How the Past Creates You

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As I mentioned in the previous blog post, which  was about the book Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West (mouthful of a title, I know), experiences have a very big impact on the formation of who we are. Of course, we come into this world with a genetic make-up, which makes us predisposed to certain things. However, it is the environment that has the final say when you get down to it.

By environment I don’t just mean the tree outside your house or the flowers in your neighbour’s garden, though they may be a part of it. To get a better picture, we’ll have to include past events , people we have met, and memories we have made. Or do we?

As it turns out, it is only our memories of events and of people that count in the end, because the experience itself dies, and is thus lost, once it ended. However, as Daniel Kahneman pointed out in his TED talk, some of these experiences (and only a select few) enter our memory, where they are spoiled by impressions and the inevitable effect time has on these treasured and tricky thoughts.

So, back to our topic: it is actually the memory of an experience that influences us, consciously. When you have to choose, say…a store from which to buy, you can’t help but replay memories of past visits to certain stores, and, in some situations, memories of what people have told you about those stores. If in one store you happened to end up with a really good find at the end of the shopping experience, you will probably be inclined to choose it over the other ones, despite the fact that the other things you purchased there weren’t all that wonderful.

Why is that important in the creation of who we are? Well, that’s because many times (or more often than not), our memories are distorted. When it comes to thinking of ourselves, they are distorted  in a manner that highlights  (perhaps exaggerates) our qualities, and our good deeds, and minimizes the negative things we’ve done. This is why most people who one would think of as morally impoverished are able to live their lives happily and without remorse. To sum up what we have so far: memories often make us seem better than we are, to ourselves.

What about the subconscious? Though it is not yet very well known, we all do realize, to some extent, that  it influences us in many ways. This article discusses how studies have shown that neurons in the brain of mice, which normally work while a certain experience is underway, also fire before encountering  a new exposure, similar to the one dealt with in the past. As it is explained, this is probably why different individuals have different ways of approaching  the same problem: because the past shines through, providing us with guidelines on how we should act in a novel situation.

What all of this information means, in practical terms, is that the past leaves a very strong mark  on which the presents exists, and the future is built. It is only with extreme difficulty that we can escape a certain pattern which was drilled in our minds, and the trouble is that very, very often, the difference between being capable of breaking free from the chains of the past and remaining captive, are some genes which we didn’t choose. Add to this the fact that even when wrong, we have a tendency to appreciate and understand ourselves quite a little bit more than needed, and the effect is even more pronounced: We refuse to change, because we are programmed to believe we are all right the way we are. Perhaps not great, but pretty darn close.

Dealing with Rumors

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Having what may seem like the entire world know personal things about you is an experience which can lead to trouble for most people. When these “personal things” are not even true, the experience is downright frustrating.

As people, we are accustomed to living very social lives, and that inevitably means that we care about others’ opinion about us. With this in mind, the reason behind the “tragedy” of having people gossip about you becomes clear.

Still, there are things you can do to minimize the effect such experiences have.

Learn to ignore the illusive mass of individuals we call “others”. Each one of these “others” is someone with an opinion and a standpoint that may be very different from your own. If you sit around trying to make every single individual approve of your actions and of you, you’ll wind up the most unsatisfied person in the world. Or at least at the top of the list.

There’s another thing you must try to ignore: the lie itself. If you concentrate too much on it, then you will tend to be more unhappy. But there’s something else that will probably happen, and that is that you will tend to talk about it to absolutely everybody, whether they know you or not. Stop yourself from doing that. Stand with pride, because that is how an innocent individual should stand. Don’t embrace the role of guilt by bending over and begging to people who may not even care to believe you.

Instead, focus on the people that do matter to you, and in this manner, you’ll manage to narrow the crowd down to a more manageable size. Even if you feel like these individuals should instinctively know that you would never do that, whatever it may be, try to talk to them about it, and tell them your point of view. In this manner, even if the one spreading the rumors is someone your close ones know, they’ll have both sides of the story, and they’ll be able to decide.

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West

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Cover via Amazon

“I never use the words humanist or humanitarian, as it seems to me that to be human is to be capable of the most heinous crimes in nature.” (Maguire 186)

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, by Gregory Maguire is a book with a rather interesting mission: to tell the story of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” in a more complete form, but with a different main character. The title gives this character away, so at least this aspect does not cover itself up with a shield of mystery, like so many other parts of the novel do.

