On the Edge

 

We stand here together on the edge.

We move our toes to the end of the rock ledge.

We look down into the relentless waves

crashing incessantly on the rocks below.

 

We wonder what it would be like to fly,

to soar past all the cares and ties that bind,

past all the struggles to remain sane,

past the fear that when we pass from this life

there will be no trace that we ever existed,

past the fear that this life may be eternal,

a never-ending hell in ceaseless anxiety

that rolls forever like the waves of the sea

smashing in anger and hopelessness

on the rocks at the edge of helplessness.

 

But moments like these, standing on the edge,

can free us from our fear and open a new  reality

and fill our tired minds with renewed excitement.

From here we can feel the power of the universe

as we straddle the rocks and resist the wind

that blows against the canvas of our lives.

 

As we take one step back to take it all in

and open our sails to the power of the wind,

we dare to open our eyes to our fears.

We dare to open our souls to an infinite power

that can overcome helplessness and hopelessness.

We realize it is okay to question the universe

because the source of life has all the answers.

We begin to realize it is okay to dream,

because life can be packed full of wonder.

We open our souls to the possibilities of the now,

and yell at the chaos because it’s okay to be angry.

We laugh at ignorance because we now understand

that anger has given us the power to correct

what we thought could not be corrected.

 

We take another step back from the edge

that has revealed the good, the bad, and the ugly.

We accept that we are the good.

We accept that we have the power

to transform the bad and confront the ugly.

 

We embrace the truth that WE are the truth,

           and this truth has set US free.

 

                As I have watched the impeachment process that has taken place to the South, I fear that it may be the end of democracy as we know it. Government is no longer the innocent debate game that we play every four years where each party presents their views on how the state should be governed based on common sense and a set of facts, data, and truths. It is no longer anchored to an historical framework with an agreed upon set of constitutional rules, values, and guidelines. Instead political parties are presenting their own version of reality, and their own set of rules, often in total disregard for the facts and the sacred premises of democracy. It would appear that instead of being leaders with knowledge on how to make things better, they are acting as creators of emotions like fear and anger that they employ to gain and keep power. They use and abuse traditional and social media to create an alternate reality that helps them feed, control, and incite their political base through anger and fear of an imaginary reality that they themselves have created.  Unfortunately there is so much misinformation out there due to social media that average citizens no longer know what the truth is and feel that they are being manipulating by outright lies, fake news, and biased scientific data.

                The key to this manipulation process is based on the way our human brain operates. We are wired to be on the lookout for threats to our existence and to attempts by others to control us and take away our freedom to make decisions to protect ourselves. You see, within our frontal cortex there is a part called the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) that is responsible for our decision making. The left side is our administrator which checks our mind states that include our accumulated experiences, knowledge, and beliefs, but before it makes a decision, it also has to coordinate with the right side which is our sense of self in space and time. It is our life story and important decisions have to coordinate with our life story to provide meaning and purpose. Other animals do not have this capacity. The bear does not have to wonder if it is a herbivore, carnivore, or omnivore. It is constantly hungry so it eats whatever it can find. It does not have to mentally worry that it will get fat because its instinct  IS to get fat for the long cold winter months ahead.

                However, there is another dimension to this part of our human mind. It allows us to determine individual and group consequences to the decisions we make individually and collectively. It is also the focal point where the universal intelligence can interact with the OFC leading to a sense of spirituality so we can make compassionate decisions for the greater good. Now because of our spiritual awareness, everything has to fit in with the big picture – the individual story, the collective story, and the universal story. As conscious human beings we now have an inner conflict between our higher self’s desire for the greater good and our ego’s need to protect ourselves emotionally, mentally, or even physically. There are people in this world that play upon our ego’s needs, often deliberately manipulating us away from our awareness of the greater good to fulfill their own desire for profit or power. The key is that these people have it all figured out. They know psychology or hire people who know psychology. They recognize our life story tendencies and play upon our ego’s beliefs and biases.

            A Bias is a tendency to favor an idea or thing, usually in a way that is self-serving and not based on all the evidence. A bias may be for or against an individual, a group, or a belief. Biases can be implicit with the roots often going back into childhood family dynamics involving beliefs that go back for many generations. As children we are taught to discriminate between those who are like us, the in-group, and those who are not like us, the out-group. On the plus side, some biases can be positive and helpful – like choosing to stay away from someone who can cause us bodily harm. However, most negative biases are based on specific fears, and taken to the extreme, can foster an us-versus-them mentality. These biases are often based on stereotypes involving characteristics such as gender (the fear of men losing power and status or the fear of women being dominated), ethnicity (the fear of the dominant in-group losing identity and position in society), or sexual orientation (the fear of having to compromise religious beliefs and values that may affect members of the family). This types of bias can have tragic outcomes.

