Mirror Games: Confusion When We Influence Our Environment

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As we grow and age we acquire a repertoire of experiences. These are — at the same time — experiences of our environment and ourselves. We gradually acquire a sense of what our world is like and what we are like.

We go through life finding out about the world around us. At the same time we learn about ourselves.

Riding a bike we learn about needing to get the bike going for it to be stable. We also learn about our sense of balance.

If we investigate a waffle ice cream cone, we learn about crispness, fragility, its colour variations, texture and so on. At the same time (perhaps not as consciously) we learn about our sense of touch and taste and the degree of colour variation that we can see.

As we encounter various challenges and tasks we usually find that we find some experiences more enjoyable than others. We learn about our preferences and abilities.

As we grow and age we acquire a repertoire of experiences. These are — at the same time — experiences of our environment and ourselves. We gradually acquire a sense of what our world is like and what we are like.

This sense of our world and ourselves usually has conscious and unconscious elements. By unconscious I mean that we have acquired habits, attitudes, skills and perceptions which feel automatic or like part of us. For instance, I’m not a details person — I like to know the big picture thoroughly and let the details look after themselves. (This is not always helpful — like drawing a map for people to get to a retreat and putting the turn off to the conference on the wrong side of the road for instance. Yes, I really did do this. I’m also pretty dreadful at reading maps.) I have a sweet tooth, am scared of heights (feeling like the ground will give way under me), and so on. All this feels immediate and that it is me. By conscious I mean things that we consciously choose. Typing is mostly unconscious for me — the phrases flow out of my fingertips onto the screen — until I come across a word I don’t type much. Then I need to stop and think and choose which keys to hit. Learning qigong is a very conscious practice for me — I need to do the move over and over to find out what I’m meant to be doing.

So far I’ve been talking about experiencing inanimate objects. These don’t change much in relation to our likes and dislikes: the bike doesn’t care how much of a klutz I am, the ice cream cone stays pretty much the same whether I’m in a good mood or a bad one (and so I may use it to alter my mood if I know that I love ice cream cones).

This process of getting a sense of the world and ourselves is more complicated when what I am investigating is affected by me and how I am feeling at the time. (In the various sciences there are formal ways to take account of this and eliminate the investigator’s bias.)

In our everyday lives we see this process of affecting our environment in our relationships. This can be quite subtle: we can respond instinctively to how someone walks toward us, the intonation of their voice and so on. If someone seems aggressive and angry because they are red in the face, then we may find ourselves drawing back. If they go on to tell us about their day in the sun and the sunburn on their face, this will quite possibly affect the relationship slightly.

This has the potential to become confusing and messy quite quickly. Arguments can escalate quite quickly and both people may think that the other person ‘started it’, that they weren’t angry — they were just responding to the other person’s anger.

Without the convenience of having someone there who videoed the whole thing (and presuming we would agree even if we could see the whole argument played back on video), it is difficult to know what to do. Trying to sort out what happened in the past usually doesn’t help much in my experience. The alternative is to talk about the present and the future. Here are some suggestions that I have.

We can talk about how we are feeling at the time. For example: yes, I am feeling angry now. Or, we can ask about how the other person sees our behaviour: if we aren’t conscious of feeling angry we can ask what we did that gave this impression.

We can also talk about what we see the other person doing at the time. For instance: you have your head pointing forward at me. Or, your shoulders look elevated to me.

We can also talk about where we want the relationship to head in the future, or perhaps how we are going to sort out the argument.

If you have other suggestions about how to handle these kinds of situations I’d love to hear them in the comments.

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