A vote for privacy in a world of oversharing

This post is probably going to annoy some people. I’ll jump the gun here by saying I’m not pointing fingers or on some superiority rampage but I can’t help but look at what’s happening online, now that the Internet and its users have become more intertwined with each other, and see some possibly damaging ways we live out our digital lives.

We all know overshare is a big issue in this era. People can’t seem to figure out where to draw the line or even know that there is a line for the most part. One weekend you’re happily sharing pictures of your drunken night out and making cocky remarks about how superior you are to everyone. Next thing you know, your prospective new employer is going through your #yolo and #fuckthepolice posts and doing a side-by-side comparison between ‘CV you’ and ‘Facebook you’, while you sit there hoping the chair you’re cringing in sucks you through the floor and out the nearest exit. Somehow not even your ‘dress for success’ outfit that you are hoping to (or need to) return the next day saves the day in that moment.

So yeah, we’ve all learned – either through awkward personal experiences or by reading Buzzfeed articles – about how very wrong things can go if you’re not careful what you post online. The angle I’m coming from with this post is a bit more specific, sort of a puzzle piece of how to ensure you don’t end up with egg on your face thanks to your social updates. The big bad wolf I’m trying to tackle here is how you end up looking thanks to what you post or reveal about yourself. The impression you create and the description people who fall in that big, grey realm of associates and people who aren’t quite family or closest to you, would generally give of you.

See, people are funny in more ways than one. What is undeniable, and not really something anyone chooses consciously, is that we all generalize to a degree and have ideas of things and people based on what we see, even if that bit we see is very limited and skewed. Even the most open-minded person who doesn’t generally judge, only gets given so much to go on when they don’t really know you. With that in mind, should you really be fuelling your chances of being misinterpreted? Oh and hey, this is not a post about caring too much what people think. If anything, it’s aimed more towards people who are already trying to make their way through life in a successful manner and who maybe, possibly, want to run for office one day (heck, if Trump can do it, anyone has a chance).

What any good public persona or role model will tell you, is that a great part of garnering respect from others is by maintaining a consistent public image. Erratic behavior makes any perception of you murky, which basically translates to: people are going to compare the things you generally post and say online and then make a generalized assumption based on that. So if you’re angry as hell about love/men/women in one post, then madly in love, then drunk and loving it, then swearing off drinking forever, vegan one moment and wolfing down a steak the next, you’re going to be seen as someone who really doesn’t have a clue what they want in life. If anything, you’ll be marked that erratic one who can’t be depended on. This brings me to the crux of creating a muddled image of how stable you as a person are and how well thought out your life really is: putting dating and relationship updates online.

Take a look at people who are quick to update their Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, Twitter etc. and shout it from the virtual rooftops whenever they start dating someone new. Suddenly all anyone connected to them sees is a flood of pictures with this new love interest and updates from them in their floaty, high state. It’s like they went from being a single entity with their own contribution to the world, to being absolutely nonexistent in the virtual realm, if you excluded updates about this new person. I’m not bashing people in love, not at all. It’s great to feel great. But with that feeling – as with any other – needs to come an understanding that no state of being or feeling ever lasts, directly coinciding with an ability to act in accordance with that knowledge. *climbs off the high-horse-shaped pedestal*

But, as life goes, a lot of relationships fail. It’s just one of those things. Problem is, when you’ve been making so much of a public announcement about it, it’s glaringly obvious when your relationship has withered to the point of nonexistence, even while you try to sweep it under a rug, delete all digital traces of it and keep unusually quiet for a while in the hopes that nobody asks potentially hurtful questions about your love life. It blows my mind and baffles me to no end that people carry on doing this, especially if they’ve gone through the whole process of several failed relationships in this digital era of everything being so out there. We face judgement for so many things, and by putting your most private connections and most meaningful moments (however short-lived they might end up being) out there, you face the very real risk of being judged or having unwanted and sometimes very direct interference from outsiders who should (in a less intrusive world) have no role to play in your personal life…it’s also something which has caused a lot of issues and ultimate failures in relationships lately. Of course, also not forgetting how all this ultimately ends up being a big influencing factor in your appearance as someone who is able (or unable) to hold down a serious, long-term relationship.

If you take nothing more from all of this, take this next piece of my opinion and just think about it a bit. I don’t think you should ever post updates that are too close to your personal life. Firstly, why would you need to make such an effort to expose your relationship (and actually many other things) to the world? Anyone secure in who they are and who they are with wouldn’t need to show it off or seek validation or even any other response by telling everyone. With the way life is, I really, honestly believe the only time you should put up a relationship status and photos online, is when you’re already married. In fact, make your wedding photos the first ones you put up and let that serve as a solid confirmation that what people see, is likely to be something, or rather someone, that they can expect to see and associate with you for a very long time.

I’d even go so far as to say don’t even announce your engagement online. The amount of times Facebook friends of mine announced an engagement, or even got to the point of being newlywed, then suddenly going very quiet and months later they start dropping hints about how lonely life is and mention things about life as a singleton…sigh. Life is meant to be lived, not captured and recorded to the point where you miss the here and now (and this is coming from an avid archivist). Privacy is a precious thing…it involves trust with a select few people and the rare ability to choose to be and do whatever you want, without need to conform to standards and expectations. If ever a relationship had to be associated with something, surely privacy would be it.

This could just be me. I mean I’m a solid fan of structure and having a clear understanding of things. So when people I know go through these wild phases of being in and out of love repeatedly, it makes me worry that nobody in this world actually has it together. And I really, truly, want to believe that we all are at least sort of in charge of things and  are following some Master Plan. More than that, the underlying thing that bugs me, is that it all starts to create a very sad outlook on the reality of dating life and relationships. Maybe this is how it’s always been, maybe I just want to retain a hint of denial when it comes to this part of life. That whole notion of ‘for as long as we both shall live’ is already battered and bruised, just look at how many people casually cheat on their partners. I really don’t need to know that, on top of life being damn hard and complicated, there is a very real, huge mountain of struggle ahead of each of us to find the basic fulfilment of a partner. After all, if all the lore of life and love is to be believed, a partner is the one thing that’s supposed to help you get through all the other bad things life throws at you. If it’s a mission finding that, you’re going to have to become one seriously tough person who, although independent as heck, will probably have far too many lonely days.

Oh also, bit of a thought I had the other day… Even the most together people who are otherwise calculated, laser focused and apparently mentally stable, can completely lose their head when it comes to love. For those people, the ones who would really like to know when they’re being nuts at any stage in time, I have a suggested litmus test: Take the person you are dating or want to be in a relationship with, and imagine you get to meet the one person you admire and look up to more than anyone in the world. Now imagine meeting them and ask yourself if you’d be happy, excited and proud to introduce the person you’re with to them. If you’re flinching right now, I have bad news for you. None of us are perfect, granted, but your partner is a very powerful extension of who and what you are and stand for. Even the smartest, most successful person in the world can very rapidly lose respect or credibility if the person they choose to be with isn’t entirely on par with them and their standards. I’ll just leave you with that…


The Man Without A Purpose

I’ve spent my years fascinated and captivated by purpose and how it drives people to achieve incredible things while feeling truly fulfilled in life. Several years ago I had a very vivid dream that I recall to this day. I thought I’d relay it…

I dreamt about a man, short and middle-aged, balding. Think Danny DeVito without the accent or comedic charm. By all accounts he was fairly dull and unexceptional. He had a pretty ordinary job where he never really climbed the ranks or made any impact, lived in an ordinary apartment and barely raised an eyebrow wherever he went. Overlooked and never truly considered someone exceptional, he bore a deep, intense frustration within him. He’d spent all of five decades and then some on this planet, day after day, hoping and desperately seeking a reason to exist, a purpose for being here. From his youngest days he just wanted to know why he was here, what he was meant to do to avoid living a life devoid of purpose and meaning. Yet he never discovered some remarkable talent that he could pour himself into and proudly proclaim his association with, something that resonated within him and made him feel that this would fulfill him. He found himself with more questions than answers and so he spent his days, always questioning, never finding an answer that brought the mulling questions to an end.

