatens the abstract sexual relationship with people "out there".


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