Monthly Archives: January 2017

The Brain Is A Big Fat Liar

One of my favorite shows is called “Brain Games.” Each half-hour episode shows volunteers and the viewers audio and visual games that show how our brain interprets sensory input. In short, the brain doesn’t merely hear, taste, smell, or see anything as it is, but tries instead to interpret what it senses. Even then, it’s not a true representation of the real world.

Let’s take a look at the ear. Sound waves flow into the ear canal which causes little bones to vibrate inside. The brain then interprets the bones’ vibrations as specific sounds. Even then, we’re not hearing the sound itself, but the ear’s response to the sounds. The brain also tries to attach meaning to those sounds. Where it’s coming from, and what’s causing it. For instance, that roar we hear isn’t simply a roar. It could be a lion, a fierce wind, or an airplane flying overhead. If it doesn’t sound immediately familiar, we will continue to listen until we can say, “Oh! I know what that is. That’s a train going by.” We’re not like a tape recorder that doesn’t care what the sound is. It simply records it. Humans, on the other hand, try to give every sensory input some kind of context.

We went traveling one day and I saw a big orange blob in the middle of a cultivated field. My first thought was school bus, because the color was similar. But then I thought, “Why would there be a school bus in the middle of the field?” I stared at that thing for as long as I could, but I never did figure out what it really was.

How often do we look at clouds and find shapes and faces in them? Because the brain wants everything to be familiar, to look like something it’s seen, heard, smelled, tasted, or felt before. It’s a survival mechanism, so that way it can quickly determine if it’s harmful or beneficial.

And because it tries to give everything context instead of accepting that there may be no context, or the context is beyond our current experience – like the orange blob in the middle of the field – it sometimes lies to us. My brain grabbed the first object from my experience that matched closest to what it saw – a school bus – so that’s what I thought I saw at first. And yet, it probably wasn’t a school bus. My brain lied to me.

Some other examples are optical illusions and magic tricks.

Here’s a video (excerpt from “Brain Games”) to further prove my point:

Note: You can watch the first four seasons on Netflix.

She shoves her fingers in her ears and sings, “La la la la.”

I go through days when I can’t stand politics, and I do whatever I can to avoid it. Other days I eat it up like chocolate during that certain time of the month.

One of my political craving days happened during President Trump’s inauguration. I perused Twitter afterward, and I tweeted this:

Fascinating how people listening to Trump’s speech are having such opposing reactions and all based on political leanings.

As a writer, in order to create believable characters, I have to study human nature. This includes studying myself. Time and again, I discover that in many ways I am not unique. I have the same automatic responses to stimuli – both mental and physical – as everyone else.

Part of our humanity demands acceptance of our peers. We need to be loved and understood. It’s written into our DNA as a matter of survival of our species. Strength in numbers, and all that.

We all learn that discrimination is bad, but that isn’t always true. We discriminate when choosing our friends, and most especially our spouse (or significant other depending upon your chosen verbiage).

Whenever we’re thrust in the middle of a crowd, we will – often subconsciously – look for people similar to ourselves. Why? Because if we surround ourselves with like-minded people, we feel that much more safe, and understood. It’s not necessarily about race or gender, either. In a crowd, I will seek out older people to converse with rather than a group of teenagers, because the chances of me having more in common with the older folks is greater. Plus, those teenagers might look at me a bit askance wondering why an old woman would choose to mingle with them. It’s not because I hate teenagers, but more to avoid any awkwardness on both our part. It’s much easier to be myself around those similar to me, just as it is for a teenager to be more relaxed around people his/her age.

To step out of our comfort zone is never easy. That includes politics.

I find myself spending more time on political sites that agree with my own leanings than those that don’t. I don’t delve into politics much on Facebook, but I do on Twitter. If you look at the people I follow, I share similar political views with about 80% of them. When I see a post (both on Twitter and on Facebook) contrary to my political an/or religious leanings, my eyes unfocus and I scroll past as fast as I can.

We’ve all heard the phrase that the truth is somewhere in the middle of two extremes. By spending all my time on like-minded sites, and with like-minded people, I may be getting a skewed, flat, and biased version of the truth.

To put it more simply let’s say I see a flat square in front of me. If I don’t step out of my self-created cage and see the square from a different point of view, I’ll never discover that it’s really a cube.

I have to remind myself that life is far more interesting in three dimensions, and the whole truth is far more complicated than a flat piece of paper.

Everything we hear is an opinion. Everything we see is perspective, not the truth.

– Marcus Aurelius

The moment we begin to fear the opinions of others and hesitate to tell the truth that is in us, and from the motives of policy are silent when we should speak, the divine floods of light and life no longer flow into our souls.

– Elizabeth Cady Stanton

It’s Personal

The message in church today was about how to keep love in a marriage. The scripture my pastor used was Ephesians 4:28-32:

If you are a thief, quit stealing. Instead, use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need. Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.

And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.

Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

I focused mostly on verses 29 and 31-32 (in bold), because we need more of that – and not only within the context of marriage.

