our very public privacy

image

I invite you to imagine yourself in a large theatre, standing on a stage in front of an audience of 200 strangers. You are about to speak out, frankly, about your most private moments.

Ready to go? Happy? Begin…

No?

Oddly, public transport seems to provide a safe environment for us to do this. To share our most private moments. A train carriage, packed with 200 strangers for example.

In only the last week I have witnessed three examples whilst travelling on a train.

Maybe it’s the imagined intimacy of the one to one telephone conversation, the background hum of the train on the tracks? Maybe it’s the intensity and the emotion of the content of the exchange, taking us into ourselves?  I don’t know, but somehow these people become so absorbed by their conversation that their awareness of their audience is seemingly totally lost. They find a freedom and a frankness in front of strangers; all sense of potentially prying eyes and ears, any sense of vulnerability, of exposure, of visibility seems to desert them.

Whether it be a lady initially informing her husband she will be late and is having to stand, descending into a row about him never listening to her and a very honest view of his sister’s shortcomings; or a young woman, speaking to a (presumed) friend, recounting her night out, which culminated in her boyfriend hitting her; or a conversation face to face between two standing passengers, conducted at unnecessary volume, one initially exploring a ‘client’ emotionally falling for her (I’m sure there are ethical limits here) and culminating in a sharing of bluntly truthful views on their respective partners and their children…

Maybe we should be more cognisant of our surroundings and the words, thoughts and feelings tumbling out?

Or maybe we could benefit from such honesty, such openness, such trust in our everyday lives?

speaking guttish


When we think, we can tangibly understand and relate to our thoughts. They have a language. Our language. It’s like a conversation. We can hear or see our thoughts. We can reason with them. Disagree with them.

When we think, we can tangibly produce outputs. Pros and cons. Information and data. Benefits and implications. Decisions. Choices.

But when our gut feel is in use, it can be harder to understand and relate to. Often we don’t know what the feeling means. There is no language. In fact we often struggle to find a language for the feeling, let alone interpret its intent for us.

So what does that mean for a decision based largely or completely on gut feel?

The flipism normative decision theory suggests making a decision based on a coin toss. Not a decision based on the toss itself, but on the feeling associated with the outcome. The theory being, if your gut really wanted the ‘heads’ outcome, you will feel positive if that’s the result and disappointed if the toss comes down ‘tails’.

But how do we know a positive feeling from a disappointed one? And what if our feeling on the outcome isn’t ‘disappointed’, but is ‘sad’, or ‘let down’ or ‘futility’ or ‘shame’… How do we interpret a sensation in our body and know precisely what it means? If the outcome our gut seeks is ‘satisfied’, do we know if the feeling is that? What if it’s ‘kind’ or ‘justified’ or ‘rewarded’ or ‘acknowledged’…?

Yet we make gut feel decisions daily. Often these are among our best decisions. The ones we accept readily without a desire to revisit, unlike some of our thinking decisions.

It seems building our language in this area might be useful? Building a way to communicate with our own bodies, helpful?

what is the value of a thought?

deep in thought

What purpose does a thought serve?

They seem sometimes merely to generate new thoughts, which in turn father more and yet more.

They seem to occupy us. Keep us busy. Deflect us from our experience in the moment.

They seem to be our ticket to our claim of species superiority. World domination. Although recent world events and the erosion of the planet’s resources might argue otherwise.

They seem to be the root of judgement.  Judgement of others. Judgement of ourselves.

They seem to be the foundation of our communication. The exchange of ideas and knowledge with fellow thinkers. Yet two things seem to be true here; firstly, whilst we exchange thoughts we are often distracted from, and dismissive of, our own feelings. The thoughts, and their exchange with other thoughts from other thinkers, perhaps a distraction from an unspoken truth about how we feel. Secondly, our thinking stops us listening.  We are so busy marshalling our own thoughts we don’t really hear the thoughts of those we are supposedly communicating with.

Yet, thoughts seem to be the catalyst for our learning. Generating new awareness, new understanding, new skills.

So I wonder… is the value of a thought always clear?
Is the value worth the cost?
It seems to me… sometimes, but equally sometimes not.

image by: Lisette Wennström

bubbly evolution?

image

There’s a new phenomenon in our world.

The smartphone bubble. It’s a personal space where we get lost. Lost in our own system of connection.

Walking along the streets you can see these people lost in their private bubble.