One thing made him different, although this one thing went either entirely unnoticed or felt like simply an annoying habit, it seemed. We all know very young children incessantly ask “Why?” as they discover and seek to understand the world around them. With this man, that urge to ask why was unyielding and never faded as he grew older. As a child, he’d ask his teachers why a mathematical problem had to be solved in just the way they specified…why not another way? He’d trouble the shopkeeper about why he arranged his goods in same banausic way he always did. As he grew older he almost unfailingly felt the urge to listen to people or watch them in their day to day lives and ask them why they did things the way they did. Never able to offer a suggestion or alternative, never seeming to contribute to a conversation or offer anything to better a situation. All he could do was ask why, without ever knowing why he was so compelled to do so.

He went through his days in this unexceptional fashion, until one fateful morning when he collapsed on a pavement while on the way to work. He lay there, sprawled out on the tarmac, clutching his chest and desperately gasping for air as pedestrians and cars carried on moving around him, oblivious to his panic as his world closed in on him and his vision faded. He reopened his eyes and found himself in a hall, cast entirely in white and almost luminous. He felt a presence behind him, turned around and in that very moment, feeling the power of the presence with him, he realized he had died. He cried out, a huge sense of loss and defeat overwhelming him. Year upon year was spent trying so hard to find a purpose so that he could live a life of significance, and now that chance was gone and here he was, with nothing to show for it.

“Why are you so sad?”, he was asked.
“I failed. I…tried so hard…I tried everything to just find out why I was even alive, to be of use to someone, anyone. And now I’m here. I’m so sorry. I failed.”
Instead of the judgment he was sure he’d feel in full force, he felt a warmth, and then, a smile. Almost as though this incredible presence was shaking His head, as one would to a child who sheepishly admitted to having done something wrong.
“Failed? No. You did everything exactly as you were supposed to. You fulfilled your purpose.”
The man was stunned.
“What…how? I spent my whole life doing nothing exceptional, being nobody exceptional. How could I possibly have done what I was meant to?”
In that moment he was shown glimpses of his life, from his earliest years all the way through to his last days.
“Do you remember that teacher you asked about the math problem and why it couldn’t be solved another way?”
“Yes…He shot me down and told me to do things the way I’m told and not ask questions.”
“Well, that man remembered you for years after you stood up and asked him that question. Thanks to you, he began to ask himself that same question, and he realized there is no good reason why it can’t or shouldn’t be done another way. It led him to wondering why he didn’t challenge himself in other aspects of his life as well. Finally he left his teaching career and became a well-respected and very passionate man who wrote several papers and taught many others to look beyond convention.”
The man was stunned. He only ever thought of that moment as another point in his life where he was rejected for questioning something.
“How about the shopkeeper you visited each afternoon? Remember how you asked him why he always arranged his goods in just that same way? He realized he’d become so set in his ways that everything stagnated in his life, not just his store’s sales. What you said sunk in, he took all of that to heart and decided to try things in a different way. Thanks to you his life changed as well.”
The man shook his head, stunned. He was shown many more moments from his life, each time with that same distinct, recurrence of him asking why and how it changed some part of the lives of those he spoke to.

“Remember this? That one night at that party where you felt like such an outcast? Remember standing there, listening to this scientist talking, telling everyone how he’s struggling to find a solution for the research he’d invested years and countless hours working on? How he felt he was so very close to finding the answer but somehow it kept eluding him?”
The man nodded slowly.
“Do you remember what you said to him?”
The man recalled that night. Everyone was nodding quietly as this highly educated scientist was explaining his life’s work, not really knowing what to say. Then he, in a moment of inexplicable compulsion, blurted out the only words he ever managed to find. Again, relative what the scientist had said, his response was along the lines of, ‘But why are you doing it like this? Why does it have to be done this way?’ He felt like a complete idiot as total silence descended upon the circle of people, moments after the words left his mouth. Fumbling with his hands in and out of his jacket pockets, he hung his head and escaped the crowd, and went back to his apartment. He spent the rest of the night staring at the ceiling, beating himself up about being such a failure.
“You never knew this, but your words were exactly what that man needed to hear. He went home that night and couldn’t get what you said out of his head. Those simple two questions you asked him gave him a renewed perspective on his problem and things fell into place that he never thought of before. He got back to work on his project and with time, discovered the solution to what he’d been working on for years. I’ll let you in on a secret. Some time after your life was over on earth, the research he was doing contributed to helping to cure cancer.”

By this stage the man felt completely overwhelmed.
“But I’m nobody. I…only ever asked questions.”, he replied, stuttering.

“Your purpose was to ask the questions that would change the way people thought about problems in their lives. Everyone has a purpose. It’s just that not everyone can know what that purpose is.
Do you know that if I ever told you what your purpose was in your life, you’d have tried to change everything? You would have tried so hard to find the right questions to ask at the right time, to the right people, that you would have entirely missed asking the right people at the right time.”

The man stood there, absolutely speechless.

“Purpose isn’t something you seek and have to find. It’s something you always have. Sometimes people fulfill their purpose just by living and expressing themselves sincerely. Not everyone has a purpose that is immediately visible to others or one that makes them known or loved on earth, but sometimes the most powerful purpose comes in the whispers of voices people can’t forget. Or, in your case, the questions.”

The Dark Heart: Understanding Abuse in Relationships

All too often we hear about a woman who was violently attacked by her partner, or one who continues to stay with him even through extreme abuse of all kinds – physical, verbal, emotional, sexual, psychological. Without fail the first reaction from people who find out about is always, “Why does she stay with him? Why not just leave?”

Abuse isn’t something that happens suddenly, and it’s not isolated to any particular class or race of people. I used to think abuse stems almost solely from the low-class, uneducated types whose lifestyles are generally questionable, yet now I understand that anyone, from ordinary people to those in the upper echelons of society, can fall victim to or be the cause of abuse. Ignorance is the enemy, don’t be fooled by what appears to be a normal person on the surface when your gut tells you something is wrong.

The other day I read the following: “Everyone always asks why a woman stays with an abusive partner, placing blame on her. Why doesn’t anyone ask why he’s doing what he does? Why are there never questions about what is wrong in him to commit such an act?”

This blog isn’t isolated to male on female abuse situations. It’s to inform anyone who doesn’t understand it, why it’s more complicated than just walking away, to help them see how intrinsically manipulative and psychologically destructive these types of relationships are. I also write it in the hopes of helping some who are going through it at the moment, or who have left such a relationship and are are still trying to process it all, to get some clarity. Abuse happens everywhere, in so many forms. I’m going to focus specifically on abuse in relationships, be in heterosexual or homosexual, because the behaviour traits don’t change based on gender, age or sexual preference.

My personal experience with this left me both strongly compelled to write this blog post, yet also had me extremely reluctant. A year ago I was still in a state of concern and slight anxiety over putting anything out there that might help my ex track me down and show up at my doorstep. After speaking to a few friends and also sharing opinions on the subject on Facebook recently, I realized I should just go for it and write this blog.

My brief summary of experience about this happened between 2011 and the end of 2013. I came out of a long-term relationship and ended up in two successive, extremely dangerous and harmful periods with two men. The alarming shared common behavioural traits between the two only became obvious to me later on. One had an extreme temper and trust problem and the other, it later turned out, was bipolar and had been psych evaluated and found to be a sociopath and danger to society.

I walked away from that phase with a few broken bones and I lost of almost all my possessions, but became a whole lot wiser about how easily things could spiral out of control, and how to help those who go through the same thing. I was lucky in a sense, my natural reaction to back off when someone’s aggravated saved me from additional harm a few times and overall I’m stronger and a lot more aware today. Here are the main things I’ve learned to look out for in a dangerous, abusive partner. Not all of them may apply all of the time, but if any of this sounds familiar, it’s reason for concern:

Kind, Compassionate People Are Targets

Kindness is considered an absolute weakness by abusers. They see it as an easy way ‘in’, to get under your skin and exploit you. One day my ex gave me some insight into how he sees the world, and told me most people are so easy to manipulate and control, to bend to his will. He was convinced that people want to be controlled and told what to do, because they’re too stupid and weak to know what’s good for them. In his mind, the entire world of people is divided into malleable pawns or absolute enemies. If you can’t be manipulated and won’t give them what they want, they’ll hate you straight off the bat and avoid you entirely. If you’re naturally someone who is sympathetic, kind, caring and giving, you’re basically chum dangling above shark infested waters. They seek out people who won’t fight back, people who won’t argue with them or stand up for themselves to the extent where they’re quick to fight or argue when they disagree. They look for peace makers, people who are willing to compromise and like to please and help others. It makes it so much easier to toy with people like this throughout the process.