                The first step in overcoming a bias is to be aware of it, so I am thankful that my dear friend, who has agreed to critique my posts, has indirectly made me aware of one of mine. Phycology is an iffy science that relies heavily on surveys and correlational studies; therefore I like to throw in fancy words and technical jargon to impress people in the hopes they will buy into what I am saying. I also have to fight against my bias to hide behind the pieces of science that I want to use to prove my point rather than arrive at a balanced unbiased truth to share. Therefore, I will go against her wisdom here and keep the following titles in italics because I want to consciously emphasis that this post on biases does have a sound scientific basis, a whole field of study agreed upon by prominent psychologists, and that these biases are real and are a real danger to us individually and collectively. So here goes.  Please do not take them personally. We will all see some part of ourselves in these examples.    

                There are many kinds of biases. Cognitive bias, is a repeated faulty pattern of thinking that can lead us to inaccurate or unreasonable conclusions. It can include flawed memory, not paying close attention to data, limits in intellectual capacity (none of us is smart enough to know everything), emotional interference, and social pressures. Confirmation bias refers to our brain’s tendency to search for and focus on information what reinforces our mind states while ignoring facts that go against our beliefs. In the Dunning-Kruger Effect, we may lack the self-awareness to accurately assess our skills. We may wind up overestimating our knowledge or ability. For example, it’s not uncommon to think we have the right answers regardless of the evidence to the contrary. Actor-observer bias is when we are more likely to judge another’s actions as based on an emotional reaction rather than observable facts. The Fundamental Attribution Error is when we attribute someone else’s actions to emotions while thinking our own decisions are based on truths. The Halo Effect occurs when our first impression of someone colors our overall perception of them. For example, if we are struck by how beautiful or rich someone is, we might assume they have other positive traits like being wise or smart or brave. A negative impression, on the other hand, can lead to assuming the worst about a person, resulting in a Reverse Halo or even a Horns Effect where we judge the people who hold alternative beliefs as agents of the devil.

                Before we can enter into a knowledgeable balanced discussion on how to improve our world, we have to take a step back and acknowledge and limit the effects of our biases. The key is to know ourselves and develop our intrapersonal intelligence. We can learn to be aware of our negative individual and collective biases. We then can take a few more steps back and see the struggles being experienced by the other individuals and other groups. We allow our spiritual self to develop empathy for others. Once we have this sense of self-knowledge accompanied by a genuine desire to listen to and understand where others are coming from, we can take steps to heal our nation and make sound decisions based on an agreed system of laws and conventions. We will then be able to compromise to develop and share common goals and be willing to sacrifice some our own wants and needs for the sake of the greater good.

                May I gently suggest that we (me included) open our conscious minds to examine our biases without being too hard on ourselves; after all, most of our biases were not formed intentionally and there is no need to blame ourselves or others. We have much to gain by doing so. Our thoughts and feelings can either enrich or cause us harm. If our thoughts and feelings lead to fear, anger, hate, blame, or judgement, we are probably engaging in a bias that places us in mental and physical danger. These biases direct our bodies to release biochemicals and hormones intended for short-term use to help us fight, flee, or hide from danger. If we hold on to these  biases over a long period of time they may  lead to generalized anxiety where these deal-with-danger chemicals may distress our bodies until they cause  chronic illness. Holding on to these caustic beliefs affects not only our state of health but it may also affects the mental well-being of our family, our community, our country and eventually the world.  On the other hand, developing positive beliefs enable us form feelings of joy, exhilaration, pride, relief, care, and tenderness. These positive feelings create positive energy that is liberating and beneficial to us all.

                If you have decided that you are interested in gently examining your biases and perhaps beginning to change some of your thoughts, actions, and beliefs here are some things you can do:

  • Pick one small thought, ask if that is actually true,
  • Ask how you can get more information to make your decision…….(etc.)
  • Make it a routine to tell yourself a different story as you brush your teeth in the morning or take your walk or drink your coffee,
  • Be kind to yourself. There is no place for self-blame. You simply acknowledge the bias and make a conscious decision to create a new belief,
  • Know that you can empower your mind to be and stay safe based on truth rather than bias,
  • Know that even the smallest of actions can be part of a force that can change the world.

Lawrence J.W. Cooper

Poet Laureate, Comox Valley