There are several subtly different forms. The ‘blind communicator’. Here the smartphone ‘bubblist’ meanders in their texting posture, head bent, eyes down, thumbs dancing over the screen. They are oblivious to anyone around them. To the human being walkers dodging them on the pavement, the human being drivers avoiding them as they step into the road in their zombie like torpor – they are communicating through text, and the person 200 miles away matters more than you, stepping aside for their benefit right here, right now.

Then there is the ‘desperate not to miss outer’. These individuals are addicted to their social media stream of ‘news’. These are often one handed bubblists. They use their dominant thumb in an upward or downward stroking motion, browsing their newsfeed; a constantly rolling list of images, messages, videos and news items that, until that moment, they were completely unaware of. But now, this stream of news prevents them from glancing upwards at the real human beings dodging these ‘mustn’t miss out bubblists’ meandering along the streets, through the shops and bumping and bouncing their way through busy thoroughfares.

Then there is the ‘you all need to knowster’. This form of bubblist often has their eyes open and can see the human beings coming. However they insist on sharing their telephone conversation with everyone on the bus, the train, in the restaurant or simply passing in the street. They are hands free. Their conversation deserves to be shared with us all. That’s how important they are. How ‘need to know’the topic is. Meanwhile non-bubblist human beings have to accept that their thinking, reading, private moments are to be disturbed by the ‘need to knowster’s need to share.

Whatever happened to simple respect for another human being?

Come on bubblists, look up, smile, speak, step aside. Open a door for, say hello to… a fellow human being. You once were one.

 

pause thoughtfully

image

On the bus the other day, we stopped briefly outside a car dealership on Park Lane. Applied to the window were various graphics declaring “Coming soon… The Mini Gentleman’s Collection”

Now I’m fairly average. Around six foot. Not tall, but not, I deem, a mini gentleman, so I assume this forthcoming collection isn’t for me?

I jest of course. Presumably the marketing refers to a new collection for men who drive the aforementioned motor car?

My point being, the pause matters, emphasis counts and, in this case, punctuation is crucial.

There is a fabulous book, by Lynne Truss, called “Eats, Shoots and Leaves”. Its purpose being to highlight the change in meaning that comes from incorrectly applied punctuation. I once sat in a hospital and observed a sign, directing me down the corridor to “Receptionist’s”. I wondered for a moment what possession of the said receptionist I might find should I follow the arrow? I have also driven past a pub, which had clearly invested in the metre high, six metre plasticised banner on its lawn, advising I should “Come in and meet are new management”. I didn’t, needless to say.

This isn’t of course just about punctuation; the omission of a crucial comma or full-stop, the addition of a spurious apostrophe. Our propensity to write so much these days in email and in text, means we increase the likelihood of misunderstanding and miscommunication because, as the reader, we can infer a tone, a meaning from the sender, which might be unintended. Non verbal signals we could spot in a face to face communication are lost and as a result meanings can be misinterpreted.

So, to all ‘mini gentlemen’, I apologise for raising your hopes and expectations.

Maybe next time the dealership will pause thoughtfully?
Maybe we all should?

 

constrained by knowing

image

If I asked you to draw a picture. A picture which portrayed the act of making tea. The intent being to communicate the process. What would you draw?

You might depict a kettle boiling. You might draw a teapot. Water pouring into the teapot. You might sketch a teabag or you might show a tea strainer. Maybe a cup and saucer, or a mug. You might have a jug of milk, or a bowl of sugar. Maybe even a biscuit being dunked?

But would you draw tea plants being dunked in hot bubbling geysers? Would you show a cocktail shaker being vigorously oscillated with its tea and water contents?  Would the teabag be shaped like a rubber ring stretched over the cup so that the water could pour through, into the cup? Probably not.

Now it might well be that the tea making process has been honed. Improved beyond improvement. Maybe the teabag or the teapot and strainer are supremely efficient and effective. Maybe putting the tea into the water is the most practical method, rather than pouring the water slowly through the tea? But we probably thought we had it all worked out, for many centuries before the teabag was invented. Now we have at least three shapes of bag in the world.

Day to day, in everyday ways, we are constrained in our thinking by our knowledge. By historical experience. By custom. It makes us lazy. Deprives us of imagination and true creativity. Diminishes our ability to think divergently. It denies us new choice.

What are you doing right now, which you simply take for granted?

It is the way it has always been.

Instead, learn to unlearn. Learn to experiment. Especially in the way you live. The way you come to the world. The way you are.

Try breaking away from the constraints of what you know.

Maybe not knowing, will grant you a new freedom?