Sunday, March 03, 2013

A Kite on the Winds of Change

Think of this blog as a brief little three act play, with an epilogue that's actually an opening.  Hopefully that will make sense by the time you reach the end.  
Act 1 - "The winds of change will sweep through your life next month."  
This was from a fortune cookie I got.  It was someone's last day at work before going on post-baby leave (I don't know what the exact name of this paid time off is.  It's to give the new mom time to bond with her baby).  
They bought chinese food for lunch as her "see you after you've bonded with your baby," gift.  The fortune cookie I got with my beef & broccoli had that written on it.  I kept it.  It was different from the usual drivel one gets on fortune cookies these days.  Stuff like, "Friendship is the gift that gives to you!"  This was an actual fortune.  I stuck it in my shirt pocket to keep from losing it.  
After some reflection, I thought the fortune cookie had been a bit late.  I'd been dealing with change almost constantly for the past year, and more so on what felt like an accelerating basis.  Most recently, the changes I've been dealing with haven't been positive.  Certainly not in the short term.  I had come to the conclusion that I would need to get used to the feeling that the ground was rocking back and forth under my feet.  If another gust of change were to bring me to someplace more stable, then I would ride that wind like a kite whose string had been broken, fluttering down to wherever the winds took me.  I want things to be different than they are now.  
Act 2 - Science Blogs are my Burning bushes.  
I listen to science podcasts as part of my daily drive to work.  Two articles in those podcasts caught my attention this week.  
One was about the positive side of psychopaths.  The subject alone was enough to catch my attention.  It was a series of interviews with Kevin Dutton, who has written a book entitled: The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success.  The author talked about how there is actually a scale of "psychopathy" that we all lie on.  The qualities of psychopathy, fearlessness, persuasiveness, confidence, charm, focus and ruthlessness, are, in the right combinations, the keys to success in a number of fields.  
The two things that Mr. Dutton said that really caught my attention were these: First, he talked about the nature of psychopathy itself, how it can run "hot" or "cold," is not necessarily violent, and how the various elements are like the knobs on a graphic equalizer inside our brains.  Mr. Dutton admitted that he tested very high on the psychopathy scale, with the one "knob" turned low being empathy.  This reminded me of a fictional device I've included in some of my science fiction stories that I call a "Personality Assistant," or PA.  The PA is an implant that one can control to set your personality for certain tasks.  If a person is afraid of heights, for instance, and wants a job in a high rise building, he can set his PA to reduce or block that fear during working hours.  He can link his PA to his lifelog, a camera and recording device that saves his experiences, both internal and external, to see how his/her daily experiences stimulate the emotions that he or she feels.  Imagine knowing that you "should" exercise everyday, but are unable to find the will to do so, or wanting to quit smoking, but finding yourself unable to gather the will to overcome your cravings.  Your PA can be tuned to increase your focus or decrease your sense of need to overcome these impediments.  
The other thing I remember from the interview was something Mr. Dutton said while speaking about the positive side of psychopathy.  Psychopaths are very focused.  When it is time to do something they want to do, they do it, focusing on the task until its completion.  We should learn to have such focus.  When faced with a problem we know we need to deal with we should, in his words, "psychopath up" and get it done.  
"Psychopath up."  I like that phrase.  "Just Do It," the slogan of the Nike shoe company, is very psychopathic, according to Mr. Dutton.  I think I need to psychopath up more in my life.  Hearing this phrase made me wonder where that knob inside my head might be.  
The other article was an interview with a science that had conducted a study about the "End of History Illusion."  This is the sensation we all carry that the way we are "right now," is the way we will be from now on.  It's the reason why people will emblazon their bodies with tattoos of their current girlfriend or their favorite rock band, because they can't imagine not loving them in the future.  The survey discovered that since we find it hard to envision the specifics of how things will change in the future, we end up believing that there will be no change, or that change will be minor.  The truth is that things will change as dramatically in the next time frame, five, ten, or twenty years, as they did in the previous time frame of the same length.  That is true for all of us at any age.  
I think this is one of the things that motivates people to kill themselves.  When we're in the midst of hardship and don't see a way out of it, it feels like it will go on forever.  I know for myself, while I've never thought of ending my own life, I have reached points where I've resolved myself to thinking that I need to just bear whatever is going on.  The study was a good thing for me.  A secular version of, "This, too, will pass."  
It was about this time during the week that I noticed that I was thinking a lot about the concept of change.  
Act 3 - Words of Wisdom from an American Psychologist via Japanese.
There is a Japanese Facebook page I follow.  It's name in Japanese is 名言 or meigen, which means "Wise Saying."  I discovered the site this week and started checking it every day to practice translating what they've posted there.  The other day, I spotted this posting: 
This is the translation I came up with: 
If the heart changes, one's behavior will change.
If behavior changes, one's customs/habits will change.
If customs/habits change, one's character will change.
If character changes, one's fate will change.
If one's fate changes, one's life will change.
The American psychologist, William James.  