This also occurred to me during the sermon:

In the realm of politics, we can’t help but take things personal. This is especially true when someone personally attacks the candidate or leader we supported and voted for. We see it as an attack upon ourselves.

This is something we all need to be aware of when we criticize our leaders. Are we criticizing their policies (good), or their dress, looks, heritage, or mannerisms (bad)? I always hated the personal attacks on Obama and his family (some of it downright horrific) even though I disagreed with his policies. It was unproductive, cruel, and never gained a single convert. The same holds true for the nasty rhetoric against Trump and his family.

A friend of mine, Jessica, wrote this on Facebook a few days ago:

I’ve been trying to be better about checking my motives before posting stuff on Facebook. Often I decide my motives are wrong so I don’t post. So, I’m starting to wonder about the purpose of Facebook beyond being able to see pictures of people’s babies. If, after thinking about it some more, cute baby pictures turn out to be Facebook’s only redeeming purpose, I will stay on here because I totally love seeing pictures of people’s babies. People with babies: keep posting pictures of your babies. They are not only adorable, they also remind me how good our God is. And I need to be reminded of that. Especially after scanning past all the political posts.

I, too, need to keep in mind my ultimate and ulterior motives, not only in my Facebook posts, but in my blog. I’ve written plenty that I decided against posting (and others I probably shouldn’t have posted), because they sounded condescending and pretentious. I realized that I wrote them in an attempt to make myself look good, to appear “better than everyone else.”

Ugh. Humility isn’t one of my strengths, and it needs to be. If not for my sake, certainly for those around me.

Also highlighted in today’s sermon: Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. – James 1:19

Decisions, Decisions

I took a year off Facebook (mostly). In that time I finished four manuscripts and even managed to take 2nd place in a Writers Digest contest.

I went back to Facebook.

I lost my verve to write.

Coincidence?

I had hoped the political vitriol would settle down after the election, but it has worsened. The hate, the bullying, and unwillingness to see beyond fear of the future staggers me every time I log on. No wonder I lost my will to write. I can’t write when I’m too stunned to think straight.

So off again I go. Mostly. I’ll still participate in my chosen groups and maybe toss in a picture or two. But as for spending hours (or even minutes) scrolling through people’s feeds, not going to happen. It makes me sad, because I’ll be missing out on some good stuff, too. In the end, though, real life matters more than the constant and oftentimes discordant noise of social media.

On the other hand:

I read how Andrea Bocelli backed out of singing at the inauguration due to death threats:
Other entertainers have backed out for similar reasons.

On another website I posted this:

“I’m not furious over the death threats. Angry, yes, but not furious, because it’s expected.

What’s really infuriating is how many people capitulate to the threats. We are supposed to be the ones who believe in freedom, liberty, etc., and that requires strength of will. If we want the bullying to stop, we have to stand up to it.”

Someone else responded thusly: “When good men/women do NOT cave, you get the birth of the greatest nation on earth after telling George III to piss off, you also get to be the victors of WWII after forcing Hitler to eat a bullet…..men who cave in to fear, deserve to live in fear….men who stand up for freedom WILL live free”

By kicking myself off Facebook, I’m in effect running away. I’m allowing myself to be bullied, and giving in to my own fears. If people are allowed to spread hate and to bully with no response, they win. It also give them license to keep doing it to others.

I don’t care who someone voted for. That they hate our current President-Elect, or hated President Obama, I can’t change, nor would I attempt to. But I have to draw the line when someone attacks someone else for political differences, or deciding to entertain at a particular national event.

On another person’s post someone said (basically) that since people hated on Obama and his supporters, it’s okay to hate on Trump and his supporters. I responded with, “Just because some people have said horrible things about Obama and his family, it doesn’t mean it’s okay for others to do the same to Trump. Bad behavior is still bad behavior, regardless of the target.”

I don’t expect much of people except that they treat others how they want to be treated. The Golden Rule as it’s called, but so many have forgotten it. They’re too interested in pushing their own emotions and opinions on others, and they feel personally affronted if anyone dares to disagree.

Sorry, but my emotions are my own. No one but me is responsible for them. Just because I get angry when someone disagrees with my presumptions and assumptions, it doesn’t mean I should automatically lash out for no other reason than remain comfortable in my own righteousness. Why? Because I could be wrong. Being wrong is not a sin, but not admitting when I’m wrong can be.

Idling

Not moving forward or back. Looking around me, but no desire to travel in any direction no matter how tantalizing the paths before me seem.

Not sure why, and barely curious enough to find an answer.

Recently I looked at all the writing contests I’ve participated in, and I’ve either won or placed second in all but two. How is it then that I’m still uncertain?

Perhaps I’m fatigued. I’ve worked hard to get where I am, but it’s still not enough. I’m not where I need to be. In spite of my successes so far, the encouragement I’ve received from friends and family, and an undeniable push from God to keep on keeping on, I doubt if I should. What’s the point? My own edification, God’s glory, what? No matter the end result, will the blood, sweat, tears and years be worth it all? Or is it a case of diminishing returns – if there will be any returns other than knowing that as I learn more about my craft, I will continue to discover I will never know enough?

