Do opinions matter?

People often have opinions on things that are trivial, easily understood or based on common experience. They may either like or hate your style, your decisions or the way you rear kids. They may easily criticize your actions and your work.

 How do you take it on?

  • Are you upset or depressed after the slightest criticism?
  • Do you feel a knot in your stomach when people judge both you and your work?
  • Are you defending yourself to prove the critic is wrong? 
  • Are you debating over and over again of how to respond to a negative feedback?

Or, … do you just notice it, register and move on?

Well, one of the keys to personal mastery is the ability to distinguish whom to listen to and whom to ignore. It is of course not always easy because opinions can be harsh and they may evoke strong emotions. They may touch you at some very personal level. They may deeply hurt you, especially when you feel they are unjust.

If somebody judges you as fat, ugly, unskilled, stupid or alike, does it affect you? Even if you are such, so what? If this is a fact, it is a fact and that’s it.

But …

Is the critic perfect herself? Is she skinny, beautiful, skilled and smart? Does she provide you not only with the opinion but also a practical way of making things better?

Why do people criticize?

A simple answer is this: people either want to add value (contribute) to your (or their) development or put you down so that they can feel worthy and successful. The latter usually happens because of jealousy, feelings of insecurity or their lack of self-esteem.

However …

Even if they want to add value it doesn’t mean it is of use to you. A general piece of advice may be well meant but completely irrelevant.
Even if they want to put you down, it doesn’t mean that you need to respond to it. Just thank them for the feedback and perhaps challenge them with naming their intentions.

Opinions matter

When people are confronted with a difficult subject, they stay silent. On the other hand, when people are confronted with an easy subject, everybody has an opinion.

There is an interesting concept by Parkinson on the Law of Triviality or the importance of the bike-shed. I now cite a big piece from Wikipedia because it is perfect to explain the point. Read on.

Cyril Northcote Parkinson’ [..] dramatizes this “law of triviality” with the example of a committee’s deliberations on an atomic reactor, contrasting it to deliberations on a bicycle shed. As he put it: “The time spent on any item of the agenda will be in inverse proportion to the sum involved.” A reactor is used because it is so vastly expensive and complicated that an average person cannot understand it, so one assumes that those that work on it understand it. On the other hand, everyone can visualize a cheap, simple bicycle shed, so planning one can result in endless discussions because everyone involved wants to add a touch and show personal contribution.

 

[…] Parkinson writes about a finance committee meeting with a three-item agenda.

 

The first is the signing of a $10 million contract to build a reactor, the second a proposal to build a $2,350 bicycle shed for the clerical staff, and the third proposes $57 a year to supply refreshments for the Joint Welfare Committee.

 

The $10 million number is too big and too technical, and it passes in 2.5 minutes.

 

The bicycle shed is a subject understood by the board, and the dollar amount within their life experience, so committee member Mr. Softleigh says that an aluminium roof is too expensive and they should use asbestos. Mr. Holdfast wants galvanized iron. Mr. Daring questions the need for the shed at all. Mr. Holdfast disagrees.

 

Parkinson then writes: “The debate is fairly launched. A sum of $2,350 is well within everybody’s comprehension. Everyone can visualize a bicycle shed. Discussion goes on, therefore, for forty-five minutes, with the possible result of saving some $300. Members at length sit back with a feeling of accomplishment.”

 

Parkinson then described the third agenda item, writing: “There may be members of the committee who might fail to distinguish between asbestos and galvanized iron, but every man there knows about coffee – what it is, how it should be made, where it should be bought – and whether indeed it should be bought at all. This item on the agenda will occupy the members for an hour and a quarter, and they will end by asking the Secretary to procure further information, leaving the matter to be decided at the next meeting.”

It’s interesting, isn’t it? There are multiple parallels to it in real life.

