"I have no time to wonder who is reading me." ~Faulkner
My mentor--Kristhoffer--made a similar argument to me over the years, telling me that no matter how well I write, I cannot control how people will misinterpret my work. That no matter what, some people will always get carried away and mutate my meaning, and I just have to deal with that because I will not be there physically to correct their interpretation. As a writer I hate this advice because I want to write clear enough for any reader to understand, but ultimately he is right--they both are--I cannot control what people bring to the table when they read my work so I cannot control what interpretation they bring away from the table.
The Self is the wild card in our engagements because it brings in our unique experience of reality, which is comprised of our inner thoughts & feelings and outer physical interactions. I am not saying this to relativize our every engagement, yet to show that the quote is not just some egotistical rant about not having time to think about who is reading our work. Hemingway knew people were going to interpret his work in their own nuanced way, so he figured he would write toward his audience, though for himself.
So what does this mean? Are we bound to conversationally flail and only connect with others via accidentally? Not at all. Hemingway came up with a very simple solution, which involved positing a lack of control over others and routing all energies into his creative process, but that was limiting because it only applied to writers. As we know, the inability to fully control another extends beyond writing, so although Hemingway developed a great insight about humanity in general, his solution was wanting. This is why I find Kristhoffer's treatment of this issue more effective, because it provides an insightful cycle allowing anyone with a brain to prevent interpersonal nihilism, or the fatalistic belief that because we cannot control how others will interpret us, we cannot arrive at a common meaning and understanding.
This cycle has three general steps, which are honed and developed each time we fulfill them. I say that because the point is not to be perfect on the first go-around, but to improve with practice so that we can become better at interacting with others over time, or in other words, not letting our affairs spiral into chaos, bullying, relativism, or apathy.
The first thing we need to do is dilate our world by relaxing the impulsive filters we apply to things. We do this through specifically identifying what is in our control and what is out of our control. This is not something that only applies to special activities. It applies to everything we do: When we brush your teeth in the morning, we can control how much toothpaste we put on the brush as well as our technique, but we cannot completely prevent a cavity from developing. When we go grocery shopping, we can control what is on our list and how much we will spend, but we cannot control the inventory of the store, or how long the lines are. Or parking spaces available. Get it? Identifying what is in our control and what is out of control in our daily, domestic lives calibrates our mental compass toward reality, making us check ourselves against reality, rather than dictating reality based on what we want.
This first step does not only apply to outward domestic activities though, it applies to our faculty of language. Yes, this may take a long time, but if we are going to maximize our clarity, both in thought and in spoken word, we inevitably need to focus on the way we give shape to our inner ideals, and communicate. Language is about nuance. Ask yourself, "Why did I choose to say it that way?" Or, "Why did I choose that one word instead of that other word?" You may not always have an answer, but this questioning process inhibits the strong locomotive force of confirmation bias that is so easy to get caught up in once it gets rolling. Inspecting the language we use in our moments allows us to understand our thought processes outside of the physical activities. So this first step has both an inward movement and an outward movement, both geared toward slowing down our impulsive or compulsive thoughts and behaviors.
The second step is strikingly simple, but the reason it comes after the first is because our minds need to have built up somewhat of an objective self-check ability to identify categories distinctly and be alright with not being the center of every affair. In other words, without being objective, this step is not capable of being fulfilled, despite its simplicity.
Identify a causal linkage. What this means is that we need to identify a multiplicity, or network of causes and effects. This whole step is worthless if you stop at two causes or effects. Isaiah Berlin explains this masterfully in his book The Crooked Timber of Humanity by exposing how history is a densely branched network instead of a simple ladder. This insight directly applies to causes and effects because history is literally a network of causes and effects. In causality, there is not one thing that attributed to one action, nor is there one product of that one thing. So the labels cause and effect are not concrete, they are simply directional models; flexible tags, if you will. For example, if your car's engine blows on the highway, it was caused by how you drove, what oil you put it in, the wear of the parts, the behavior of the previous owners, if there were any, the atmospheric conditions, and more factors. But it also caused other drivers on the highway to compensate for your vehicle's breakdown, which effected the rest of their day and possibly week. If you made it late to work because of it, someone else's life had to shift, etc. It is the Butterfly Effect. Point is, causes and effects are fluid, so if we want to understand basic causes and effects in our conversations with others (which helps bring meaning instead of fostering shallow platitudes or placing blame or bullying), we need to get on board with taking responsibility and identifying them in our daily personal lives. This is why normal, everyday life is excellent training for our more demanding, intimate affairs.