They’ll be extremely kind and generous at first.

What hooks potential partners so often is how well the abuser treats them in the beginning. You’ll be showered with affection and compliments and made to feel like a million bucks. You’ll think you are so lucky to have someone in your life who wants to share their time with you and go out of their way to make you happy. Initially, you’ll feel there’s nothing wrong as you get swept up by their generosity and focused attention. While some people might test the waters and ease their way into getting to know you, abusers (this may vary, but I found it consistent in what I’ve experienced) tend to go all in and push hard to win you over.

They’re persistent. And often pushy.

If you don’t fall head over heels for them immediately, they’ll wait it out but constantly stay in touch, as they try to figure out what it will take to let you lower your guard a bit. In time they’ll try to find a weak spot in your armor to break through. They’ll do this by assessing you from a distance and soon they’ll have figured out what you want or need to hear to let your guard down. I’ve found they weave their way into your daily life, waiting for a moment or day where you are more receptive, like when you’ve had a bad day at work or something’s gone wrong in your personal life. In that moment, they’ll step up and ensure that they provide exactly what you need to feel better. They tend to be very possessive and jealous, always insisting that they have to protect you or look out for you.

They have tormented pasts, whether you about it know it or not.

Both of my abusive exes had alcoholic, abusive fathers who nearly killed their mothers in front of them. Both of them grew up with a great deal of violence and dysfunctional behaviour in their homes. While some abuse situations don’t have this type of setup and the abuser just has bad temper or is vindictive, there are always patterns in how they deal with people they’re involved with. Sometimes you never know about their pasts, if they choose not to tell you. Often, women in particular, would feel sorry for a man with a painful childhood and feel the need to heal them in some way, to ensure their lives are better now than it was. The problem is often the damage was done long before they ever met and she doesn’t realize how deeply these experiences twisted the mind and behaviour of the person. For a compassionate person – especially one who is emotionally involved with someone – one of the hardest things to do is to know when to sever ties and walk away because someone is beyond help, or to realize that you’re just not the right person to help them. We hurt to know others are hurting and our first instinct is always to jump in and try to improve things, even if we stand the risk of being pulled under by them in the process. This is especially true in the case of relationships, because one party is trying to help and heal while the other doesn’t even recognize that they have a problem to begin with.

Cutting Your Wings

In the end, abusive people have a desperate need to exert control, because they are so out of control themselves. A big part of this is ensuring that you are completely dependent on them – which, later on, will make it very hard for you to just walk away. During the initial phase, where they try to win you over, they’ll be so generous and reassuring that you’ll feel it’s okay to let go of your independence a bit. They’ll continue to feed you this false security until you reach a stage where they have you fairly well locked down. This tends to be when you move in together and sets the stage for the next steps. Some abusers also want to get into their partners’ finances, finding a way to justify that it’s the best thing that they share everything, from the house to the credit cards. The tables will shift over time though and soon you’ll realize they’re taking a lot more from this arrangement than you are and you’re suddenly suffering huge deficits.

Progressive Isolation

Over time, abusers gradually cause their partners to isolate themselves from their friends and family. They’ll use many excuses as to why you don’t ‘need them in your life’ or resort to blaming you for choosing friends over them and saying you don’t care enough. They do this because they want to stand unopposed and be the only thing you need and want. Their need to be in control is so great that they will find a way to eliminate anything that dares to threaten their empire. And if they want you in it, you can be sure they’ll want to keep everyone else out. Everything from being told you’re weak for needing friends to you not being yourself around family, will be used to convince you that maybe you don’t need to see your loved ones as often. Once their more aggressive sides start surfacing, abusers will threaten you and make it very clear that you’re in for punishment if you decide to do what you want. Again, most strong-willed people will kick up dirt and say ‘screw you then’ at the first sign of having their arm forced,  but in this case we’re dealing with increasingly submissive partners who are also likely afraid of what awaits them when they get home, if they choose to rebel and go out.

Double Standards

You can be sure that the abuser allows himself/herself a great deal of leeway to do as they please. Without fail, they will be the dominant one in the relationship, on every level. This includes setting extreme rules for their partner to follow, while they entirely defy every notion of fairness. In line with this, abusers typically show none of the characteristics of a person who contributes to a healthy relationship: honesty, trust, compassion, fairness, openness, forgiveness, agreeability, compromise. You will find yourself constantly struggling to keep the peace and not set a foot wrong, while they easily dismiss their own wrong doings, even if those wrong doings are massive and would have any healthy person calling them out on it.

Blame, Distrust and Accusations

Abusers have a habit of seeing fault in everything their partners do. There is no rational logic behind most of it and it tends to be so erratic that, for a while – or sometimes for the entire relationship, their partners don’t know what will set them off. If you find yourself trying to mentally process an argument where you were accused of doing something terrible, but you have this gut feeling that what you did was just something people do and nobody would even notice, chances are they’re messing with your head. Abusers have short fuses and they’re quick to go from neutral to sudden attack, accusing their partners of disloyalty, lying, and cheating, among other things. Every fear and twisted interpretation they have of the world, will be projected onto their partners. Partners will be caught up in terrible phases of guilt, shame and confusion over if they really are that bad and what they can do to make up for what they did wrong. The problem here is that they actually did nothing wrong in the first place, but the negative programming and lack of positive input from others will warp their minds to the point where they begin to question even the most straight-forward things.

The Infinitely Tipping See-Saw

What makes manipulators so good at getting away with the way they treat their partners, is that they pull unexpected ‘saves’ every now and then. They’ll suddenly be in the best mood and become loving and caring, take you out for dinner and compliment you. This propels you right back to where you were emotionally when you first got together, and make you believe that things aren’t really all that bad. Abusers consistently sway between treating you like dirt and treating you like gold, causing even greater confusion about whether something is actually wrong in the relationship or if it’s all in your head. Those brief moments where they are nice to you also induces overwhelming guilt for ever thinking anything bad of them when they suddenly treat you well.

Breaking You Down, Bit By Bit

If someone walked up to you and suddenly insulted you, you’d obviously be offended and either tell them off or walk away. Any respect you have for that person will be tarnished or destroyed and you won’t be all that willing to listen to them the next time. But abusers gradually break you down, so subtly that you don’t even realize it’s happening. They might start off by teasing you about a physical feature or habit, then gradually the teasing and jokes will turn into blatant insults. Whether you’re a bit overweight, have a slightly skew nose, different laugh, they’ll pinpoint it and make sure you know they think it’s terrible. Over time those insults start rolling into full onslaughts of your worth as a person and soon they’ll have you thinking you’re a complete and utter piece of dirt. Later down the line, a partner’s self-esteem is so degraded that they begin to believe their abusers when they’re told they’re worthless and that nobody else would ever want them or find them attractive. The “You’re lucky I put up with you, because nobody else would” card gets pulled often, leaving the partner – who is at that point completely without external, uplifting input – believing all this about themselves and stopping any desire or curiosity about finding something more out there.

Public vs Private Personas

Another aspect that is so hazardous about manipulators and abusers is their ability to seem completely charming and ‘normal’ in public environments. They maintain work life and outside interactions so well that most people never have the slightest suspicion that they’re not actually what they appear to be. This leaves partners feeling extremely isolated and in a state of distress and self-doubt, as they feel they’re the only one seeing and experiencing this dark other side and they have no one to talk to. Most partners of abusers, as I previously mentioned, are soft natured and not the type to be vindictive, so the chances of them lashing out, asking for help or bad mouthing their partner to a friend or colleague is slim to none – especially with the fear they are permanently drowning in that they’d step a foot wrong and face even more punishment. I’ve sat down with former clients and friends who knew my ex and would have to bite my lip as they said, “He seemed like a nice guy.” – completely unaware that he spat venom and wished them all dead behind their backs. Completely oblivious to the fact that he used to slap me moments before others entered a room and would say “Just wait until we get home. Then you’ll see”, demanding I keep a straight face and smile like nothing happened afterwards. Their greatest power is in seeming completely normal and the arrogant conviction that they’ve scared you into submission to the point where you won’t talk to anyone and nobody else would believe you if you ever did.