So …

You will always be faced with opinions of others or given unsolicited advice, especially about surface issues. Why? Because these are easy to make, there is a conversation / confrontation going on and the sense of fulfillment that the critic’s day has not been lost 😉

Some people choose to be offended by what you do or say, or like to play the victim role, just because it is their style. They love to gossip, judge and make you feel inferior, so that they can feel better themselves.

Sometimes, the criticism is intended for your best interest, simply because your friends, family or teachers do worry about your decisions, your kids and your future. This is their worry though, not yours.

Sometimes, the criticism is meant to save the critics because your acting or thinking shakes their world too much.The best defense is attack, as some say, and the criticism will be as sharp as a laser to protect their own homeostasis.

Although opinions matter, you need to take them with a pinch of salt. Or, two ;).

How to handle criticism

If you get opinions, judgements and criticism, just notice them and determine whether they are of any value.

The key is to ask yourself:
“Is this person in the position I want to be? Is he/she an expert on the subject involved?”

Are you getting criticism of starting a business from people who have never had one?
Are you getting marriage advice from friends who can’t hold their own relationships?
Are you getting judgements on your change in carrier from people who are scared to change?

It’s easy to point out things you’re doing wrong, or how you should think, act and achieve things. It is sufficient for you to recognize a negative feedback, look at it with your filter of indifference on, apply it when appropriate and discard it otherwise. It may take you years before you learn this attitude, but you will eventually reach this point so if you decide to.

The power to control your reactions and attitudes to bad comments or harsh judgements is necessary for a personal mastery.

You don’t have to listen to everyone out there.
You don’t have to take all the criticism on equal basis.

Just remember that opinions are in the eye of the beholder.
Only some opinions deserve your attention.
The rest is to pass.

 ***

The image above shows a beautiful quilt by Inge Duin. See more of her works on  www.ingeduin.nl.

 

There is a concept of the middle way as a path of development. The followers of this path likely apply moderation to everything. They tend to avoid extremes. While this seems a reasonable way of living, there is a much more advanced approach.

Two extremes and the center

As we know everything has its opposite. As a result, we have two extremes and the center, the middle point in between. And if we carefully observe the workings of the universe we will notice that the natural rhythm is to continuously swing from one opposite to the other and back. This is the principle of rhythm. We go from a day to a night, from joy to sadness, from summer to winter, from a high-tide to a low-tide or from work to rest. There is this basic rhythm, the basic swing between the polarities.

The same understanding applies to practicing the middle way.

Counter-intuitively, the true middle way is not narrow. Oh, no no no.

The middle path is not about boring miniature movements around the middle point. On the contrary, it is a challenging path when you walk between the extremes. Traveling between the polarities does not mean, however, all polarities that exist, but only the opposites that define the space of your maturing and personal growth. And you choose to walk this path with consciousness. You keep visiting the opposites and swing consciously between them.

The paradox of the center

There is an interesting paradox of the middle way.

Our goal is to be in the middle. The middle is the center. What is the center?

Center is Integrity. Center is Peace. Center is Christ.

Being in the center is the ultimate goal. However, center is not achieved by standing still there, but by balancing between the opposites.

Center is Balance. Think about it this way. When a person walks on a tightrope, he is constantly moving his body, swaying from side to side to move forward and prevent the fall. And although his goal is to stay on the rope, i.e. keep the center, most of the time he is outside the center, being either at one side or the other. He is keeping the course of movement not by standing still but by actively balancing between the opposite sides and between up and down.

So, the balancing between the opposites is the core of the middle way. The center is continuously being reached through an active balancing.

So, the key understanding here is as follows.

  1. The middle way is a path between opposites. It is a spacious path. There is a lot of room for experience and even more for investigation. There is freedom to manoeuvre, to make mistakes and to learn.
  2. Personal experience or deep understanding of the extremes is essential for finding the true center for yourself.
    • When you loose health, you understand how valuable it is.
    • When you become poor, you begin to appreciate what wealth is.
    • When you are live in noisy environment, you begin to value solitude and silence.
    • When you are about to loose your life, you begin to live with an contagious passion.

