Learning and growth have been on my mind a lot lately.
Bear with me, this is going to be a long one.
So first, there was the two week period I spent learning my way around a particular technical problem at work.
Second, while I'm generally left-leaning, I've been making efforts lately to understand the emotional position and feelings of more right-leaning conservative friends and relatives of mine.
I'll admit that I see mostly right-leaning folks post things to social media that sometimes make me roll my eyes, or that make my blood boil a bit.
A whole bunch of stuff happened yesterday that came together in one big synthesis for me around both these things, about ten minutes ago.
At work yesterday I spent the better part of the day observing two co-workers argue with each other. Co-worker A is struggling to understand and do technical things he doesn't really know. He's constantly asking co-worker B (and everyone else there too) for help, and cops an attitude about getting that help, and being asked to do things which aren't his job, and generally being a distracting, entitled, whiny pain-in-the-ass.
It looked for a little while like Co-worker B was really getting bent out of shape about it, and going to kick Co-worker A right in his A. Stressful!
Later in the day I got to talk to my friend Magnus as I drove home from the gym. Magnus is amazing. He's in a constant state of learning. In the 15 plus years I have known him he's evolved interests in electroluminescent wire, model race cars, poi spinning, biking, and geodesic domes, just to name a few things. Like me, he's interested in paramotoring, and we waxed enthusiastically together over the phone about a plan for us to eventually do that together over and around the Burning Man festival, eventually.
Then I got into a lovely conversation with another dear friend, who I have known since college, my friend Scott. Like me, Scott's often a big old lefty. Like me, he's also very kinky. Like me, he's also a super-talky-analytical-likes-to-sound-things-out-together sort of guy.
So we did.
We got into an interesting discussion last night about how people (ourselves included) often confuse opinion and fact.
Avogadro's law is a good example of a fact. (Avogadro's law states that, "equal volumes of all gases, at the same temperature and pressure, have the same number of molecules".)
You can think that's great. You can think it sucks rocks. Doesn't matter. It's still true. That's a fact.
This morning as I was laying in bed, both these conversations and yesrerday's experiences were swirling through my head as I was surfing social media.
I saw some more of that eye-rolling content, got annoyed, and then I saw two things that brought that train to a staggering halt.
First there was this photo:
And then I saw this one:
They rocked my world. That first picture got me good because I have this unspoken bias I've been carrying around lately, an internal one. I've been struggling to get back in shape and lose weight again, after yo-yo'ing back from losing around 50 pounds. There's this tiny little lizard voice in my head that's been sitting on the brain couch, eating ice cream and french fries, and watching movies on its little brain tablet, while telling me, "Gosh Mako, since you're getting older, you're just not going to be able to get back into half-marathon running shape again."
In a word: bullshit.
I recognize now, all at once, that that voice is just an opinion, and not even a well informed one.
Similarly, being conservative or liberal on a given issue is an opinion. Opinions can be informed by facts, but often aren't. But they're a great way to be angry. It feels good to get angry.
This is where my big synthesis comes in. (Thanks for sticking with me this long.)
I don't have much use for getting angry, myself. It's my opinion (not a fact) that being angry is a form of fear, and maybe mindlessness (as opposed to mindfulness.) "I'm dissatisfied that this situation is this way!" seems to be the essence of anger. Perhaps even, "I'm complaining about being dissatisfied about this situation!"
But dissatisfaction and complaints aren't action. They don't do anything. In fact, they implicitly are a statement of powerlessness. "I can't do anything about this - I'm going to squawk really loudly until someone who can do something about it does it for me."
I think it's perfectly natural to experience anger, to get frustrated. But to stay that way, that's an act of will, a conscious turning-away from mindful detachment and compassion.
And it's optional.
Which brings me back to my attempts to deal with my very frustrating co-worker, to empathize with my more right-leaning friends, and to get in shape. I can see how my own opinions and biases are at work, affecting me. In others, the very same thing is going on, inside their heads. Part of why I can see my own struggle is because I can see theirs.
So now I feel like I have this new diagnostic tool. When something ticks me off, I can ask myself, "Is that an opinion or a fact?" Once I've figure out which it is, I can then use it to my best advantage.