The last step of the cycle is judgment, and it is last for good reason. It is so easy to think we are being thinking people when we are really being opinionated bullies. I have written a bit on judgment because this step is really what colors our lives. Do you lace up your shoes instead of walking with them untied? Either way, you judged that. Do you prefer to eat food, or to let yourself starve? Either way, you judged that. Enjoy having sex with others? Whether you participate or not, you judged that. Judgment is in essence a deliberate choice arrived by comparing and contrasting multiple things. Judgment is indeed about quality, however quality is not always subjective (feelings, moods, affects, tones, etc.). Judgments of quality can be objective if we embrace a multiplicity of things, investigate how functional they are, if they are short-term lived or long-term lived, or any question not making the Self the center of the affair. There are many excellent objective questions to ask when investigating quality, which is actually redundant because objectivity is open-ended and by definition embraces a myriad of non Self-centered questions. Subjectivity, on the other hand, is based in confirmation bias and doesn't ask open questions. Sidebar: Severe relativists believe that if another does not conform to their subjective beliefs or ways of doing things, there is no reason to interact at all. Talk about egotistical. So in order to judge well, we need to welcome evidence, which is why the soundest judgments are produced by the largest amount of evidence.
Clearly Kristhoffer has a more complex way of avoiding relativism and apathy (aka nihilism) in our daily affairs, yet his approach--although challenging--is available to any and everyone with a will to embrace conflict and come to a resolution with others whom you cannot control. It is true, life would be so much simpler if we could control others, but the reality is that we cannot, which is why the previous cycle is significant because it forces us as individuals to put our ducks in a row, or in other words, take care of our own faculties and affairs. In challenging ourselves to engage objective cycles likes this, we increase the probability of being understood within shared moments because our non-Self centered world becomes bigger.
Clear communication and connection is therefore not impossible, but it is indeed challenging considering we do not have a hive mentality and people do not "just know" what we are thinking or saying. Our Selves are individuals, but that does not mean they are ordered, practical, or consistent. I will not lie about this or soften this truth. So instead of avoiding interpersonal conflict due to an inability to control what others think or how they will interpret us, reorienting ourselves to objectify our own abilities and capacities with insightful cycles like the one listed above will help avoid an interpretive nihilism that seems to be sweeping across not just the literary world, but the interpersonal world.
Resentment is not about resolution because it subjectively romanticizes a past that affirms what the subject believes ought to have happened in the first place. This is a false form of retribution, because resentment is inward and self-enclosed and retribution offers some kind of compensatory payout for transgressions. Resentment offers no payout whatsoever, and only prescribes a cycle of negativity.
Mentally travelling back through time, or reflecting upon the past, is not detrimental in itself because it helps us discover and understand things we missed, which can help us enrich our future meanings and make better choices. The problem with resentment though is that it is so self-enclosed and emotionally festered that the intellectual mind is prevented from reconciling the emotional experience with actual reality. In other words, resentment is so entrenched in me-affirmations and confirmation biases that when we reflect upon the past, we mutate reality to fit our subjective models, rather than the other way around. So unchecked resentment ultimately inhibits our ability to see the actual future (instead of a merely palatable future) because our intellect is what is needed to extrapolate those future, realistic variables.
This actually answers why we resent. Humans (barring the severe mentally handicapped) have the ability to imagine the past and future, in addition to experience a variable-rich present. It is one of our strongest gifts. However, if we do not strengthen our minds and our ability to intellectually understand these realistic variables--which exist in all three frames of time--then we are left with operating subjectively across these time frames, forcing all the variables we allow to serve or affirm us in some way. (This is why a subjective perspective avails us to a tiny sliver of reality, and why an objective perspective avails us to a much larger one.)