Even when you experience the darkest sides of yourself, making deliberate errors, committing crimes or hating others, it may serve you as a powerful experience for a personal transformation towards kindness, gratitude and love.

The big challenge

There is however a big challenge when you want to follow the middle way.

Think for a moment about a pendulum swinging from side to side.  When there are no external forces, the pendulum will naturally stop at its center.

Let the pendulum be now our metaphor for life. Our ultimate goal is to know the center and to be at the center.  However, there are always external circumstances that act on us, be it consequences of our decisions (that we can hardly foresee) or events outside our control. As a result, the pendulum never stops. It is always in motion.

What is the swing?

The external forces and circumstances may override the natural rhythm of the pendulum. So, they will tend to keep you at one of the opposites, usually the less favorable one such as the permanent state of grumbling and complaining. As a result, the center you find is not the center at all. You simply have too little experience and understanding to be able to define the center well as the pendulum has an abnormal rhythm, highly biased towards one of the polarities.

E.g. if you have been unhappy and complaining for years, you may only have a vague idea about happiness. As you lack the direct experience and cannot even imagine what a true happiness is the way you define happiness is colored by the negative interpretations of your experiences. As a result, your perceived center is far from the middle point.

The how-to of the middle way

The advanced way to follow the middle path is to transcend the duality, the opposites. What does it mean? In practice

  1. You take the time to understand the principle of rhythm and its working in your life. It means that you are knowledgeable about the rhythm and cycles of changes. When you know a change is to happen, you can prepare for it in advance in order to take advantage.
  2. You know where the center is because you have chosen to experience the opposites and to understand them. You simply take the time to go through the extremes personally, learn about them from other people, or extrapolate from your own life experience.
  3. You always keep your intent to return to the center. Or, in other words, you hold the consciousness of the center. Even if the external circumstances or life challenges want to keep you stuck at one of the polarities, it is you and your consciousness that will encourage you to swing towards the other side.
  4. The middle way is achieved by your active and conscious balancing between the opposites. So, it means that you first go to one extreme and spend the necessary time there, then you follow to the other extreme. And repeat.

    For example, the advanced balancing of your work day is to work hard and with deep focus followed by a full rest. This can be implemented in any way that is convenient for you. E.g. you can choose to work hard for 50min followed by a 10-min rest and repeat it all, say 8 times a day. Or you can choose to work hard for 3h followed by a 25-min rest and repeat it 3-4 times a day. Or you can work very hard for a full day followed by a free morning the following day. Any of such approaches is efficient as long as it suits you.

Transcendence is by choice. You are in charge. Accept it.

And your middle way will become a fantastic experience.

***

The image above shows a beautiful quilt by Inge Duin. See more of her works on www.ingeduin.nl.

increase intelligence by concept learning

Let’s  look at some basic questions, which are nevertheless insightful:

  • How enthusiastic are you about learning?
  • How flexible are you?
  • How do you keep up with the fast pace of our changing world?

Whatever your answers to the questions above I hope you recognize the importance of intelligence. It helps you to tackle problems more effectively. It facilities a life of growth. It makes difficult choices easier.

Would you like to increase intelligence?

I bet your answer is “yes”.

There is a simple practice you can install in your mind: creating accurate and up-to-date concepts about the surrounding world. By concepts we understand mental representations of an object, idea, activity, living creature or phenomenon. Whatever we see, hear, feel or encounter in our lives, goes through mental processes of our brains.

For instance, when we learn what an apple is, we learn a concept of a class of apples in the from of a mental representation of the encountered apples  or an abstract idea of an apple.

We are people of the patterns

We are people of the patterns. We create patterns in our lives, art, work and products. Whatever we do it bears the very characteristic of our whole being. It’s hardly possible, even if at all, for you to create something that is completely not like you. Try it. And report to me if you are successful, because I will find it extremely interesting ;).

I challenge you to write a genuine piece of text that is perceived not like yours. Try to cook a meal which is not like yours. Try to make a design that is completely dissimilar with your previous designs. Try to continuously speak or walk in ways that are 100% alien to you. Try to make something creative that is completely different from who you are. Even attempting this feels weird.

