Tuesday, August 23, 2011

your mindset and mine

I have always been strangely awed, jealous, confused and afraid of people who are convinced by their own perceptions. Athletes, Christians, Buddhists, politicians, mothers, fathers, bigots, intellectuals, NASCAR and holy men ... it's like watching a TV sitcom: Everyone knows what they're doing, shows few if any doubts, and the story ends, after a requisite number of laugh tracks, happily after a half an hour. How come I'm not like that? A part of me would dearly love to be that (my perception) assured and a part of me knows that it bears little resemblance to reality.

No one can be other than what they are -- warts and all. But clothing that fact in a (ersatz?) certainty? It gives me a case of the collywobbles even as a part of me longs for that certainty and kool. Where did everyone else buy and buy into that certainty ... and where can I get some?

Today, the Beloit College Mindset List was released as an annual reminder to teachers (and the rest of us) that time passes and mindsets change over time. Amazon is no longer a South American river so much as it is a business. LBJ is not a former president so much as he is a basketball star. Those born after 1993 never knew a time without the Internet and always celebrated Martin Luther King Day.

Yes, it can make some of us feel frayed and a bit out of the loop. But was it ever any different? The world is flat, black people are lesser beings, the Japanese and Germans are enemies, the Chinese or Japanese are a more culturally advanced people, a kool car is a chick magnet, going 'green' makes sense, love conquers all, tall is preferable to short ... pick your (temporary) contentment poison.

And then there are those who recognize that perceptions simply don't constitute a proof for the ensuing confidence. They wriggle and squirm and wax wise in an attempt to outflank the recognition that perception is a slippery and unreliable slope... all in hopes of somehow outflanking the fact that you are who you are. Their perceptions place "bliss" or "enlightenment" or "understanding" on the horizon ... and they're stickin' with that story.

But I think that the certainties (which betoken nothing so much as uncertainty) that evolve from the culture and mindset that anyone might have can only be appreciated and clarified by ... being who you are ... and then watching.

An Internet friend of mine used to say, "Wherever you go, there you are." Such easy words, so easy to offer a nod of assent ... and so hard to actualize. There really is no 'getting out' of who you are -- the perceptions, convictions, certainties, assumptions, enjoyments, fears, loves ... there really is no escape, not least because trying to escape is just another version of who you already are.

So if you can't go out, the only option I can see is to go in. Go in ... and watch. Go in, not with the usual camouflage of certainty or doubt, but with a willingness to pay attention. Just watch and see what happens. Watch and keep on watching. Set aside looking up to or down on, assessing better and worse or right and wrong, convincing or dissuading others. Just watch and keep on watching.

And what's the payoff? Well, wherever you go, there you are. How's that for a load off your mind?

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