I was surprised to find that this particular book was very captivating, despite it being a fantasy, which is  a genre I tend to stay away from. The first hundred pages or so are hard to get through, but the rewards that come later make even those initial “sufferings” worth it. Keeping in mind that this is a novel that was born from a children’s book, it is nonetheless amazing to observe how well it preserves the issues of society, as it has been, and as it still is. Many questions are raised, some about religion, political power, and others on a more individual basis, such as how much the history of a person influences their behavior.

The fact that the story is told from different characters’ perspectives (though always in a limited omniscient manner) gives the reader the impression, or perhaps the illusion, of having the entire story, complete and unbiased. In this manner, the children’s novel from which Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West stems is made into an unintended  lie, told by an uninformed story-teller. Curious how well this reflects the very experience many of us have when now, a adults, we look back upon out childhood.

But let’s turn it over to some of the lesson one can learn from this novel:

1)People’s gossip can be false.

It is vexing to think of how well each of us knows this, and yet, of amazingly we fail when attempting to infiltrate this knowledge into our actions. People say things, many and often. Some say straight out lies, and some end up saying untruthful things either because that’s how they first heard them, or because they misunderstood. It is hard to get pass our nature, which tends to trust others when finding out information. However, it is extremely important to try and get to the bottom of a story, particularly when the story is of importance to us.

If you’d like to read more on dealing with rumors, click here.

2)People are often pushed into their roles by the experiences they underwent in their lives.

This one’s just a little less known than the first , but just as obvious once you think about it. Sadly, it is easy to forget that many things contribute to creating each one of us, as an individual person. The kind of life we are born into, the type of people we are around, and the things that happen to us, are just three examples of how things outside our reach come to influence us. We are not always in control, and neither are the people around us. Indeed, there are things we can do to change our current situation, which means that we are not helpless. Nevertheless, keep in mind that the balance between the will and the experiences of an individual isn’t always a fair one.

3) Power is dangerous.

A little out of line with the other lessons, and already taught to us by history, but since it happens to be a very important part of the book, it had to be mentioned. Power has the power of changing us in ways that shouldn’t be possible, which is why it needs to be handled with much conscious thought and care.

An important theme in Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, is the idea of evil. Does evil exist, or is it just a myth? More interestingly, once we know the reasons why someone who seemingly fits perfectly into our notion of wickedness became that way, do we still see them as such, or do they become victims of a life with a strange sense of humor?

Be present in the present

Your mind is racing; constantly, desperately trying to solve various issues that worry you. Maybe you’re thinking of the job you need so much, the fight you had with someone you love or  the payments you still need to make. The problem with all this chatter going on inside your head is that it consumes your energy, and most times, even your happiness, without giving you anything in return.

This is why you need to learn to stop these demons from taking over your mental strength and from invading the only thing in the world that is meant to be yours one hundred percent of the time: your mind. What you can do is simple: live in the now.

1) Note everything that needs to be remembered down on an agenda

But surely, you can’t just forget about everything that you have to do, because that would be irresponsible. Of course not; instead, try putting all those things in an agenda, or create reminders for them on your phone, and then (and only then) forget about them. That is, until you must take action. By doing this, much of your mental clutter will go away, because you will no longer have to keep repeating things to yourself in order to make sure that you won’t forget about this or that.

2)Live like a child

No, I don’t mean that your should start breaking things by playing with objects which are not meant for toying around. Unless that makes you happy, and we’re talking about your own stuff. Hey, your purchase, your decision! However, what I meant is that children are pro when it comes to being aware of the things around them. They notice the world for the first time, and that’s why they pay attention to every detail, no matter how small or insignificant it may be. Growing up, we “learn” to act like adults, and sadly, in doing so, we forget to live.

Now it is the time to remember how to observe the world around you. Pay attention to the road stretching  in front of you, hear the songs of the birds that fill the horizons, feel the wind caressing your skin. Notice the people around: their faces, their voices, and remind yourself that behind them, there’s always a story that awaits its turn to be told to the world. In the evening, watch the sunset, and saturate your eyes with the ever-changing colors of the sky. Just like a person, each day has the potential to have its own story written down on a blank piece of paper. It would be a shame if, instead of creating a tale as unique as the day it corresponds to, you would choose to fill its white page with stories you already experienced, or with the ones that are not yet real.

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3)Give your full attention to whatever it is you are doing

If you are working now, then work. If you are taking a walk, enjoy it. Too often we start daydreaming on the job, only to have reason to worry later that we haven’t carried out the task correctly. Be present in the present. Live each moment as it comes, as it begins to exist, but not a second sooner (or later) than that.

Follow these steps, and you’re bound to start feeling lighter, happier….better, right from the start.