The reason is that at any moment we are attracted to specific ideas or concepts that we live by. These are specific patterns. They permeate our whole being including consciousness, feelings and thoughts.

These drive our actions. When we act, take decisions, make judgements or create something, we derive them from our internal resources. Whatever the output, it is going to bear the watermark patterns of who we are.

Because patterns are so prevalent in our lives, we are very efficient at finding patterns and recognizing traits. Finding patterns relies on noticing the differences and perceiving similarities. We learn concepts, classes or categories after having observed the patterns.

Classification / categorization is essential

A class or category is a group or collection of objects, things, events or experiences that have something in common; there is an underlying similarity.

In this light, any given object or experience is a representative of its class. At the same time any given object may belong to multiple classes, nested or not. For instance, there is a class of oaks which is a subclass of leafy trees, which is a subclass of trees.  Or, there is a class of bananas and there is a class of fruits that you like which includes ripe bananas (but not unripe ones).

Without classes or categories, every object and every experience would be novel, interesting and puzzling. No doubt, this would lead you to a thrilling life of ever fresh experiences, yet without understanding and learning. You would not be able to organize your experiences into meaningful ways.

As a result, you would not be able to tell whether something is a carrot, chair or car, or whether it is useful or friendly. You would not be able to survive.

Have you ever observed how a small child learns to recognize an object?

There are two levels to it: unconscious and conscious classes of experience. Before using a language, a very small child forms unconscious classes of objects or experience. He basically goes through a certain experience and recognizes when something similar happens again. This informal grouping relies on some observable similarity.

An example is a child experiencing an enormous joy in a repetition of a certain play; I bet you’ve seen these situations many times. A child may be laughing when you play with him his version of hide and seek (covering his face with a cloth and asking “Where is  Joe?” and then uncovering and saying with surprise “Oh, there he is!”), over and over again. Even after 20 times the child may still be in the same hilarious laugh as after the 1st time. He recognizes from the first movement what it is going to happen and anticipation makes it great.

In the conscious forming of classes, language plays a role, or more specifically, naming. The whole process begins with a child being interested in the chosen object. He finds this object appealing to his senses, so he interacts with it. And he usually plays with the object in all possible ways. He asks for its name. Naming is essential for learning a concept, because a name labels the class, hence it is identified with the class.

Without the name we miss our reference. The name serves therefore as a handle of a bag. It points to or indicates a group of objects or experiences which are in the bag. At the same time, naming assigns an object or experience to a given class.

The child usually collects sensory experiences and explores the object by touch, taste, sound and smell. He interacts with it in multiple ways. It allows him to create an idea of the object, before a concept is learnt. Later he sees another object of the same kind and explores it even more. Then the next example comes. And some more.

What is interesting is that a few examples are often sufficient for a child to build a good-enough, or sometimes even detailed, concept of the object. If a child is really attracted to this object, he begins to recognize objects from the same category. He is actively noticing them in the world around and happily pointing to them at any occasion. For instance, given a few examples of (playing) balls, a child is able to recognize a previously unseen ball. And you know that it is possible even if the features of a ball such as a size, color or material are totally new.

In the days or weeks to come, a child will further refine the concept of a ball. This is the time he will study (i.e. explore) more examples of balls. Hopefully, such a set includes less typical balls as well. These are important for inspecting the boundary cases. What is even more important are the negative examples, i.e. examples which do not belong to the class. Again, a special focus is put on these negative examples which resemble the object of interest in some way, but are not the object.

For instance, a child may see an orange and recognize it as a ball. If you reply that the object is not a ball but an orange (a different name, hence a different class), a child will be prompted to reformulate his concept of a ball, respectively. When he is pointed out to differences, he will learn the essential discrimination about ball-like objects which are not balls.

The effective concept learning takes place in the presence of both uncommon and negative examples. Borderline cases from both sides of the class are crucial for a good formulation of the concept.