Guilt and Fear Infusion

One of their favourite weapons in breaking you down is their ability to induce guilt. They’ll wield it in so many ways, each time finding a way to make you feel that you are really being extremely selfish in what you are doing or wanting. Soon you’ll find yourself feeling guilty for just thinking something, as their programming of deprecation and criticism is absorbed and ultimately adopted by you. You’ll feel guilty and scared that you’ll upset them again, which means every waking moment of every day is spent walking on eggshells, praying you do everything just right and that you don’t absentmindedly set off the ever-ticking time bomb.

They’ll make you doubt yourself and everything you think or know.

I’ve heard of several women who, completely cut off from a healthy support structure and stable advice, start questioning not only their worth but also their every action and thought process. Some even go to psychologists in desperation to understand what is wrong with them, because their partners find so many faults in them. The need to understand is so great that you’d rather be diagnosed with a mental disorder and at least know that’s definitely the cause, than to spend your days questioning everything and wishing you knew why your partners treats you the way he does. Abusive partners are very good at making you believe their lies, including their accusations that you’re the one who isn’t right in the head and that they’re perfect and you are ungrateful for everything they do for you. Once they’ve isolated you from your loved ones, they’ll have plenty of room to reprogram you, without any interference – and this is where things become very dangerous.

These are just a few of the main aspects of how abusers interact with their partners. To understand why partners stay, you need to understand how immense the psychological destruction of exposure to an abusive person is. People have quit their jobs, moved schools and changed lifestyles just to get away from someone who belittles and bullies them to the point where they feel they can’t handle it. Now imagine living with someone like this, every day. By the time a woman is so beaten up that someone actually notices something is wrong, she’s so far gone in terms of self-esteem that she honestly does not believe anyone else will help her or love her,  convinced that she doesn’t deserve kindness or love. And sick as it is, if she doesn’t have a very supportive group of friends or family members to help her recover and see things in perspective again, there’s a chance she’ll go back her abusive partner. There’s also the reality that, thanks to the isolation and dependence abusers inflict on their partners, by that stage there won’t be anyone else to turn to. Don’t forget that for many women, they have spent years with their partners and in this time, everything from her financial stability to work and having children could have changed, most likely to the benefit of her partner’s control.

Anyone who exacts harm on other people or living creatures without a thought of compassion has a twisted, damaged heart and mind. You will come across many in life, but you don’t have to become broken because they are.

The Hand That Feeds Often Needs A Band Aid

People seem to have difficulty with the idea of turn-based generosity and kindness. I got to thinking about this yesterday while caught in semi-rush hour traffic and everyone was kissing the bumper of the person in front of them stubbornly, leaving drivers who were trying to turn into the lane sitting there like island castaways watching commercial planes flying overhead.

“Starting to question if I even really exist…”

“Starting to question if I even really exist…”

I dead halted and let a guy through, he courteously thanked me and took his place ahead of me. Next thing the three cars behind him decided this was their in as well and they forced their way into the lane without so much as acknowledgment or gratitude.

Hey man, the ticket said “Admin One”.

Hey man, the ticket said “Admin One”.

I raised an eyebrow and sighed. A truck driver was next in line, with a giant cargo container in tow. I started moving forward and he gave me a look like you swear I’d just walked into his house and stole his dinner off his plate. While glaring at me all spear-eyed, he carried on moving and pushed in front of me. Stuff like this really doesn’t phase me, but while sitting there I started thinking about how this is a great example of what people tend to do in life.

Let’s say I didn’t let the first guy in. I would have been just another selfish jerk who couldn’t be bothered about anyone else then, in his eyes. Had I only let him in and then shifted forward and left the rest waiting, the next guy would have thought it’s seriously unfair that the guy in front of him got a chance and he didn’t. You see it from pre-school ages, where one kid gets a bigger sweet or any form of treatment that leaves the rest feeling they aren’t being treated fairly. I’m not sure where it all arises from. Is it really so common for people to just be naturally selfish in their behaviours or is it that they have a mind-set of scarcity – some caveman-like instinct to fight for every crumb because there isn’t enough to go around?

"It's MINE!"

“It’s MINE!”

The problem with being a sincere, nice, kind, generous person is you tend to expect the rest of the world to be and feel the same. They aren’t. They don’t. That’s just life. Not everyone is a good Samaritan by nature, but at least take stock of how many times a day you’re the nice guy in a situation, the exception instead of the demanding norm.

PS: This was not a rant. I swear. No really.

7 Lessons To Manage Success And A Public Persona

I’ve always understood that people in higher places have to be more careful with what they say and do, because more people are watching and, sadly, waiting for them to take a step wrong so that they can launch an attack on them. It can be seen in the smallest, simplest arenas. Like the popular girl at school being resented by the other girls, all of them waiting to just get dirt on her to bring her down. The same thing happens with employees who would jump at the chance to find something to bring down the super performer in their department. Sad as it is, human nature has an underlying current of insecurity that fuels the need for people to pull themselves up by pulling others down. All of which is pretty much normal life that we all have to deal with, but things change as you develop beyond the levels of just being a face in the crowd.

So, here are a few things I’ve learned in the past year or so about what happens when you become more recognized (this list will probably need amendments later on):

1. You can’t be yourself in public view anymore

I had lunch with a friend a few days ago, and we got to talking about how Twitter has changed for us over the years. She’s developed a fair amount of public recognition and built herself into a successful, ambitious business woman, balancing two separate brands. The price of all of this, however, is that she’s increasingly found herself unable to really be herself online. Her Twitter ‘persona’ now bears the responsibility of being a brand representative for actual businesses, not just herself. As a result, she can’t make comments that are a bit loaded with sarcasm or poke fun at things anymore, as it will reflect badly on her brands. In any ambitious position, you become your own brand and most valuable commodity and have to constantly keep that in mind.

Two things happen when you deviate from what you’re perceived to be online:

1. You alienate your existing follower base who don’t personally know you well and followed you mostly based on what you’ve said or said you are, to date
2. You open yourself up to all kinds of attacks and trolling

I’ve always been a ‘think thrice, speak once’ type of person, but over the years I’ve become increasingly careful of what I say online. People have a habit of seeing you as one thing when they encounter you online and will continue to associate you with that. So if you say you’re an architect, you had better be tweeting, blogging and commenting mostly about architecture and keeping it all clean and professional. The fact that you might be an avid mud wrestler in your spare time had better not be mentioned, and if you have any form of bigotry ingrained in you, you’d best keep it to yourself for the sake of keeping your career alive. The problem with online and public facing personas is just that: you get to have one main image, with maybe one or two smaller aspects you can occasionally mention. People, for the most part, have multi-faceted personalities and interests. They’re not just one thing all the time, just as their moods, energy levels or food cravings vary from day to day. For the sake of not confusing the people who follow you and don’t personally know you though, you have to pick an aspect and stick with it. Come to think of it, that’s probably why fake accounts and trolls run rampant in the online space: the platform that’s meant to encourage freedom of speech and expression has become the most critical platform that pries into your every moment and can keep screen shots as evidence to back them up and bring you down.

I know my blogs and tweets are mainly based on life observations, lessons, and the occasional motivational post. From time to time I loosen the reigns just enough to make a wacky remark or two or show some part of my personal life, before I get back to my usual mode. I can’t be sure but I guess from what you see online you’d think I’m mostly a serious person who thinks too much. Okay yes, I do tend to think a lot, about a lot. Other times I have “screw it, I’m taking the day off to do something totally mindless” days. The other sides you don’t see though, is me cracking jokes and goofing off with my son and friends, spending hours refurbishing furniture or painting walls because I find it therapeutic, loving stand-up comedy after having tried my hand at it way back as a pre-teen and – now less often but still – gaming. You don’t see me saying humanity is a bunch of dumb asses who honestly can’t see basic, fundamental truth if it smacks them in the face, although I sometimes think it. You don’t see the expression on my face when I finally give in to the curiousity of why everyone’s going on about some Niki Minaj video, only to play it and within seconds go, “What the f… Who watches this?”, then wishing I could give my brain a bio-hazard worthy acid scrub afterwards. Tact is something I’ve learned from a young age, and coupled with self-restraint I’m happy I can smile at people even when they swear at me. But the reality is, if you want to excel at something, you’ll have to keep the rest of you well out of sight and only let it out around a select few people who you know and trust. I’m not saying become a robot and I’m not suggesting we should all abide by this rule – some high-level, respected professionals crack a few crude jokes online and get away with it because it’s accepted as part of their personality and they really don’t care if you don’t approve. I am saying, though, that the higher up you go, the more advisable it is to simplify your life and associations as much as possible because the risk of exploitation exponentially increases as you become more prominent.

