Say you find yourself in a crisis. No matter what you do, there just doesn’t seem to be a way out. What then?
Should you keep on fighting, rebel against it, struggle? Or should you give up, resign and accept that there is nothing you can do about it? Neither of these alternatives sounds appealing, and both are painful in their own way.
So what can you do when you can’t do anything?
Well, the covid situation brought its own wisdom, “when you can’t go outside, go inside”. I know, this sounds like one of those ambiguous spiritual advices but hear me out. I have a theory.
I believe that the reason one feels powerless has to do with projecting one’s power on external circumstances. That means, other people, God, situations, institutions.
When we were children, if something were to happen to us that left us feeling powerless, defeated and defenseless, our attention may have been displaced from our center and placed upon the external world for our need of empowerment. As a consequence, when something is challenging us, we may not look to ourselves and our willpower to find a solution, but instead wait on an external force to enable us to have the things we want and need.
So how does this tie into not finding a way out?
It has been my experience that crisis arrives when we are not willing to take responsibility because it feels like obligation and losing your freedom, basically because of the perception that if one were to do that thing that theoretically would get you out of the situation, it would mean losing something very important, that it would mean settling for a life devoid of joy.
Moreover, you feel like you have no choice in the matter, that you’ve been dealt a bad hand, that life is unfair and that there is no reasonable solution. But what makes it feel like obligation as opposed to something you need to do to get to where you want to be?
What makes it seem like a dead end as opposed to a stepping stone?
I believe it is the lack of self-identification when it comes to our willpower. When you are self-identified and you don’t feel at the mercy of a stronger force, your attitude is more open, you are centered around what you want, need, think, feel and your actions serve your purposes. In contrast, when you are not centered, you believe you are subjected to a stronger will, a stronger force, whether it be fate or another person, and you have to do what you don’t want to do. In this case, there is no link between what you want/need and the responsibility it entails. It’s much like in school when we read books because we had to, not because we found them necessary.
As in the example above, the link between need and action was broken, or rather reversed. You start with the obligation to substitute for the need, as opposed to the need itself leading the way. That way the sense of self is interfered with and resistance is produced as a balancing act. Identity through opposition and rebellion.
Whether the choice is to submit to obligation or oppose it, the common denominator is still the fact that the center of our decision-making is the external force that we perceive to be invested with power. If we are in a position of relative safety, we can afford to submit or oppose this external force without feeling at a substantial loss, but crisis means we believe to have lost that sense of safety and balance and now our sense of control may has dissipated. So what else can we do, but hide, isolate, withdraw, or try to run away or escape?
I think the solution resides in understanding the problem itself, becoming aware of the misperceptions and then reorienting the soul forces towards one’s self, finding one’s center.
“When you can’t go outside, go inside.” Find out who you are.
The way I think of it is through this visual:
Say that’s your willpower and sense of self sprouting, emerging slowly. Then, you have some interfering forces, that may want you to go in the same direction even…
Objectively they may be right.
But you can’t help but feel smothered and out of control when that happens, even though you earlier tentatively acknowledged the necessity of it yourself.
Why is that?
I believe it is because your self-identification hasn’t established itself firmly, your vision, your want/need hasn’t taken sufficient root within your being for it to feel like your own voice. That’s why it makes you angry when others even mention it. The side effect seems to be that what was originally your idea, serving your interest, now feels like an imposition or like loss of freedom.
The perception changes from “I want” to “I have to” because the center of willpower is displaced once again. In other words, your attention is directed once again upon the external. You lose sight of your original intention and feel compelled to go into resistance.
It’s much like a vortex… you were taking purposeful action, and then you find yourself distracted into reaction. What a difficult place to be! If you want to get a sense of it, just watch Groundhog Day, Before I Fall and Russian Doll. That’ll give you a good idea of how it’s like, plus they’re all good cinema. You’re welcome!