Since our modern culture:
1) Encourages immediate gratification,
2) Tells us that we are not of nature but above nature,
3) Concludes that if history turned out this way, it "couldn't" have turned out any other way, therefore must be the "best" way,
the subjective perspective dovetails seamlessly with this modern culture, despite all its limitations.
Resentment is destructive because it offers a no-win scenario, and due to this socially-encouraged subjective perspective, its not trying to see a bigger picture. It is literally the self waging imaginative war on something else without intending to ever outwardly engage it to reconcile it. The risk of being wrong through engaging something outside of its self-enclosure--or greater reality--is too great. Thus, resentment is a rudimentary cost-benefit equation which by default prioritizes the safety of the subjective self-enclosure over the engagement of--and resolution with--greater/outer reality.
Plenty of people exist who do not subjectively operate: they are called objective. (I feel the need to say this because many believe subjectivity is the only way to operate.) Kristhoffer teaches objectivity through telling individuals to "prove themselves wrong." This search for our wrongdoings releases us of our subjective shackles, allowing our minds to operate more freely, searching for those variables that exist whether or not we are there to acknowledge them. Reality is indeed much larger than we are, and is home to a plethora of variables of resolution.
Ultimately, resentment prevents resolution, and those who resent engage in such a strong me-affirmative cycle that the very possibility of objective, reality-based resolution turns into a myth. So when we participate in resentment, not only do we inhibit an ability to be objective to non-human reality and other humans as well, but also to ourselves. It is that damaging. But each of us has the ability for self-objectivity, and despite some thinkings going around, will not make us robotic. It will simply help us develop more self-sufficiency because we will be adapting to reality instead of making it fit our ideal, as resentment does.
For many people in our culture, it is so much more fun and satisfying to watch television than it is to read a book, even though it is just as common for people in our culture to refer to books as being better than their cinematic recreations. Since these two statements do not exactly jive, though exist simultaneously, they either represent two distinct populations of people or a curious blending of contradictory premises.
Book and movies are both forms of art because they express a vision with the intent of transposing the artist's reality, even if only momentary. Hence, both convey meaning. When dealing with conveying meaning though, if we become too comfortable with our way of doing it, we become stagnant to our familiar and comfortable direction of conveyance. In other words, when thinking about art, it is commonly accepted--and thereby, expected--to think about it in terms of how the particular medium presents itself to us. Essentially, this an attitude of reception; an embodiment of a surveillance camera attached to a life-support system. Granted, when dealing with art, we will in some way need to think about what it presents to our senses, but that is only one part of the conveyance of meaning. A lot more goes into understanding and engaging meaning, so accordingly, much more goes into understanding and engaging art.
Hence, art is a lot more intellectual than we may be led to believe.
If we make a practice of thinking with our mind rather than with our emotions, then we will discover what deliberate and latent filters we apply to the reality we engage. Filters are the principles and guidelines that our thoughts and behaviors. Humans operate via filters all the time, though not all filters are determined by the individual because social influences are plentiful. Still, from traffic, to relationships, to bills, to athletic activities, to art, filters determine what to do, when to do it, who it will affect and effect, and if we want to repeat it. Filters are thus elemental things that determine how we function because they provide order and organization for whatever stimuli we run across. If we establish clear, consistent filters for the information and knowledge we experience and process, then that very information and knowledge becomes compared and contrasted to the end of reconciliation, instead of enabled to exist compartmentalized and hypocritical. (This is one way of explaining self-judgment.)
So why should we care? Because expanding and honing our filters allows us to experience reality more fully instead of merely perceive it. Placing art back into the equation, if we choose to experience art rather than merely perceive it, we can reveal more than just the artistic vision presenting itself to our senses, but the very filters we use to understand it. And since art is all about experiencing meaning more fully rather than more limited, intellectually embracing art is an excellent way to increase the breadth of one's perspective if they are unpracticed at balancing intellect and emotion.
