Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Bridges to Ourselves

There are three kinds of people.
Those who see the glass as half full.
Those who see the glass as half empty.
Engineers who see the glass as twice as big as it needs to be.

My undergraduate degree is in Environmental Engineering, so I can tell the above joke because I know it is true for many engineers. Engineers work in a field which solves real-world problems, and their concerns are reality-based and limited to what is necessary. Aesthetics, architecture, optimism, or pessimism about a project are left for others to work on. (OK, engineers all don't actually not care about aesthetics, etc. but in their field these are ancillary concerns.) The above generalization is funny because there is the element of truth in it. A container only needs to be as big as is required. A system, or bridge, really only needs to be built to the specifications for which it needs to be used.

For instance, a bridge intended solely for pedestrian traffic is not required to meet the specifications necessary for a high capacity interstate bridge. The forces acting upon that bridge are significantly different based on their use. If we were to approach two of these bridges side by side, 200 feet above the bottom of a gorge, we may be more prone to want to walk on one rather than the other depending on how afraid or loving of heights we are. Both are completely adequate for us to walk out on, but a slightly swaying, smaller bridge would inspire some fear or daring in many of us.

Some of us would conjure up images of the bridge in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, even though this particular bridge is fully maintained and meeting the requirements for pedestrian traffic.

Others would have their adrenaline start pumping and actually long to run out to the center of the bridge, perhaps even then stopping to lean over the railing.

Some will walk slowly and surely over the pedestrian bridge, pushing down any fears of heights they may have because they know the engineering is solid and their fears are irrational. (Or perhaps they even recognize rational fears and choose to walk carefully!)

A few of us may even decide we would rather deal with traffic and try to cross the larger vehicular bridge...even if realistically that may be more dangerous due to the ramifications of traffic. (Surely, there would even be some industrious people who would attempt to flag down a car and hitch-hike over the bridge)

Yet everyone faces the same situation and approaches the matter in different ways. In the above scenario, everyone had to get to the other side of the gorge, to cross a bridge on foot. Each person reacts in a way that is based on their unique make-up, temperament, experiences, training, or intellectual conditioning.

Each person has a different, unique experience.

Each person creates a reality for themselves, whether pessimistic, optimistic, realistic, or adventuresome.

We all create our realities.

For the person who notices the swaying and comparatively skimpy pedestrian bridge, it poses a danger the other bridge seemingly does not.

For the person who has acrophilia, their adrenaline would kick in and a slight adventure posing views of a gorge and the wind in their hair would excite them.

For the person who simply has to be somewhere and get to the other side it just poses a location where they must walk.

This can be applied to any situation. We have the power to create our realities.

We can choose to listen to fears, become hooked on adrenaline, or ignore anything that isn't practical in helping us meet our ends.

We can define our lives as victims of powers outside our control, or as individuals who "take life by the horns" even if it is at the expense of others.

Paranoia could overtake us.

Like the character in The Hurt Locker, we could become addicted to situations which push us to the limits of life and death.

We could think we are worthless or have nothing to contribute.

We could think only we have the right answer, belief, or idea to contribute.

We could need help.

We could give help.

We could solve problems or create problems.

We can see relationships as expendable, or able to be reconciled.

During the modern philosophical and scientific movements much has been made about being objective. Yet even in these fields it is recognized that while we can attempt to be more objective, none of us can truly be completely objective. We all have our vantage point, our place of observation and measurement, our unique experiences, which in some ways impacts our view of whatever is being discussed.

We might be striving for objective certainty in our lives, when the reality is that we cannot fully get outside of ourselves. Surely, we do need to recognize our preferences, tendencies, and presuppositions, learning to place them as variables and not constants in the equations.

For instance, if I love mountains and am wary of underwater excursions like diving I would be more likely to gravitate towards vacations inland rather than coastal locations. It doesn't mean objectively that mountains are better than underwater reefs, but that subjectively this is my preferred reality.

Why even talk about such an idea?

In the words of GI Joe, "Knowing is half the battle."

When we recognize that we do have control in some aspects of our reality, we can work towards affirming those we like and changing those which are harmful. 

We can see in ourselves selfishness or anger, for instance, and learn to not let it control us in those moments but to work through them when talking with a difficult co-worker.

We can see the ways in which we have allowed our own fears to cloud our vision an prevent us from living. The Final Destination movies exhibit this point quite clearly I believe...they suddenly try to prevent death from taking them as they somehow try to cheat death. Yet, as soon as they start living by trying not to die, are they really living any more?

We can realize where we feel we are experts or have pride and realize that perhaps, just perhaps, we are holding to some ideology with a level of certainty or being right that damages our relationships with others.

Basically, we can learn that in those matters of our reality that we create, we can equally change them and allow a new reality to be present.

We all grow and develop this reality whether we think about it or not. When we can at least take some time to reflect, we can bring some structure to our lives and realize there is some power, some free will, some choice, that can turn a chaotic reality into a trajectory towards whatever we deem worthy.

We can turn our thoughts and let ourselves be transformed. We can stop fighting others on items which don't really matter, and start discussing instead.

We can recognize virtue in each person, rather than whether or not they are in alignment with my sociopolitical views.

We're not all the same, but we're all on the same journey of life.

We all have to cross the bridges in front of us.

There are three types of people, and we need them all.

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