Taking a Step Back

What was once called the objective world is a sort of Rorschach ink blot, into which each culture, each system of science and religion, each type of personality, reads a meaning only remotely derived from the shape and color of the blot itself.

Lewis Mumford, “Orientation to Life,” The Conduct of Life, 1951

Influence is a powerful weapon in both the right and wrong hands.  It’s effective, invisible, and slow-working. Worse still, when you’re influenced over time you usually don’t even realize that you’re being influenced at all.  You’ve got to watch your back for influence because I can promise you that it’s always creeping up on you when you least expect it.

This is something I’ve been realizing recently, then forgetting, then re-realizing.  It’s tricky like that.  I’ve talked before about how you need to really pay attention to the people you hang out with because you tend to follow the same goals and habits that those people have.  Even if, when you met them, you were very different after a few months you’ll find your priorities having changed without you even realizing it.

That’s true about more than just people.  It’s true about your life– about everything.  It’s true about your home, about your car, about your clothes, your hair, your work environment, the way you hold yourself, the way you speak, the thoughts that you think, the media you expose yourself to, the ads you’re subjected to and the music that you listen to.  As humans we like to think of ourselves as individuals who are unique and autonomous, but the truth is that what we are is a species of actors.

We absorb and imitate.  That’s what learning is.  You’re only able to read this article because when you were a child you absorbed and imitated what your parents did when they were communicating to each other as well as your peers in school.  Eventually you learned the language, social queues and gestures that we all use.  But you picked that up because as a human being you’re a natural mimic.

That doesn’t end when you’re a kid, even though it’s easy to maintain the illusion that it does.  Everyday you’re adapting and imitating in order to fit in with your current circumstance.

Life can take several distinctly different directions based on that information:  It can take you to a place where your wildest dreams become your reality, or it can take you to a place where mediocrity is king.  It can take you to a place where even though you live like royalty compared to 98% of the rest of the world,  (And if you live in a first world country, congratulations, you belong in that upper two percentile.) you feel like life sucks and you complain about every little thing like so many of us do.  Or it can take you to a place that’s like hell on Earth.

That’s why I wrote about complaining.  It affects your life in ways you may not even realize.  When you focus on the negative, you notice everything negative.  Even good things are viewed in a negative life, and when there’s some sort of ambiguity to the outcome an issue (You know, like with 90% of life’s challenges.)  you assume something negative is going to happen instead of something positive.

Sometimes, like today, I have to take a step back and realize just how damn good I have it.  That’s really hard when you have co-workers, family members, friends, the TV, the news and everything else in your life whispering unintentional suggestions in your ear about how you should act.

Meditation helps with this, but if the thought of meditating offends your sensibilities, you can always just schedule ten, five or hell, even two minutes a day to just run through a list of the things you’re grateful for.  Things that you like about your life.  The people you appreciate.  The luxuries you enjoy.  It’s laughably difficult to come up with a list of those things when you first start being grateful because we’re all so used to being ungrateful and looking at the next best thing; but after a week of practicing you’ll wonder how it was that you weren’t able to have an overflowing list of things to be grateful for.

Remember that no matter what someone says, it is not gospel.  You can step back, think and decide for yourself.  Life is your car and you have the keys in the ignition and your hands on the wheel.  You have the ability to decide what car it is you’re driving and where you want to take it, no matter how many people give you directions.  Take the time love the little things in your life and be thankful.  Forget about what you don’t have and remember all the things you do have.

You might be surprised where you can go and how fast you’ll get there.

4 Responses to “Taking a Step Back”

  1. Bronwyn says:

    Oscar Wilde wrote some interesting thoughts (through one of his characters) in “The Picture of Dorian Gray” on influence. It ties more into the first half of your article but I wondered if you’ve read it. If not, take a look!

  2. Dani says:

    I go through random bouts where I question if anything I do is original, and feel like crap when I can find a source from someone else for almost everything I do (Kyle and Sara being the main two!). But, when you love someone, you grow with them and that means influencing each other for the better and I’m okay with that. That’s when I can stop and realize I am okay with everything in my life.

    Love this post. Thanks for sharing. :)

    • Tom says:

      I can definitely relate– Especially when it comes to writing. The only form of originality that I know of is really just a mish-mash of ‘borrowed’ ideas and concepts arranged in a way unique to you. Which is why it’s important to watch what you expose yourself to.

      Anyway, I’m glad you liked the post, and thanks for reading!

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