So how exactly do we practice experiencing things rather than merely perceiving them, or in other words, understand and strengthen our filters? Well, we can do three things: 1) Ask ourselves what qualifiers we are applying to the things we perceive, 2) Identify the multiplicity of effects, and 3) Ask yourself why at this one moment we chose to do the thing(s) we did.
First, asking ourselves what qualifiers we are applying essentially exposes our thinking through the language we use. When we have conviction for something, we feel and think of it as being true, however, our inner reality--whether it be our thoughts or emotions--relies on language to bridge the gap between our inner world and outer reality. Our language is built upon symbols and ideals that have meaning built into them, so regardless if we believe a certain way, if we use nuances, cliche's, adages and clauses that inherently indicate an ulterior (or variant) meaning, then we unknowingly have condoned and preserved that original meaning, which can obscure the meaning of our transmissions that we think is so clear. Hence, dissecting the very language we use, rather than relying on our loud-and-immediate thoughts and emotions, will expose the raw and latent inner workings of who we are as an individual, helping us refine our meanings.
Second, identifying a multiplicity of effects makes us search for things that are uncomfortable or not obvious. Driving toward a wider breadth of effects liberates a perspective that is limited to a predetermined (comfortable) reward system, which is a type of reward system that causes a stubbornness to change or an addiction to familiarity. Everything we do sets of a chain reaction of effects, some of which we can predict, some of which we cannot. Point is, this chain reaction of diverse effects is as natural as weather, which is interesting in-and-of itself because weather is a system of causes and effects within the natural world. Identifying a multiplicity of effects is simply becoming a storm-tracker to our own lives, searching around to discover, order and label things, to learn what led to what, and figure out what we can and cannot control.
Third, asking ourselves why we did that specific thing in an event helps us stop enabling ourselves, or engaging in the addiction to familiarity I mentioned in the previous paragraph. This type of questioning grinds the gears of a mental transmission that is subjective because it prevents blind, feel-good momentum from acting for us. Thus, when we stick to what we know, and feel-good momentum, we place ourselves in the center of the perceptive process, rather than include ourselves in the larger, more naturally networked process. This may seems like nit-picking, but it actually represents the seeding of the subjective perspective and the objective perspective: A subjective perspective makes our ego the primary filter of operation, and an objective perspective makes larger reality and the breadth/multiplicity of effects the primary filter of operation.
If we endeavor upon a more objective path, as I stated before, more options, opportunities, and variables will avail themselves to us. And since objectivity is (by definition and distinction) not subjective, our self is not the criteria reality must immediately fall in alignment to, nor is it the test reality must pass to be validated or legitimized at any rate. This all boils down to us being more aware of the breadth of reality, earning us the capability to bring the variables introduced to our perception into alignment. Not a predetermined alignment, but an alignment produced by the extensive body of evidence uncovered. (This is another way of explaining self-judgment).
Meaning thus pertains to our engagement and interaction with the extensive body of effects and entities that comprise our world. If we have issues understanding or reconciling our world, or if we make blithely hypocritical statements, then our statements or opinions about the world (or in this discussion, art) are not a testament to a broken system or nebulous concept as much as they are a testament to our lack understanding and honing the filters we use or inherently cling to. Viewing our mental filters as adaptable, and ourselves as participants in a much, much larger reality will allow us to embrace change, but more importantly, to see what is out of whack in our own lives and how to bring it into order and make it more consistent. It is at that point that we will rarely make contradictory statements about art (or much else), and just as importantly, be able to identify them when others make them.
I know as well as anyone that labels can be slippery slopes: I am a writer, you are Chinese, she is a bank teller, he is a football player. Let us face it, labeling can lead us into murky water if we do not understand why and how we are labeling in the first place. The good news is that labeling is not a unique activity; it is actually extension of what we do on a daily basis because it is part of our nature. In short, a label is simply an extension of our natural inclination to judge and categorize.
I have heard it numerous times: you are being judgey; you cannot judge until you walk in someone else's shoes; people do not think the same so you cannot apply universal principles to them. All these are overreactions to misunderstanding what, as base, judgement is. Did you make coffee this morning or tea? Whichever you chose, well, you judged that. Did you brush your teeth this morning? If you did, it is because you judged oral health more desirable than oral unhealth. See where I am going with this? Our inclination as humans to judge is inevitable and unavoidable, which is why I argue that we ought to drop the relativistic overreactions and practice doing it well.