I had never heard of William James.  I looked him up online.  He was the brother of the novelist Henry James.  He was also the first educator in the United States to offer courses in Psychology.  And if your thing is posting uplifting and/or inspirational comments via social media, then you've got to get to know this guy.  Just google "William James quotes" and you'll see what I mean.  You'll have enough material for a lifetime of such postings.  
I found it ironic that I was discovering this icon of American studies through a Japanese webpage.  But it was also clear to me that there was a theme to what I was spotting all around me this week.  Change.  Was someone trying to tell me something?  
Of course.  And that someone was me.  I had somehow programmed my reticular activating system, the part of the brain that turns on and off alertness, to look for "change" in the input it was receiving from the outside world.
Change is easy.  It happens whether we want it to or not.  Every moment, we change who we are as people.  Cells die and are replaced by other cells.  We learn things.  We experience traumas.  We change.  
Change, though, is very hard.  Directed change.  Change to make us into something we want to be.  And our innate belief that history has ended for us, that we are the way we will be, makes it even harder.  
Earlier this week, I posted in my Twitter feed that I was like a kite upon the wind of change, waiting for it to take me wherever it will.  I am seeing now that this is the wrong metaphor.  I'm on the ground, holding the kite, feeling it tug and pull as the breeze stiffens, becoming ever stronger.  What I want to is to direct that kite.  Turn it into a sail.  Let the winds of change provide the motive force to pull me in the direction I want to go.  
Like Mr. James suggested, it starts with a change inside of me.  A decision to do things differently that I've done before and to let that decision cascade through my life.  
Epilogue - A seed of something, I don't know what.
Darren Occet's life changed the day he discovered he could reprogram his personality.  
They had fitted him with a new one via the Personality Assistant they had implanted in  his brain.  To keep him from harming others, they told him.  To allow him to have a normal, fulfilling life.  Though he had been able to keep from snorting in derision, they had seen the spikes on the scanners they had him hooked up to.  He'd noticed the little glance toward the screen.  The warm and friend smiles had stayed on their faces, but the eyes had curdled, soured and hardened into stinky gunk you get at the bottom of milk containers that have been left in the fridge for too long.  They didn't have to ask him to know that he thought "normal" and "fulfilling" were two adjectives that could never be used to describe the same life.  Darren looked back into their eyes, easily picking out the ones that were the most fearful, that would make the easiest targets, up until the time the blackness of the anesthesia took over and he, in more than a figurative way, died.  
And now he was reborn.  He could see the PA's interface in the smart-shades they given him.  The real time personality profile the PA generated.  In his "normal" state, he could react to any spike in certain neurological reactions by reporting it to the physicians and researchers that monitored his case.  He had a whole team of consultants.  He was the first person released back into the wilds of society with a PA implant.  
What he was supposed to do now, after the spike in aggression when that asshole had sneered at him in the café's line, was to used the meditative techniques to calm himself, to allow the PA to do its job in moderating his response.  Darren used the meditative exercises given to him.  But used them instead to do what he'd been trying to do for weeks.  Like person in a wheelchair trying to use a mechanical arm with his thoughts, Darren had been trying to use the feedback mechanism of the PA to reach into the device itself.  To turn the knob, so to speak, in the direction he wanted it to go.  
A flicker.  A hint.  Then slowly, the magnetic field stimulating the empathic centers of his brain eased back.  He felt a flood, a rush of strength, a focus of purpose that was more powerful than any caffeinated drink he could buy.  He could hear his breath hissing in and out through his nostrils as he stood there, relishing the moment.  
Darren opened his eyes.  The girl behind the counter, young though not pretty, with eyes too big and too much acne, was looking at him.  Head lowered, looking up at him.  Trying to see his eyes through the shades.   A cautious one, she was.  Like a deer that knows wolves were about.  Too much hopefulness, but more than enough caution.  
"Can I take your order?"  There was twist to the words, like aluminum foil that someone tried to  to smooth flat after crumpling up.  Her desire was that he would change his mind and walk out so she wouldn't have to serve him.  
"Yes.  I was just thinking about what I wanted."  He looked up at the board.  "A green-tea latte, hot.  No sweetener.  Make it large.  And..."  He looked over the top of her register, forcing her to take a half step back.  "Could you add a slice of that traditional coffee cake, too?"  
She nodded.  "Of course.  Anything else?"  
Darren smiled.  He had to take a quick breath and send a calming thought to the PA to allow him to tweak its corners to get the right, predatory gleam to it.  "No, but thank you for checking."  
Darren got his drink and snack.  He paid for his order.  All in a very normal and fulfilling way.  He turned around from the counter.  
Asshole was sitting in one of the booths, along the row heading toward the restroom.  Lounging in the corner of the seat, cell phone to his ear.  Probably got his ass fired for doing something stupid and was pretending to be going to the office while keeping his significant other in the dark.  Definitely someone hiding something and using his well trained arrogance as a guard dog to keep people at bay.  
Darren closed his eyes.  He watched as the resonances of the fields changed.  He felt his former self, buried deep inside, take full control of his body and actions once more.  
Eyes still closed, he nodded to himself.  "Time to psychopath up," he told himself.  He opened his eyes and made his way to the booth next to Asshole's.  


Post a Comment

<< Home