Abstraction

Although the example of a ball sounds simple, the same steps take place for learning the concepts behind more complicated things such as dogs, cars, flowers, airplanes, or particular meals, as well as activities such as cooking, running or playing. What is remarkable, is the step in which a child takes the concept to an abstract level by becoming to know what is the essence of the object or concept. I believe such an abstraction is the basis for our fast intelligent recognition skill that we so much rely on in daily life.

For instance, when my toddler was exploring the world around, attracted to airplanes flying above, he only started to recognize them when he was able to name them. He learned the concept well.

Recently, he has surprised me by the following. In the garden he found two wood planks of different lengths. He put them across, kept them in this alignment in his hand above his head and started to run around the garden. While doing so, he was making humming noises and joyfully shouting that there was an airplane flying.

I understood he made an important step. He was able to bring the understanding of what an airplane was to the next level in which he saw its basic essence. He was able to emphasize a few features essential for an object to be considered as a plane: a particular shape, noise and movement in the air. This is the skill of abstraction applied to in a creative way.

You learn concepts from examples

If you observe others and yourself, and explore of how we learn, you will discover that we learn concepts or classes from examples. Moreover, in an ideal scenario, we actually follow the process described above. And what is more, we are able to learn them from a few examples only, usually three to five. Just ask yourself:

  • How many times do you need to hear your friend speaking in order to recognize her voice?
  • How many examples do you need to be to tell whether a cathedral is gothic or not?
  • How many examples do you need to recognize an impressionist painting?
  • How many coffees do you need to smell or drink in order to learn what a cappuccino is?
  • How many passionate people do you need to interact with in order to recognize a passionate one?

A few examples are often enough. Of course, it does not necessarily mean that you will make no errors when a recognition should occur. There may be difficult borderline cases, changed circumstances, previously unseen mixtures of objects or other situations which may lead us to a wrong assignment. But a few examples are sufficient to get an idea behind the concept. However, you will need many more examples especially near the border cases in order to refine the concept well for arbitrarily difficult examples.

For instance, you may need to hear your friend speaking when he is ill in order to better recognize his voice over the phone in arbitrary circumstances. You may also need many more examples in order to recognize particular sub-cases of the given classes.

Whatever the case, remember to collect a wide spectrum of examples from the class as well as from outside of the class. Otherwise, your concept would either be too narrow or too wide. What you want is a well-formulated, tight (but not too tight) concept, because it will facilitate your learning.

Well-learned concepts increase intelligence

There is no doubt about it. Remember, any concept you hold, whether it is about concrete objects in the world, scientific discoveries, your skill or experiences, it is your building block for the synergistic working of other concepts.  It has a direct influence on the quality (read: happiness, joy, fulfillment) of your life.

For example, the concept you have learned about computers links to your ability of using them effectively or not, or the concept you created about love has a huge impact on the way you create your relationships.

The more factual representation of your concept, the better it serves you to build other concepts and make intelligent choices. The better your concepts, the better your ability to plan and act accordingly. Both recognition and prediction directly rely on the goodness and accuracy of concepts you have created.

Well-learned concepts and well-learned classes are formulated based on all examples (or experiences) with the emphasis on uncommon situations or outliers.

Take your time to inspect your most important concepts about yourself and life.

Learn them anew.

Practical strategy

How do you practically implement the learning of accurate concepts? It’s simple. I will summarize it below:

  1. You learn concepts from examples.
  2. The quality and representativeness of the examples/experiences you use for concept learning is essential.
  3. If you learn a new concept, choose your examples wisely. You need examples that cover a wide range of situations and boundary cases. You will often need as little as 3-5 typical examples and a variable number of boundary examples.
  4. Be open and willing to reformulate your concept when you notice an example that is different, strange or otherwise appealing. What you want is a tight description but wide enough to accommodate what is the gist of the concept.
  5. If you have a concept formulated (e.g. about entrepreneurship, working-out, cars, kids, faith, money, Rembrandt paintings, mountaineering, buying houses etc), inspect which examples or experiences you used to create it. Remove outdated examples that no longer serve you and use more recent examples. Mentally re-crete your concept again by finding patterns, similarities and differences, between the examples you collected. Just think about it and get new insights.
  6. Do it with every new concept you learn.