Therefore, I think that what one can do when nothing can be done, is to connect to that center, find that sense of self. That’s something that meditation can help with. That’s something that body practices can help with, including Yoga, TRE, 5Rhythms. And that’s something that a sense of joy can show the way to. I believe that the true self is the happy self, the self that loves. So connect to that vision of how love and joy feel to you to get a sense of what you are about : )
I think that purpose and especially joyful purpose can energize a vision sufficiently to create a channel to that which you want. And then willpower is the loading bar that gets you there.
Lastly, this is a more recent discovery, Stoicism is amazing! I’ve been reading the Discourses of Epictetus and I’ve been struck by Epictetus’s indifference to someone potentially killing him if he didn’t obey their will. Back in the day powerful people could kill you at a whim for whatever transgression. Epictetus’s position was that others could kill him if it served them, but his duty was only to himself, to live by his principles and that others could choose to do what they saw fit. The purpose was the virtue he was living, not holding on to his life at all costs.
It may take some time to get it right, so patience is needed too, but I think that’s how it goes.
I think this shows the purpose of crisis, an opportunity to find the real self again.
The other day I had a good insight on something I have been contemplating for a pretty long time and that is the connection between blame and entitlement. The key I found turned out to be a third point which determined a full circle: responsibility. It looks like this:
If as children our needs are not properly met, that tends to fixate the attention outside of ourselves for getting those needs met later in life. If it felt like our needs didn’t matter then, later when we are in times of distress we will look outside of ourselves for comfort or help. That means that we unconsciously grow with the belief and the expectation that it’s the duty of others to meet our needs, that we are owed something that we didn’t get. That is the source of entitlement.
These expectations can look legitimate and they sound like: they should listen, they should care, they should respect me, they should be nice to me, they should respect my boundaries, they should see I am busy, etc.
This entitlement really hides behind it the blame of not having had our needs met properly in childhood, now projected onto those we expect fulfillment from. Take away the thing one feels entitled to and you’ll get anger, blame and resentment or at the other pole, powerlessness and self-pity.
One word that is the basis of entitlement is “should”. Whenever one thinks that someone should provide something for them that they don’t give or do freely, that is a sign of an old unmet need. That often leads to conflicts where one person tries through various means to get their needs met through the other person while the other person feels unfree to give on their own terms and resists.
Entitlement also manifests as trying to control the external because where you perceive responsibility lies is also where you believe power resides. Which ties into other things, but for now we will look into how to remedy this misperception.
The remedy is in the understanding that nobody owes you anything and any kindness you receive is a blessing. The solution lies in finding out what you expect from others, give it up, feel the feelings that come up in relation to that like maybe grief for ancient unmet needs, anger for mistreatment or fear of what it means to stand alone and then claim that responsibility for yourself. Taking that responsibility upon yourself instead of waiting on others to fulfill it.
That also means finding your center, finding your inner strength and also getting in touch with your willpower, your active principle in the world. It means taking back control and coming out of the feeling of powerlessness.
The moment you accomplish that you won’t need to blame others because you are looking to yourself for getting your needs met, you are becoming your own parent. And shoulds begin to fall away as they become replaced by is or isn’t. Is there love here? I’ll stay. Is there kindness? This is my place.
The letting go of shoulds shifts your attention to navigating into that part of reality where what you are seeking for is freely given and into giving to yourself that which before you waited on the external to provide for you, whether that’s another person, a miracle opportunity or God.
This seems to be a recurring theme for me, so I thought I’d put together a few things I have noticed in regards to integrating negative emotions.
If expressing negative emotions as a child seemed to generate negative consequences or negative reactions in the child’s caretakers, the child may choose to suppress his full expression and instead adopt the conclusion that only positive regard for things is acceptable. The child believes that feeling negative emotions themselves is bad, so he learns to defend himself from them by suppression or denial. What the child doesn’t know is that his ability to say no to things is part of his self-expression, his boundaries, his active principle in the world.
Since being loved is a survival need, the child feels that he cannot enforce his boundaries, because he has to be permitted to, so the child learns other means of getting his needs met: evasion, manipulation, isolation. His mechanism of exploration becomes one of adaptation instead of active engagement with his environment, so instead of developing his selfhood and taking action towards getting his needs met upon growing up, he learns to develop reactively to his environment.