2. What you say matters more than ever before

If you’re a regular person with a normal job, or no job even, you have very little to lose by going on an all-out, super opinionated rant. Nobody’s listening because nobody really cares anyway, right? Low paying citizens get to scream, shout and protest about how they are done wrong, how their president is an idiot and how rich people are all jerks. They can do it because, in some unspoken sense, they are entitled to do so and we all turn a blind eye. They have no immense power of influence individually, and knowing this allows them the freedom to say anything they want. If a minister, corporate CEO or prominent public figure had to suddenly go on an uncontrolled rant about something in the same spirit, they’d be ripped to shreds, years of hard work and PR obliterated in a matter of minutes.

Then there’s the other aspect to consider: misinterpretation. People generally misunderstand each other quite easily; a lot of the time when you say something you have a clear image in your mind of what you mean, but you don’t convey it in a way that’s clearly understood by someone else. Along with the power of influence you have at a higher level, comes the risk of people twisting your words, sometimes very maliciously. Basic rule of thumb? Keep it concise, clear and objective. Just like you’d spell-check your writing before hitting send, you’ll have to make sure what you say can’t be interpreted in some other way.

3. You can’t just endorse people or vouch for them as easily anymore

I find this one tricky, because I like to see the good and potential in people. Sadly, sometimes they either don’t see it in themselves or they just don’t have the discipline or ethics to see something through that you help them to attain. Your name rides on the people that you recommend or endorse, whatever happens to them directly affects how the third party perceives you. Failure on their part means that you essentially failed the sponsor or company involved as you made the recommendation. In the same light, affiliating with any association means your entire reputation rides on them and if anything goes wrong, your name goes down with theirs. Sometimes your faith in humanity and desire to help has to take a backseat to risk mitigation. Instead of directly helping the little guy, sometimes you have to go to the big guy to help the little guy indirectly.

4. It becomes an odd game of chess, coupled with trusting your gut

Calculated risk becomes a daily thing, maybe it’s also a sign of growing older but understanding what you have to lose makes you all the more cautious. You start looking before you leap, and after a while you might even have to research the whole terrain from a safe distance before coming anywhere near the cliff, let alone jumping. Life becomes more strategic as you advance, you don’t just do things because you impulsively feel like it. Now you have to take everything into consideration, being well aware that every decision is a pebble that lands in the pond of your life and career. Everything affects everything else. It might sound all too serious if you’re reading this, a bit control-freak like even. It’s not so much an obsessive, paranoid state of constantly checking everything as it is something you grow into though, until it just becomes a normal part of your life. This is where the trusting your gut part comes in. In spite of all the sum of life experience, professional conduct and calculated risk, very little of that matters at all when it comes to a strong gut feeling about something or someone. Sometimes you just get a feeling that you can trust a person, your faith in them completely shifts your doubts to the side and you choose to involve them in your life on some level. Sometimes this works out great and you find yourself earning a true lifelong partner in your business or personal life. Other times you find you were wrong, as we all are sometimes, but you pick yourself up and carry on, taking whatever lesson you gained from the experience with you, in better preparation for the next.

5. Not every opportunity offered should be an opportunity taken

You know how people say, ‘opportunity comes once in a lifetime’? We’re all taught that you don’t get a lot of chances or big breaks in life, so you had better give it your all and go for it when it comes. The funny thing is, there might well come a time when opportunity knocks so hard you sometimes wish the door was soundproof. People offer you things for various reasons and, as is typical with human nature, a lot of the time something is offered in the hopes of gaining something in return, often very selfishly so. You’ll encounter people who offer you business deals, personal opportunities, even offer to give you things for nothing (apparent) in return. This is just as true for everyday people as it is for the highly successful, although the latter obviously tend to get these offers far more often. Again, this is something that involves gut feeling as much as careful consideration – not every opportunity is a good one that will make your life better. It might even be something that sounds like a great deal to the person proposing it but to you, it’s below your level of advancement or does not line up with your overall career strategy. Also, saying yes to the first thing that comes along might well mean you’ll be forced to turn down something far better down the line.

6. A solid group of real people in your life is critically invaluable

I don’t think life was ever meant to be this balancing act of selective behaviour and awareness that you have to keep a close check on what you say and do, to the point that you can’t even be yourself. Unfortunately, everything comes at a price and in order to thrive in our society, you have to abide by certain rules in the game. All of this means you need a reality check and proper grounding more than ever. People tend to suck up to you a lot more if you have power of influence or something they want, which means you rarely get the raw truth from them in words or their behaviour towards you. Family members and a handful of friends who still see you as the person you were before all this success happened and the person you still are when the world isn’t watching, are the anchors to sanity you need to keep a level head and be truly happy. I’m not remotely well known or hugely successful, but I do know that while spending time with the pioneers in my industry makes me feel inspired and driven, nothing makes me deeply happier and more content than spending a few hours being a total kid with my son and joking about everything without need to hold back. This is something I know will never change, the value of people who you know won’t judge you or run out to bad mouth you in public at the first chance they get, is beyond explanation. This brings me to the last point…

7. Making time for loved ones vs career responsibilities becomes very hard

There used to be a time when lunch with the family and getting together with friends was something you didn’t even need to think about, it just happened based on your natural desire to spend time with them. As things progress in your career however, you find you’re often pulled in many directions by many obligations and opportunities. A very ambitious person would find it hard to turn these down – not only for personal gain but if some form of greater good is to be served, you understand the responsibility you have to use your power of influence to aid others. Somewhere along the line the lunches become less frequent, the phone calls shorter and the connection and knowledge of every small detail in your loved ones’ lives fray to a point where you sadly realize you’re not nearly as close as you used to be. You have to turn down invitations for visits becomes something’s come up again and soon you find yourself feeling pretty torn and guilty, hoping they understand that you don’t love them any less and that they are still a priority in your life, things are just a bit hectic at the moment. I’ve come to understand that it’s very hard for people in general to understand where someone else is coming from when they are not as busy in general. Few things work people up as much as having a good amount of free time on their hands and sending a text message, then sitting waiting for a reply for hours. Meanwhile the other person has been in back-to-back meetings all day and only gets a chance to reply that evening, their apology for the late reply feeling pretty hollow and guilt-ridden. I’ve adopted many things by learning from my uncle, who has always been a workaholic and became highly successful. One thing I really need to adopt as well, is his insistence on some well-needed rest time. Before he retired from this main career (he also owns several companies), he worked ten months straight with plenty of long hours and few breaks. When the end of November rolled around each year though, he’d pack his suitcases and fly down to Cape Town and for two solid months he would do nothing but spend time with family and friends and just relax. As much as advancing in your career is important, you can’t risk losing time with the people who matter, hoping one day you’ll have more free time to catch up. We tend to assume that because they’ve always been there, they always will be. Much as that might be the case, the amount of time you have left with them is sadly uncertain.

Something we all should learn in life is you will never find time to do the things you want to. That’s because time is not something you find, it’s something you deliberately set aside. You make time for things. If you wait to find time for it, you’ll never end up doing it because something will always come up, no matter how many times you try to clear your schedule.

Remember that there is a life outside of the image you’ve developed and make time to build on things and people you know you’ll have for life, even if all of this success and recognition suddenly falls away and you’re left with nothing.

The Issue Of Boundaries

You’ll always find people who are just flat out inappropriate with their timing or their approach to you. Sadly, I guess not everyone was raised to be sensitive to others’ needs and the possibility that they are encroaching or overstepping their bounds at times. Maybe they are completely unaware that they’re actually bothering you or hurting you in some way with their actions. Then again, maybe they are just self-absorbed and thinking about their own wants and needs in that moment.

