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24 Januari 2009

The Best Kept Secret Everyone Seems to Know - Part 2

By Milo Bono

The Paradox of Perception
Understanding human perception brings us to the somewhat esoteric subject of the human trait known as EGO. I will not belabor this discourse with an in-depth academic exploration into the Id, Ego, and Super-Ego, popularized by the Freudian structural model of the human psyche. Nor will I make any distinctions in reference to the "Male Ego" (I've never even heard of a "Female Ego").
Gender not withstanding, for the purpose of our discussion regarding the ego, it will suffice to say that we all have one, and in relatively equal measure. For the sake of brevity the next few sections will focus attention on the predominant aspects of ego germane to our subject.
Ego breeds the evils of prejudice. And since I brought up this immediately offensive and politically incorrect "hot-potato" of a word, an explanation of context is clearly in order.
Most people think of prejudice in terms of its common social stigma, perhaps most notably in the form of racial prejudice. But prejudice is by no means restricted to race. Prejudice has evolved throughout our cultural history to include such things as women, homosexuals bisexuals (pretty much any sexuals), people with disabilities, the poor, the rich, the old, the young, drunkards (a personal favorite), and the list goes on ad nauseum. Name any single thing in the known universe and there will likely be someone somewhere that holds prejudices for or against it.
The preceding paragraph pertained to prejudice in reference to things from the world outside the mind. But ego breeds another kind of prejudice, a yin to the yang as it were. Instead of pertaining to things outside the mind this type of prejudice is decidedly in favor of everything inside the mind. This incarnation of ego is characterized by an inflated sense of self worth and extreme self assuredness were one's own thoughts and opinions reign supreme to the exclusion of all others.
It must be acknowledged this orientation of the ego does indeed pose some significant advantages. A mind that views the world strictly through the lens of a self-fabricated ego can move through that world with single mindedness of purpose, effortlessly brushing aside any considerations that could stand in the way of achieving its goals. But success thus derived does not come without cost. Also there is no guarantee an inflated sense of self will achieve great success, especially when said inflation consists more of air than of substance. The cost is the same regardless and one way or another the devil always collects his due. Those that suffer this affliction rarely find the strength of character to realize their plight or recognize its folly.
The concept of prejudice extends far beyond its contemporary connotations to political incorrectness (a type of prejudice in its own right). In the larger sense prejudice denotes the ego harboring a steadfast penchant to favor its own personal preferences. There is nothing wrong with preferences per se, we all have them, but it is not the acquisition of specific preferences that is at issue. The issue is how ego tends to dominate our thinking and how its prejudices severely narrow our field of view, crippling our capacity to fathom the alternatives that make up the full spectrum experience of life. Prejudice is the function of an ego that regards its own preferences, whatever they may be, as the ultimate benchmark by which all things are measured and judged.

Our Precious Gift of Creativity
Essentially ego is what we experience as our own self. The existence of ego in its purest elemental form may well be absolute, an intrinsic aspect of the human condition. But from birth the ego is subject to the forces of evolution, which means its development is ultimately self-determined and therefore relative to the individual.
Many would say it is precisely our ego that defines our individuality, something to be nurtured, cultivated, and refined. Promptoria on the other hand views ego as something to be restrained, minimized, and kept under constant observation and careful scrutiny.
Ego is an integral aspect of our psychology that colors our view of the world, and all too often determines how we interpret our life experiences. When under the control of self-awareness the ego can serve as a powerful ally. Constrained and restricted to its own devices the ego tends to obscure any truths that conflict with its personal preferences by fabricating convenient new truths that favor them.
Are we not better off utilizing our precious gift of creativity to discover the reality of authentic truth, instead of creating an artificial reality based on self-serving falsehoods?

The Challenge We Face
Cultivating the conscious awareness of our own ego so that we may understand how ego influences our thinking is actually a more difficult skill to master than one might expect. We must gain awareness that we humans are in reality a great deal more than what we appear to be.
There is no way to examine our own ego from within the ego itself. The only way to accomplish this prodigious feat is to find a new unbiased vantage point from which to view.