But judgment is not that simple and convenient, you may say. People's feelings and unique life experiences are involved. I understand, and would never homogenize the realm of human experience, thinkings, and feelings. What I am saying is that judgement is what allows us to make a decision between options. Let us keep it simple; we have beaten up this inclination enough.
Let us talk about labels again. Blacks are often labeled as lascivious, whites as easily corruptible to power, Spanish as thieves, the list goes on. We judged that. How? Because confirmation bias was practiced instead of objective judgment. Think just because judgement is natural that we cannot practice it? Wrong. We can hone it. And it certainly helps ourselves and the rest of the natural world if we do hone it. Look at atrocities like Holy Wars, the Holocaust, and any hate crime. These are perversions of judgment because the person(s) judging did not apply their intellect to objectively expose the tenets of their own thoughts and beliefs. When thinking about categories and judgments and such, its so easy and convenient to think about what we are judging as if that ought to be our primary focus. I say no. I say we ought to grill ourselves as to whether our ability to judge is mature and honed, not even thinking about outward stimuli.
When we think about outward stimuli before we hone our ability to objectively and reasonably judge, catastrophes are pretty much inevitable. We then make statements like : I was raised suspicious of [insert group], or, that's just what I was taught, or, If so many people think/feel like I do, then I must be right. I cannot tell you how often I hear these awful, destructive arguments, and what makes them awful and destructive is that tucked within them is an unwillingness to clean up the inherited judgments (aka: beliefs), or even look at them and judge them with a fresh set of eyes! This is partly why America is judgment-phobic; we believe toxic judgments are a sample that fully represents all judgments. That is just not true.
Judgments, categories, and labels are intimately related. Yes, this is a complex issue due to its abstract and moral/ethical nature. (Add fear to that; revealing and judging ourselves is scary at times). However, I am going to simplify it.
If we ask ourselves, What judgments have I inherited?, we encourage a conversation and exploration within ourselves, which is a lot better position to be in than simply expressing/imposing them upon others. What can be the harm of a self-exploration, anyway?
Years ago I judged that I was a good writer, but when asked why by another, I was forced to reevaluate the meaning of the word good. And writer. Had I established healthy, productive literary practices? No, I just assumed I had them because writing came relatively easy because I am a natural writer. So the investigation allowed me to see my flaws and fix them, rather than remain stagnant and in self-deception. This is one of the main reasons for developing objective judgment; it allows us to explore and view reality for what it is, rather than what we want it it be, no matter what we were told (indoctrinated) in our upbringing. Honing our ability to judge allows us to mature intellectually, and since that allows us to be more honest about ourselves, it allows us to develop emotionally.
All this from labels, judgments, and categories. We judge as a matter of species-necessity. Being judgey is thus a human obligation. Deal with it. Badmouthing it is like badmouthing locomotion, or food and water. Our lives are flooded with conflicting options: move left not right, front not back, eat this not that, work at this place not that, don't work at either, love this way not that way, hate this way not that way, befriend this person not that person. We are inundated with conflicting options and as sentient beings we choose among them as a matter of course. So why not clean up our course? Do we not care to?
I am not denying that poor (abusive, destructive, exploitative) judgments exist, or that labels can restrict who and what you want to be. I constantly tell myself that I am more than a writer. That there is much more to me than reading and writing, despite it being my primary focus. But labels properly made (through an open exploration of values, judgments and beliefs) can help us take ownership and responsibility of our lives. A refusal to label who and what we are is a form of apathy. It is merely saying that we would rather avoid revealing ourselves than improve ourselves. Ironically, judging that I mis-labeled myself a good writer years ago allowed me become a much better writer. So as fixed as we think our labels are, if we approach them with an adaptive fluidity, encouraging and embracing judgment along the way, then we will see our inner world and outer world (remember the previous statements about blacks, whites, and Spanish?) more fully, rather than what confirms our inherited judgments.
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