The inability to say no transfers into attitudes towards giving and receiving too. If the child felt that he was not allowed to say no in order to claim his selfhood, the word yes begins to feel like self-sacrifice, while the word no feels like guilt and rebellion.
Later in life, the adult may find himself paralyzed or confused about his life. His actions may seem to lead nowhere and life may take an air of senselessness or meaninglessness. Apathy, laziness, depression, helplessness or hopelessness can arise as a sign of unfelt/unexpressed negative feelings, the thought behind these experiences being “I can’t” which is an indication of a paralyzed willpower.
Unfelt/unexpressed anger/fear/pain in particular causes the flow of energy within one’s self to stagnate. If you look into anger, you will see that it is a sign that one’s willpower, voice, self-expression or rights have been obstructed. Therefore, anger in itself is not bad, it is a side effect of something else, a side effect of denied self-expression. Its message is “I have the right to be here. Exactly as I am.”
Anger has its purpose, it is a call for taking back your power. If it is felt and expressed in a healthy way, it is a very positive force. It becomes destructive only when it is displaced or projected upon the external world by blaming, complaining, victimizing, punishing. In its healthy manifestation (felt, understood and expressed) it reveals itself as the force behind healthy boundaries, willpower, integrity, determination, purpose, healthy self-assertion, self-expression. It reveals itself as the same force behind your agency, your active principle in the world. In its negative manifestation (unfelt, projected upon the external world and acted upon) it turns into resentment, apathy, laziness, victimization, rebellion, resistance, misuse of power and control.
“There is an intimate connection between the problem of laziness and feelings that have not been fully experienced. Do not look at laziness as an attitude to be given up at will, if only the person would finally come around to being reasonable and constructive. This is not a moralistic issue at all. Laziness is a manifestation of apathy, stagnation and paralysis, a result of stagnant energy in the soul substance. Stagnant soul substance is the result of feelings that have not been fully experienced or expressed, and therefore their significance and true origin have not been totally understood. When feelings are not thus experienced, understood and expressed, they accumulate and stop the flow of the life force.”
– Eva Pierrakos
Anger seems to be widely regarded as a negative thing, but that is solely if you judge by appearences, if you think of it as a cause, instead of as the effect of something else. But just like in medicine, the symptoms are not the problem. The cause lies in misperception coupled with suppressed emotions. We often suppress negative emotions precisely because we believe them to be bad or believe ourselves to be bad if we experience them. And this is where shoulds come into play.
It is true, some people seem to have the good qualities of patience, levity, joy, but that is not because they suppress their negative emotions, it is because they have understood its message, understood their early experiences and come to a higher understanding.
An example that comes to mind to exemplify this is that when we think of inner peace, we may imagine a Buddhist monk, unshakable and unflinching in the face of the ups and downs of life. Being used to judge solely by results, we do not pause to wonder what sort of life experiences bring forth the lessons necessary to cause such a shift in perspective so that no matter what comes your way you can maintain your peace. Instead, we observe the attitude, the posture, the philosophy, the words , the mannerisms and we try to adopt them ourselves.
We may even understand it at an intellectual level, but what is not immediately apparent are the roots these ideas have grown in the minds of those who experienced what those ideals were or were not, the associations with painful and memorable moments, the trials and errors and the deep understanding they provide. We only see the surface and often it is the surface we try to imitate.
“When feelings are not experienced in their full intensity, the inner life flow must become stagnant. People will find themselves inexplicably paralyzed. Their actions will become ineffectual; life will seem to obstruct all their goals and desires. They find closed doors to realizing their talents, their needs, their selves. So-called laziness may be one manifestation of this paralysis. A lack of creativity or a feeling of general despair may be another. In this latter instance, people may often use a current event or difficulty to explain away their inner state. The truth is that a sense of futility and confusion about life and your role in it must envelop you when you resist living through the feelings you harbor; you go on harboring them because you delude yourself that avoiding the feelings will hurt you less than exposing them. There are many other manifestations. The inability to feel pleasure or to fully experience life is one of the most widespread general effects. However, there is no other way to become fully alive than to keep experiencing your real feelings.”