The Supreme Being
When we close our eyes, and thereby draw a curtain over the world outside the mind, we dwell in a space that at once seems localized inside of our head and yet, when viewed from inside, has no discernible boundaries. An infinite inner universe where we have the power and freedom to create whatever we wish. Absolutely nothing exists in this space except that which we ourselves manifest.
We all exist as the Supreme Being of this inner universe where the only limits of creation are those we impose on ourselves. Within this universe is the source of our true human nature where the ego is merely a superficial image that obscures the more profound reality.
It is within this universe we can find the mirror to see our own ego's true reflection in realistic clarity. Only then can we bypass the ego's normal filtering mechanisms and engage in sober contemplation of self from a new unbiased perspective.

One Way to Wisdom
An excellent way to start is to try understanding things from the perspective of others. Questions we could ask and answers we would expect in reply. Of course many of us do this already so the exercise will be somewhat familiar.
Usually we think about friends, family, and people we interact with on a regular basis. Their thinking will be easier to determine because of long standing familiarity. However, even though our intuition will be more accurate working with something familiar, there is actually much more to be gained from exploration inspired by the unfamiliar. Fresh insights evolve from inspiration derived by using our imagination to converse with people we don't know at all, at least not on intimate terms. For that matter why restrict our exercise of intuition and imagination to conversation with people?
As evidenced by the many extraordinary examples of animation - animals, insects, or even inanimate objects can be endowed with robust personality and discerning their unique opinions can provide insights far beyond the expected. In addition to an endless plethora of characters we can also imagine these interactions taking place in any kind of environment at any scale, from the microscopic to the macroscopic and everything in between.
It does not matter if our imagination produces accurate determinations about the thinking of others. What matters is that the exercise allows us to examine our own thinking from a different point of view. By far the most important consideration when performing these exercises is to never loose awareness that it is our imagination creating a fantasy.
Imagination is inspired by our intuition extrapolating what we think we know about someone else's thinking, but it is still intuitive imagination at play. Awareness is especially important when imagining interactions with someone you know. When communicating with someone (or some thing) in your imagination it is critical to never loose sight of the fact that the other side of the conversation is still you. Insights derived from these exercises will reveal a great deal about your own thinking, but virtually nothing of fact about theirs.
In loosing self-awareness of our imagination we risk the danger of committing fantasies to memory and later accidently confusing them with reality. False memories skew our perceptions of others along with our perceptions of how others perceive us.

Beware the Trap
Many will think it self evident, even laughably obvious, that one can always tell the difference between imagined fantasy and authentic reality. But therein lays a dangerous folly of human psychology many of us succumb to without ever realizing.
As we encounter things we don't understand we tend to rely on assumption to fill in the blanks. Where do these assumptions come from? You guessed it, assumptions are generated by our intuition and imagination, maybe with a dash of actual knowledge blended into the mix just to add enough flavor to make them believable. Left to simmer for a while without challenge or research and we have a savory dish of comfort with the convincing flavor of fact, or at least close enough to ignore the difference.
Making assumptions is so much easier than sourcing and verifying facts. We humans are lazy creatures of habit and making assumptions is an easy habit to acquire. Like a narcotic, the pleasant gratification we derive from those first few assumptions establishes a viable method of fulfilling a need. Fulfillment of need develops into a habit, which soon transitions to a comfortable addiction that alters our behavior the more we indulge. And true to addiction, the need itself grows in proportion with our ability to satisfy the need.
Over time our capacity of sound judgment diminishes while we compile an extensive inventory of cascading assumptions to draw from. In the process, what we come to believe in as rational fact grows into belief of irrational fiction. Eventually we become so comfortable and accustomed with our assumptions that what we come to perceive as reality is actually a life forever lived in self-fabricated fantasy. We may think this lamentable condition must be a rare exception, but the grim truth is that we ALL suffer from this malady; the only difference between us is one of degree.
I'm reluctant to call this stupidity but - We may well be getting closer to resolving our question than any of us would care to admit. How did we come to this state of affairs, and if true, what can be done to repair the damage and find our way free of false perception?

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