My dad taught me many things when I was a kid. One of them was to always put yourself in someone else’s shoes and remember that we are all going through our own struggles. At some point in time I took it a step further, because I really wanted to understand as well as I could, what a life outside of mine could be like. I’d lie in bed whenever it was quiet and try to actively visualize the life of someone else, someone completely random that I didn’t even know or have met in person. Like an old woman in a retirement home who spent her whole life looking after others and now finds herself quite alone in her last days. Or the homeless man everyone ignores as they walk past him. I’d try to imagine what their lives could have been like, what led them to this point. Finally I started writing from their perspective, small, one-page pieces with a glimpse into the life of another person and how they thought and felt. Overall it made me a lot more aware of others’ feelings and left me convinced that none of us are entitled to judge another. Obviously that just made me a whole lot more aware and uncomfortable with people generally being so judgemental and inconsiderate of how they make others feel at times.

As much as there are many random moments and ways that people can disrespect your boundaries, it seems to be most commonly based on what you do for a living. Your choice of career somehow seems to give everyone at random a sort of free pass to bother you about it for the rest of your days, without so much as asking permission first. Ask any guy who knows a bit about IT and computers. They’re bound to be harassed by family and friends the moment something breaks or a new printer is bought. He’s just the go-to guy, whether he wants to be or not. Usually there’s a bit of bribery involved, often involving a free dinner, “…and while you’re here, won’t you take a look at my PVR? I can’t get the damn thing to record.” If you have a doctor in the family or are one yourself, you’ll know that you’re never really on holiday – especially on family holidays. Big get-togethers like Christmas or a family birthday means you’re basically going to be spending a good deal of your time giving free advice and check-ups to everyone, ranging from your aunt with her developing arthritis to your uncle’s brother in law who thinks he has a suspicious mole on his back. I’ve actually heard people say, “Oh she won’t mind, she does this every day! It’ll just take a minute.” I guess the fact that you do something every day somehow means you must want to do it even more when you clock out and finally have a chance to relax…

Cases get even more extreme as you move out of the general member of public circles and become a bit more well-known. It seems the more you move into the public eye, the less entitlement you have to basic human rights and even suggesting that you need a time out will cause an uproar of shock and even offense. As if you somehow owe your life and achievements to them and you’re throwing it in their faces by not always being on hand to sign autographs or smile for a picture. Porn stars, I’m very sure, have an issue with most fans thinking they are basically guaranteed sex with them because heck, it’s what they do for a living, on camera, so what’s the problem? Crude as it may seem, the reality is most guys would probably say they can at least cop a feel because they keep these actors in business. The less clothes were involved in getting you famous, the more people think it’s okay to get grabby. Somehow people seem to be completely blind and unaware that beyond what that person does or did, they still have unique personalities with interests and needs completely separate from what they’re known for, and that they’d like to just be treated with the same respect and decency we bestow upon other people we hardly know. More than that, we all get fed up with people wanting things from us sometimes and we should all have the right to turn off our phones and just take the day off if we need it, without having to worry about someone taking offense. Nobody ever willingly signed away their right to privacy, unless they were only in it for the fame.

It’s almost as if any sense of regard or consideration just goes straight out the window when normal people deal with ‘celebrities’ (I really don’t like that term, I’ve always thought they’re just people in more prominent public view than others). You’d swear they’re dealing with storefront mannequins at times. Just over ten years ago a friend dragged me to a nightclub and as it happened, a pretty well-known local radio and TV presenter was DJ’ing there that night. At some point in time he walked up and was standing beside me at the bar when out of the crowd a woman appeared. Pale, long mousy hair in a ponytail and thick-rimmed glasses, she seemed very out of place, compared to the makeup-drenched stiletto squad there. She walked straight up to him and asked, in a pretty thick Afrikaans accent, if he was who she thought he was. He barely said yes as she looked him up and down, then dropped this on him: “Jis. You really aren’t good looking in person. No wonder you’re on the radio.” And with that, she turned around and walked off. I think my jaw was dragging on the alcohol-stained floor in that moment, with my heart fast in tow. I couldn’t even look up to check his reaction, I was reeling with shock. He took a sip of his drink, put the glass on the bar counter and walked off into the crowd without a word. Later that night I saw him standing in a corner by himself, staring at his phone. I felt so sickened and sad. How the hell anyone could be so downright cruel and crass, I had no idea. The most disarming thing was seeing someone who usually has a mouth faster on the draw than a cowboy in a gunfight, being so very quiet. Some people would say in a sense he should have seen it coming and needs to deal with it, because this is the life he chose and how he chose to be seen. I don’t see anyone deserving that type of comment or treatment though, especially not if you weren’t personally hurt or offended by them in a bad way, and even then I’d usually keep my mouth shut. I suppose Joan Rivers must have got a lot of flak and inconsiderate comments in her lifetime too – after all, she only ever came across as crass and tactless even. Yes, you do reap what you sow. But for some, all they did was chase after something they really loved or wanted, propelled by their passion, never once wanting or thinking about receiving attention or fame as a result.

Sure, we inadvertently all end up being associated – often wrongfully or partially – by what we do or what we’re known for. We even do it to ourselves, albeit at will. If you’re a writer, down to your every last fibre, you’d proudly proclaim yourself as such. Women who can conceive of nothing better than being a mom, happily label themselves mothers above all else. The problem comes in when we get boxed and treated in a way we didn’t actually ask for. It’s not something that we can do much about, it’s just the way people think and behave. What you see is how you identify something or someone. So if an image of a person is only ever portrayed to you, over and over, in one way, it becomes hard to see or imagine them as more or anything different. Sadly, often the punishment we have to deal with for succeeding at what we strive for in life, is loss of respect and recognition for all we are, outside of the one thing people see or know you for.

It’s been said so many times that it pretty much just blows right past people’s conscious consideration these days, but you really do need to try and think beyond yourself when you deal with people. I’d challenge anyone to just take a day, or even half a day, to look at the people you come across in those hours and remember that there’s a whole lot more going on with them than just the few minutes of interaction they have with you.

The Ultimate Trickster

Our minds are tricky, sneaky and pretty freaky things. Your brain can fool you into believing so many things, perceiving and misperceiving, and even change your recollection of past events. As if all these optical illusion posts lately aren’t enough to have you questioning how you see things, there’s a lovely range of things happening to you, caused by your brain, that you’re not even aware of at all.

Your mind warps things, and I’m not just talking about forgetting details or adding them on when you try to remember events. This is especially treacherous when it comes to relationships. Someone mentioned on Twitter the other day that it’s funny how the people you at one time could not imagine possibly loving more, can one day be people you never even think about at all, and when you do you wonder what the heck you were even thinking. Initially it seems like that is pretty odd, but then I got to thinking about all the times I was convinced of something and soon thereafter looked at myself and wondered what the heck I was thinking. Several wardrobe faux pas from my teens come to mind… *cough*

Anyone who’s a bit clued up about human behaviour knows we tend to create a preconceived image in our heads of how we think things or people are. Often it’s a picture painted in the way we want it to be, and the absence of actual personal experience with that person or thing leaves a nice, big open world of possibility that it might well be true. This is how people can easily day dream about their crushes and play out imaginary scenarios in their heads about what the person would say, how they would laugh, how they would interact with them. Often – I’d even go so far as to say pretty much all the time – they have a harsh moment of disillusionment when they do actually meet the person and spend a bit of time with them. The same thing goes for dreaming about a trip overseas, a party, or anything else you haven’t yet experienced. In spite of our outward, cynical reactions to the world, our internal natures tend to be hopeful most of the time. We choose to hope and believe that what is coming, where we’re going or who we’ll meet is good and will bring positive experiences. Many times we build it up so much in our minds that reality just doesn’t live up to it. Let’s face it: even the most critically, methodically planned thing like a wedding, can still go wrong thanks to forces beyond our control. It should be accepted.

