Sunday, July 03, 2011

Making choices and having empathy

I just finished reading a very good book by an author named John Connely called “The Book of Lost Things”. It is a very good book and well worth reading.

The book documents the personal battle between Good and Evil that takes place in the heart of a child. The story begins in the setting of WW2 era England. As in many other books the child finds its way into a world of fantasy where a character called the “Trickster” or the “Crooked Man” offers the arrogant and selfish child the opportunity to trade the life of his younger half brother for a throne.

The journey that the child takes in the fantasy world teaches him to be understanding and generous.

The story is a good story. It is about facing your fears, putting away your selfishness and becoming a better person.

One of the child's mentors is a soldier who is in love with another soldier. The book basically does everything except call them a homosexual couple. The mentor is a strong, valiant man who takes good care of the boy as he helps him learn to put away his arrogance, hs selfishness and his fear.

The basic idea of the book is that evil exists in everyone and fear can be used to manipulate that evil.

Everyone is motivated in two basic ways, by desire and by aversion. Some people are motivated primarily by aversion. Some people are motivated by desire. Imagine that everyone has a number line on their forehead. At one end of the number line is desire. At the other end of the number line is aversion. Everyone makes decisions in their lives based on where they are on that number line when they make the decision.

You can tell where people are on the number line because they either talk about what they want or what they don't want. Ask someone where they want to have lunch. Do they answer with “I don't want ...”. That person is motivated by aversion or avoidance of something they don't like.

Before you go off with your new found knowledge understand that individual motivations are complex and can switch between desire and aversion.

(I used to use fear and courage but people have strong emotional ties to those words so now I am using desire and aversion. Just semantics :-)

The child in the book wanted things to go back to the way they were. This is a desire motivation and yet the author had the child overcome its fears to put away his selfish desires.

You really can't motivate someone with fear who is primarily motivated by desire. If one makes things difficult for someone who wants something they will often understand that they are being manipulated like a mule with a carrot on a stick. As soon as you move the carrot away a little they realize that the motivation s just a game and that there is no way to get the carrot.

If you try to motivate someone who is primarily motivated by desire with aversion therapy (beating the snot out of them) they will learn to lie, cheat and steal to get what they want because they know that they will only be punished if they are caught.

If you try to motivate someone who is primarily motivated by aversion with rewards they will learn very little and often never achieve anything.
If you listen to someone try to manipulate you, you can learn how they think. If the person is always talking about “You don't want that to happen because....” or “They only did that because they didn't want ….” you learn that the person is motivated by aversion.

If you listen to someone talking about “You want this because it will get you this and this and this....” or “They only did that because they wanted …...”.

Suppose someone steals food. Did they do it because they wanted to eat or because they didn't want to starve. Ask them why and they will tell you what their motivation is.

Here is the kicker. If they are a manipulator they will give you both answers. “I wanted food because I didn't want to starve”. Then the manipulator will listen for clues and change their speech to match the questioners motivation.

When I was young people kept telling me what terrible things would happen f I didn't do things their way. I did not care. Then people tried manipulating me with carrots that they kept pulling out of my reach so I quit letting other people control the rewards for my actions.

I think that most children are motivated by desire and most old people are motivated by aversion.

There is the real generation gap.

If a child has any empathy for others encouraging them to achieve goals that helps others as much as it helps them is important. Christ told us the most important commandment was to do unto others as we do or would want done for ourselves.

That means we shouldn't treat other people better or worse than we treat ourselves.

Suppose this world is a place where we make a choice between Good and Evil. Then the sorrows we go through make a lot more sense.

Suppose there was no sorrow in this world and you made a choice for Good and went to Haven. Suppose someone you loved made a choice for Evil and went to Hell. The choice belongs to the individual. If we had never learned that we have to let people go even when we really don't want to could we ever enter Heaven or would we insist that we stay with the person who had made the choice, giving up our own personal choice?

Having lost a child I know more about sorrow than most people. Being someone motivated by desire I seek out how I can become a better person, I seek out what I can learn from the sorrow in my life.

I married a woman who was incapable of loving herself or anyone else. As much as I wanted her I wanted a specific kind of life style more and I couldn't have that life with her so I divorced her. She leads the life she wants and I lead the life I want.

She held a carrot out in front of me that I realized I could never have. The people holding the carrot and the stick always claim “if they had tried just a little harder they would have gotten it” and as soon as I hear those words I know that the person is a manipulative liar that would never have given up the carrot.

In “The Book of Lost Things” the child is supposed to over come their fear of change and embrace the potential for great love even with the knowledge that great sorrow will happen.

The “Gay Soldier” in the book derides the Church and God because God allows bad things to happen, as if God should make slaves out of everyone and never give us the chance to learn how to let those we love go when it is time to let them go.

Many people make the same argument, God should make everyone into a slave and should never let anyone break any of his commandments and no one would go hungry or ever hurt and there would never be any sorrow.

The promise in all religions is that when we make the right choice we will eventually have these things. I think sorrow will always be there. I believe that God can only wipe away our tears of sorrow if we have them.

This world gives us the opportunity to choose to desire or avoid. We can apply the lessons we learn to our own lives or we can try to force them into the lives of others.

We can be motivated primarily by our sexual desires, by our desire for music, by our aversion to the cold or the wet, by our desire for company, by our aversion to loneliness, by our desire for solitude or by our aversion to people.

Something else we learn in this world is self control. We learn not to kill everyone that annoys us. We learn to cherish the people around us even when we have differences.

We learn empathy for other people. We learn to feel sorrow when misery occurs to others. We learn to feel joy when others are cheerful.

Some people are always miserable. Some people are always joyful. Some people are joyful on the outside and miserable on the inside while others appear miserable outside and are more joyful inside than we can know.

We can never truly know what is going on in the mind of another, even with tricks like desire and aversion, semantics like fear and courage.

In the end we make individual choices made with insufficient information and we hope that our choices keep us from harm and help us achieve what we want.

We can never force others to do anything other than make a choice and in forcing that choice we can only encourage hatred and anger. If someone holds a gun to your head and tells you “do this or die” you make a choice. If someone is tortured and they do whatever it is the torturer would like they have made a choice.

We have to take responsibility for our choices no matter what circumstances we make them in, no matter how desperate those choices are and no matter if anyone else understands the desperation in the choice.

When we judge the choices other people make, pretending to understand the mental processes, the desperation and the desire we pretend that we can understand each other.
The truth is that while we are all pretty much the same we are all different. None of use can ever really understand any other person even if we are empathic and we listen carefully for motivational hints like desire and aversion.

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