Ugh. I hate stagnation. It’s smelly, and no amount of deodorant helps.

It’s a phase. I know that. Perhaps it’s due to hormones (or lack thereof). With winter in full swing with too little exposure to sunlight, maybe I’m suffering from a slight bout of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). Perhaps it’s another symptom of my slight mid-life crisis. Perhaps a combination of all the above.

Whatever reason or reasons, it’s temporary. Maybe I should enjoy the “downtime.” Who knows, maybe it’s God’s way of forcing me to rest, because I’ll be entering another phase in my life when I can’t rest as much. Downtimes can be just as necessary as uptimes, I think. Each presents its own unique opportunity for growth.

In other words, it’s okay to slow down at times, to sit idle and absorb life instead of pursuing it.

Unfriend Me If . . .

Every once in a while someone will post, “If you don’t agree with me on this particular subject, unfriend me now.”

Thankfully these posts are rare, but they nevertheless make me sad, especially when that person claims to be a Christian.

I’ve only unfriended one person, and that’s because she changed her profile picture to a particular politician (who shall remain nameless), and 95% of her posts were so politically divisive, I had unfriend her to keep my blood pressure down. This was before I knew about the “unfollow” button. Had I known about the “unfollow,” I would have gone that route instead, and remained her friend. Since then, I’ve only “unfollowed” one person, because it seemed she posted a link to some cat video (for example) every five minutes. Her time-wasting posts so saturated my feed, I spent way more time than I wanted scrolling to find anyone else’s posts.

The only time I will “unfriend” another person is if they physically threaten me or my family. Other than that, opine away.

Now when someone tells me to “unfriend” them due to a difference of opinion, I’ll admit I’m tempted. Especially if I indeed disagree with them. I don’t, though, because I understand where they’re coming from. I don’t think they’re right to do so (more on that in a minute), but I do understand.

Whenever I’m a bit stuck on how I should respond to others, I look to Jesus as my example (I don’t always succeed, but I do try). Many disagreed with him, but he turned away no one. He gave them the riot act for sure, but he never held up his hand and said, “Shut up and go away, because you don’t agree with me.”

I have many of friends with whom I have stark disagreements, whether it’s politics, religion, and a myriad of other topics. Some of them I disagree with from 10% of the time to 90% of the time. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. They enrich my life more than I can ever express. I have even altered my own point of view because of theirs at times. If nothing else, they teach me to keep an open mind.

Knowing other points of view – especially those opposite of mine – is not only useful, but necessary to a writer. How am I to write complex characters with opposing views (both antagonists and protagonists) if I don’t expose myself to them? By keeping monochromatic friends, I will only be able to write monochromatic characters. If I try to write a character so opposite of me without knowing people opposite of me, I decrease my chances of writing a believable character. Part of the reason I don’t attempt to publish a non-fiction book is because I’m not that interesting. Why would I want to constrain myself to write only characters who think and act like me?

We’re all different, and it’s those differences that make life so darned interesting.

Do You Hear What I Hear?

I doubt I’m the only one who read the title with a musical voice, and perhaps even an echo.

But this entry isn’t about a song.

A few entries back, I shared a few of my favorite tweets. One in particular has stuck with me:

If you want compassion, be compassionate.
If you want respect, be respectful.
If you want to be heard, listen.

Most especially the last one.

I’m not a fan of New Year’s resolutions. I figure if a person wants to change something about his/her life, why wait until a specific date? Do it today, because no one is guaranteed tomorrow (the procrastinator in me just hissed in my ear as I finished that last sentence).

I understand it, though. Oftentimes, people don’t think about the past or the future until the turn of a new year. It’s only natural to take stock and decide how to make the next year better.

Last night Dave, Tom and I spent New Years with some friends and their children. Everyone was having a great time, but for whatever reason, I decided to go on Facebook. I stumbled on a friend’s post who appeared to be having a rough time. I made a comment, and soon we PMed each other for a bit. I couldn’t offer any advice, because I too often don’t understand everything another person is going through. Especially when we’re not in the same room. To offer advice seems presumptuous, perhaps even condescending, and I could too easily give the wrong advice. Something I always want to avoid – for their sake.

All I could do was listen, so that’s what I did.

He told someone else later that our little conversation helped.

Sometimes that’s all we need. I can’t tell you how many times I needed someone to listen to my troubles, but not because I wanted a solution. It was to be heard and understood, no more and no less.

I don’t reveal this to brag, or to be congratulated, because no one should receive a literal or figurative pat on the back for doing something that he/she is supposed to do anyway. I would do it for anyone, because it’s the right thing to do, and I expect my own friends to do the same for me. That’s not high expectation; that’s the definition of friendship. If they don’t, they’re not my friends.

In looking back on 2016, I didn’t listen enough. I talked a lot, that’s for sure, and as such, I may have alienated and ignored people who needed a friendly ear. Not this year. My 2017 resolution is to listen more and talk less. If doing so lightens someone’s burden even a little – whether I know about it or not – it’ll make whatever happens the rest of the year worthwhile.