So now, there’s also the flip to this whole situation. It turns out, not only do we build up these magnificent hopes and visions of people before we really know them, we also break down our memories and skew them, after we break up with these people or have a fallout where we can’t reconcile our differences. I read an interesting article the other day, explaining how we alter our memories of a person, based on our current feelings about them. We highlight and exaggerate memories we have of people, based on how we feel about them now. So if you were once madly in love with someone and they could do nothing wrong in your eyes, but you had an ugly breakup, you’d find it hard not to suddenly think back and only remember all the things they did wrong, all the times they didn’t do or say what you wanted or hoped they would. Everything from the time they didn’t do the dishes to the way they cleared their throat all too often – things that before were happily overlooked – suddenly becomes all you can think about when you look back now. So what’s happening here? Basically your brain is adjusting your memories – putting some into focus and repressing others that don’t align with what you believe about that person today. I’m guessing this is what makes people have those kinds of arguments where they mention things from months or years ago that the other person did wrong. It’s like your mind detects that you are talking about that person’s wrongful actions and it goes and searches for more information of the same kind, to further bolster your argument and prove you are ‘right’. All of this is obviously terrible for any effort of actually getting along and making peace. Of course there’s the other side of this as well. For example, an old lady who was in a less than fulfilling marriage for years who now finds herself widowed and alone, will tend to think back with fond and happy memories of her husband. When we lose people we love and care for, we only remember the good about them, the things that make us smile.

My take on it all is this: at some point in time you obviously got along with that person or at the very least tolerated them enough to allow them and yourself the opportunity for exploration. You clicked and things took a natural course where you got to know each other better. As much as it takes only a few seconds to decide if you like someone or not, it takes a long period of time to truly get to know someone. Not even an information packed “100 things you don’t know about me” list would get you any closer to knowing if you’ll still get along with the person a year down the line. You have to take into consideration the physiological aspect before you even start delving deeper. From what I recall reading ages ago, the first six months of a relationship is pretty much fuelled by hormones and unusually high levels of mental happy juice like endorphins, serotonin and the like. Once those levels start dropping and level out again, you’re left with the ability to think a bit more objectively and see the person in a more balanced light. This is where it goes awry for many people (although admittedly sometimes it happens way before this stage), as they start thinking maybe things aren’t quite right here, start feeling disappointed in their partners in some way. This is the part where all the other factors that make a relationship work kick in to either save the day or fail miserably. Things like agreeability, trust, confidence, knowing you can rely on the person and that your long term goals are actually lining up. But that’s a whole other post altogether. Point is, next time you start cursing your ex or bad mouthing old partners, bear in mind that you are probably seeing things in a not entirely unbiased way.

Relationships is only one example of how we warp how we think and recall things. In some way or other, we are all twisting our perceptions and interpretations. It’s a hard thing to keep a handle on unless you really have developed well beyond your average human being. If you’ve ever known or seen a fanatical person, you’ll have a perfect example of this in action again. Everyone, from headstrong conservationists to religious zealots to gym freaks, are shaping their beliefs, actions and memories based on what they actively are involved in. If you so strongly want something to be true, your mind will find or invent ways to give you the justification you so badly need to carry on with your life. This is why you can give ten people the same sentence to read and they’ll each come back with their own interpretations of what it means. It’s also how people can see different images when they’re all looking at the same drawing. Again, based on what you already believe at present, and of course also in relation to your past experiences and perceptions in life. People inherently have a need for acceptance, the extreme of which is insecure people who desperately seek the approval of others because they don’t have independent confidence in themselves. I’m thinking that in that same way, if you really want to believe that aliens have infiltrated our planet and walk among us, you would go digging and searching everywhere for proof or justification of this. Your mind is basically trying to have your back, even if what you believe is utterly outrageous or unreasonable.

Our entire world is shaped by our perceptions and interpretations of what happens to us every single moment of every day. It often makes me wonder if what one person sees is at all the same as what the next sees, and at the same time I find it astonishing how nobody seems to be aware of this and stops to question if they are really right in how they are doing things or what they say about people.

The Divide of Difference

I’ve recently realized that, even though most of the people I deal with are well beyond their school years, in some ways a lot of people just never advance beyond the mindsets they had from their earliest years. I’m not saying they are immature and reckless as people. Most of them are married, have stable jobs and pay bonds and taxes like any responsible member of modern society does. This is about something that is so ingrained in how we live that hardly anyone seems to notice it.

We’re taught to see difference in things. From a young age we’re given ‘spot the difference’ illustrations to help hone our ability to seek out even the most marginal incongruity and highlight it. Not that we really need tests like these to shape our minds into being more critical of what doesn’t fit in with the rest. It starts from childhood and anyone who’s been around kids or remember their own childhood can attest to this: kids become very disgruntled when they notice one of the group has a sweet that’s bigger than theirs or if the ice cream cone they get served isn’t quite as loaded as the one that the kid before them got. There’s this sense of great injustice that goes along with it, as if you just deprived them of everything they hold dear in some evil scheme to ruin their day. You’d think that this balances out over the years as kids realize the world doesn’t revolve around who gets the biggest portion of sugary delights, but it doesn’t stop the ingrained tendency to seek out and point fingers at things that are not the same. Kids pick on the kid who’s a bit shorter or fatter than the rest. If you had to ask kids why they bully and pick on others, their response would probably be an indeliberate shrug and something along the lines of, “He’s just different than the rest of us.” Ridiculous as it seems when you look at it from this perspective, often times that’s really as far as the reasoning goes with these harmful actions. Of course, it runs far beyond the borders of the school yard. Kids are not fans of any form of difference – including favouritism, in the case of a teacher’s pet or a sibling who did better at the end of a school term. This doesn’t leave people as they grow older, a lot of the time the balanced objectivity to see situations as individual circumstances with their own unique variables, just doesn’t develop in people.

When you dig down deep, the common cause in most of these cases is jealousy…the sense that you are unfairly receiving less than someone else and that you deserve it as much or even more than they do. It’s what causes uprising and dissension in work environments, labour union representatives make their bread and butter by enforcing and managing the rights of workers to be paid fair amounts when they are angered after seeing someone else got paid so much more than they did. Co-workers turn against each other at the drop of a hat if anyone gets wind that one got a bigger bonus or an increase when the rest didn’t quite get similarly rewarded. This very issue of seeing and pointing at what isn’t the same as everything else has been at the heart of some of the biggest issues modern day man has faced and is still facing. From basic human rights laws to equal rights for homosexual partnerships, our constant hammering on how and why one group or person is not being treated the same as the other has turned tides and simultaneously caused moral and ethical storms, dividing people even further as everyone fights to better their own lives. It seems each attempt to seek equality results in even greater rifts, almost as if ten people are pulling on the same sheet for coverage but the sheet isn’t big enough and starts tearing in places, leaving newly exposed areas.

I’m curious why it is that people tend to naturally focus more on the negative, see the differences, talk more about something when it goes wrong than when it works as it should. We throw our toys when we don’t get our way, let’s face it. Most people are not exempt from this, everyone does it sometimes, or used to when they were younger. We gang up without so much as stopping to ask ourselves why we just jump in there and criticise or reject along with the rest. It takes a lot more guts to reach out to help the condemned than to disappear in the sea of conformity. Above all else, I wonder why it is that we don’t focus on all the things that we have in common, instead of what makes us different. Fundamentally we all have the same needs in life, we all respond in the same way when we are hurt or happy. If you’ve ever met someone, a complete stranger, who in passing mentions something that just so happens to be a quirk you have as well, you’ll know how powerful moments like those are. It creates a moment in time where you connect with someone who moments ago was just another face, yet now they make you feel less alone in your views on the world. It’s a moment where you feel you’ve found someone like you. Someone who gets you. And that’s one of the core needs everyone has: a feeling of belonging, being understood and accepted by others.

I’m not going all ‘hug a tree and dance in the moonlight’ here, I swear. It just makes sense that we’d all get along a whole lot better if we sought to focus on our similarities rather than our differences. It’s been said we are born without prejudice. Kids can laugh and play together, with absolutely no consideration of the other’s upbringing, social stature, intelligence or colour. They share a common bond of finding pleasure in something as simple as sticking their hands in mud and enjoying the squishy feeling between their fingers. They sit there and have this honest, unfiltered, undiluted experience of just being alive in a physical body and sharing it with someone else who is doing the same thing.