***

The image above shows a quilt by Inge Duin. See www.ingeduin.nl for more details.

***

Learning and generalization posts:

When I was younger, I used to complain a lot. I used to get rid of all the burden from my chest.

I did it because I was not aware about effective strategies to deal with my challenges, and, moreover, complaining made me feel better in the very moment.

How long did the relief after complaining last? A while only.
Did complaining help me to solve my challenges? Not really.
Did complaining annoy people around me? Yes. Even more with time.

Complaining is a nasty habit. What I mean here is the chronic complaining, not the occasional rambling about things (which is acceptable of course). Chronic complaining is nasty because it really becomes a second nature for those who complain. Complainers often don’t realize their negativity, neither their ever-present feeling of helplessness. They firmly believe that they are discussing their problems with others.

The first step towards a life without complains is to became aware of your complaining and take responsibility for it.

I became aware of my complaining thanks to the direct communication of my Dutch colleagues, way back when I was living in Holland. Dutch people do not complain in the traditional sense. If things go bad, they usually make a joke or tell a sarcastic story about the events. They employ laugh, sarcasm or cynicism in order to relieve anger, frustration or tension. They are brought up  in a way that encourages them to take the responsibility for their lives. And I have learned a lot from them.

Complaining mode

It is so easy to complain about your external world. It is so easy to blame others for your health, lack of perspectives, bad education, poor economy in your country, crisis, bad politicians, too much work, too little work, unhappy relations, unsatisfying job, etc. But it changes nothing.

Talk, talk, talk

Complaining mode is basically a talking mode in which you talk, talk, talk. And talk. And talk even more. Things just happen to you and you are a victim of events, decisions and choices. You feel injustice deep inside and want to express it to the whole world. You have the most difficulties in the world and all people have it easier, don’t they?

Self-pity pit

Complaining mode is a self-pity pit. You sit in a hole and keep lamenting on how bad things are. Life is difficult for you and you feel it in your bones. You make yourself powerless. Of course, shit happens. If it’s start raining, it suddenly pours. There are difficulties and hard times. Yet, you are not alone. Perhaps you did not have the best education possible, you did not experience unconditional love as a child, you had to work hard from early years, you had strict parents or you had to deal with addictions. You could have gone through multiple hardships. Whatever your past and your circumstances, please realize that your attitude and proactivity can change everything.

Drought

Complaining mode is a drought mode. You want to be heard and understood. But you don’t listen. You don’t want advice. You don’t want feedback. You don’t want to grow. You want a comfortable comfort zone. Even when friends, family, or strangers open their ears and hearts to you, there is hardly any communication. You just continuously talk about your difficulties and frustrations.

But you still feel empty after a while, don’t you? You simply don’t connect with people.

There is an outflow of words, emotions and information. Is there any quality inflow???

A way out

It takes an effort to live your life without complains, but it is possible.

First, you need to became aware about your thinking, your feelings and the language you use. Do you constantly project negative experiences on others? Are you continuously unhappy about your life? How about your thoughts? Whatever comes, reframe your negativity into a positive focus:

  • What makes you happy?
  • What makes you feel powerful?
  • How can you become proactive?
  • How can you modify your circumstances to your best?
  • What is the best strategy to solve the issue of…?

You need to replace your negativity with positivity and replace the habit of complaining with the habit of gratitude. You simply develop gratitude because you learn to appreciate what comes, learn from it and develop a conviction that you can handle everything with grace. Practice makes master.

Whatever comes to you in your life, just say to yourself “I will handle this”. And shut up.

***

The image above shows a beautiful quilt by Inge Duin. See www.ingeduin.nl for more details.