If we are born mostly blank canvases, it makes sense that we can grow in any direction over the years. This notion that you shouldn’t put ‘stupid ideals’ and ‘false hope’ into kids’ heads is disturbing because everyone’s so quick to dismiss anything outside of the narrow, pretty sad, creek that we’re expected to all fit into in this world, when there’s a whole valley of options beyond that. There’s no reason why positive reinforcement can’t be nurtured in schools and society, teaching our kids to look for what makes us all the same instead of picking on someone who doesn’t quite fit in. More than that, teaching them to ask ‘Why not?’ when someone suggests another person or group doesn’t deserve the same things as them. Teaching them to celebrate the differences in themselves and others as blueprints for unique talents that nobody else can quite master in the same way. And lastly, teaching them not to condemn or shrug off those who seek to see the good, speak about it, write about it, or live it. It’s the fear of our own potential, the ‘what if’ of imagining that we might actually be suppressing a significant, blinding radiance that scares us into denying it.

Of Gut Feelings and That Little Voice

We’ve all heard someone say ‘follow your gut’ or ‘listen to your instincts’. Another variation of that is ‘do what your heart tells you is right’, although that tends to lean more towards emotional openness than self-preservation. Gut instincts have gone from what more than likely kept our ancestors from being eaten alive several times, to now being shrugged off as nothing more than your imagination running away with you, or you telling yourself ‘I’m just being paranoid for nothing’. If things aren’t backed up by cold, hard, in-your-face facts or visual evidence that makes it near impossible to deny the reality, we tend to ignore or play down the feelings that sometimes surface, seemingly from out of nowhere. Some people are more prone to this, maybe because they want more badly to not believe what their gut is telling them. This is often the case with relationships where you get the feeling your partner isn’t being faithful, although you don’t really have any proof of it. Or when you think someone isn’t quite who they say they are but you’re not sure why you’d think that. Time and again, you find these feelings had merit to them, albeit usually much later on.

After several personal experiences, I’ve learned not to ignore that gut feeling under any circumstances. It might be what stands between you being okay or in great harm. I was always intuitive as a kid and have always been very empathetic, and while it served well for being understanding and always looking for the good in people, it also caused me to be blind to the dangers of some. Finally I turned towards a very straight-forward, at-face-level way of dealing with the world and in a sense, I based my choices on my trust in science and facts, objectivity and research. Three years ago I decided to ignore a very strong gut feeling I had the moment I met someone. I just came out of a long-term relationship and the company was welcomed, although the very moment I met this person, I got a strong feeling of panic and distrust. I chose to ignore this and told myself I was being stupid. Three months later I was sitting in a hospital casualty ward, with a broken nose, punched out teeth and a concussion that left me with memory loss and blackouts for the next few months. Which would have been conceivable if I was a cage fighter, but I was a 48kg girl who invested her time and compassion in the wrong person. Listening to my initial sense about this person would have prevented all of this from happening. You’d think that would have been the final blow to my trust in people, but a few months later my compassionate nature got me in trouble yet again, this time ultimately leaving me sitting in about 4 liters of someone else’s blood and wondering how the heck my life got to this point. Aside from a potential post-Apocalyptic world, I didn’t expect quite such a turn of events to happen. (And no, I wasn’t responsible for the bloodshed, relax.)

Yes, these are extreme examples of how things could go wrong but to counter that, by following my gut instincts and choosing some people as friends, speaking at the moment I felt was right or making a move when something just made me feel it was the right time, has brought me tremendous windfalls and personal success as well. There are many stories of how people just got a sudden strong feeling and went with it, resulting in lives being saved or events which seem unlikely, to shift into incredible outcomes. The neuroscience of it all indicates that we learn from every experience we have in life and that, while we have no inkling of just how complex our mind’s processing power is, we’re constantly calculating potential outcomes and alternatives, based on past experience as well as some deeply ingrained genetic programming that links back to our good old fight-or-flight mechanisms. Some would say it’s the grace of God, that whisper in your ear when you least expect it. Others believe it is some form of divine intervention, whatever they choose to believe in. Whatever you choose to believe, I’ve found it’s rarely, if ever wrong. Your gut instinct is strong and tends to surface suddenly and from out of nowhere. Don’t confuse it with paranoia or deep-seated fears surfacing…those tend to have some form of thought process linked to them, you tend to have some form of panicked conversation in your head, indicating you’re trying to process and reason through what’s happening. Gut instincts and feelings initially appear completely independent of your own thoughts, they’re pretty much like the tap on your shoulder you didn’t see coming. What you do with it from there on is your choice.

Why am I telling you all this? Because maybe it will make someone reading it think twice next time they get a sudden bad feeling, or listen when they get an encouraging, good feeling. This is one case where I forfeit logic and reasoning and firmly believe you should just silence your mind and listen for that voice instead. It’s there for a reason.

The Multitasking Paradox

Can I just say, straight off the bat, that this notion that all women can multitask, is just not true. I absolutely suck at it. Well, much less now than before but until my mid-twenties I could not even summon the split focus to make breakfast without burning the toast or over frying the eggs to the level of some kind of rubber-like substance. It’s something you adapt and grow into, as your lifestyle changes and things become more challenging on a daily basis. We’re all taught that multitasking ability is a good thing. If there was a personal attributes list, multitasking would get a giant green tick beside it every time. It even gets listed as specific requirement on some job placement ads. We consider it skilful and balanced to have the ability to do three things at the same time. More than that, we consider it vital.

A few years back, a professor discussed this whole obsession with doing more things at once. He said he refuses to do more than one thing at a time as it splits your total focus into fragments. He wouldn’t even drive his car with the radio on or allow his passengers to speak while he was behind the wheel. I was fascinated by this notion. Extreme as it seemed, he had a point. If you do two things at once, you’re immediately only assigning a ratio of 50% to each thing, or an imbalanced ratio like 70/30, leaving one of the two tasks seriously not being dealt with properly. Now imagine being a stay at home mom with four kids, trying to do five things at once. The end result is obviously that nothing will get done quite right. So why do we think it’s okay to live with divided attention spans and give people so much credit for doing it?

The multitasking paradox is the notion that you’ll get more things done in a day by doing more things at the same time, but the very result of that is that all things get done partially and you end up having to return to them to either redo, finish or fix what was done earlier. It’s kind of become the norm now to do several things at once. In fact, while the way we do things would have left a person from the early 20th century in a state of total distress, today the struggle is our inability to give our undivided attention to just one thing. Take the whole pulling out smartphones at dinners and get-togethers as an example. A few years ago that would have been nothing but dead rude and unacceptable. These days it’s a matter of ‘everyone knows it’s not polite but we’re all doing it, so…’

A sad side effect of this whole way of living is not so much in the fact that nothing gets done properly, it’s that we’re not really ever ‘there’ when we do things. Hours, days and weeks fly by with us just trying to keep all the balls in the air, leaving very few moments you can think back on and say you really immersed yourself in what you were doing or where you were. Whether you’re cooking or playing with the kids, if your mind is doing five other things while you throw a ball without even consciously focusing on your surroundings, you’re losing precious opportunity to experience moments that should be what make your days worth it. All those memories our parents and grandparents have of their younger years, the things they look back on and smile about when they’re sitting at retirement age with not much else to absorb their time and attention… How many memories will we be able to recall clearly when we reach that age? Will you really remember the day your first child took his first steps, or will it be fuzzy because you were on your phone checking your Facebook feed? What if, because of how we live now, with scattered focus and fixation on fleeting status updates, we end up having very little of worth to look back on? Many people in their last years of life have said you won’t be lying on your death bed, thinking about all the targets you didn’t reach at work or the salary you had back then. None of these things matter later on, yet they have become all-consuming now.

I’m not saying throw the smartphone out the window and turn to a life of manual labour and living off the land. Maybe just try to give your undivided attention to moments in your day or week, and clear your mind from worrying about projects, bills and deadlines. The most precious thing in this world that you can offer someone at this point in time, is your complete and undivided attention.

And don’t be so hard on yourself if you can’t manage to deal with doing five things at once – none of history’s greatest breakthroughs happened in a moment of multitasking. In fact, the greatest light bulb moments pioneering engineers and inventors had throughout history, happened when they took a break from their labs and did something relaxing. Newton was lying under a tree when the apple fell. Archimedes was sitting in a bath tub when things suddenly clicked into place. Sometimes the very best thing you can do to solve a problem or get clarity, is to do as little as possible.