– Eva Pierrakos
The paradox is that experiencing negative emotions is a positive experience because it is based in reality. Any attempt to run from negative emotions is an expression of that negative emotion. Take envy for instance. Have you ever tried not to be envious of someone? It is my experience that doing so makes everything I say feel uncomfortable, forced or dishonest. Whereas if I am honest, not only do I feel at ease because I am no longer opposing myself, but my self esteem grows because I am showing myself that I can accept myself as I am.
When negativity is acknowledged, accepted, felt and expressed, three things happen:
1. You lose fear of other people because you know that it is your unwillingness to give or to love that is causing the conflict and not the apparent unfairness of the demands of others.
2. The other person loses guilt about being bad for being the persecutor since you express your own part in the conflict.
3. Your boundaries become stronger because negativity is a defense from pain. When your boundaries are stronger, your sense of safety increases and so does your willingness to love and give. You can’t have one without the other.
Therefore, the first step in losing fear of others is in finding, acknowledging, accepting and expressing the negativity you find in yourself. In seeking in this direction, it is important to make the following distinctions:
1. Acknowledging is different than accepting. Acknowledging is admitting to one’s self that the negativity is present within you. Accepting means having no resistance to it being there, not fighting against it or judging it and especially not trying to suppress it.
2. Expressing negativity isn’t acting upon it. It is being truthful to others about our own part in a conflict, being honest about how one really feels.
Last time we looked into the techniques and strategies that the media uses to influence perception. This time we’re going to take a closer look at the target: the unsuspecting viewers.
And a good place to start is here:
It seems to me that the quality of something of being believable is strongly linked to how much our core beliefs are challenged by it. The more it fits into the structure of our thinking patterns, the more believable that something appears. Therefore, I would say that credibility contains an element of speculation within it, but more leaning towards the idea of something being true.
This tightly links to cognitive dissonance, which means that we tend to agree with things that support what we already believe and discard information that challenges our assumptions.
Therefore, I would say that there is a major difference between credibility and truth. Credibility is concerned with the appearances of things, truth, with facts.
Take the case of Ignaz Semmelweis. In the 1840s, pregnant women were dying in large numbers and nobody knew why. Semmelweis discovered that by washing hands before handling pregnant women, the mortality rate would drop drastically. However, when making his discovery public, he was laughed at while his published medical works were attacked or ridiculed. Then he turned to alcohol and died in a mental institution. Today he is known as a pioneer of antiseptic procedures.
So were his studies less valid because they weren’t generally approved of? Was his discovery less true because it didn’t seem credible? I imagine that this has been repeated many times throughout history in different forms.
I had my share of experience with credibility too, not that anything groundbreaking resulted from it, but still.
So this is what happened. When I was in high school I was pretty naive. I had a bit of an attention deficit disorder and I would often miss cues that something was a joke which would often make me say things that were out of place. But even though that was kind of embarrassing, it gave me the opportunity to notice that if I always took the approach that what is likely is true, then I would always be safe, because nobody blames you if you refuse to believe something that sounds incredible, right? Like how the stethoscope was invented because a French doctor was too shy to place his ear on women’s chests. Yet, that’s totally true.
So it seemed that appearences mattered. Credibility mattered. I didn’t know then that this was linked to a misapplication of consensus, as we will see.
So what exactly are the elements that create and fortify belief?
Well, the way I see it, it’s the following:
The first one would be direct experience. If we experience something and see it with our own eyes, that is solid evidence for us.
The second is secondhand experience. We also learn from the experience of others. If we can notice the cause and effect within us, we can notice it in others too.
The third is authority figures. Authority figures are always present in our lives, starting with our parents, our teachers, our superiors at work, experts in the fields of our study, politicians and even media figureheads. They are people we look up to because of the knowledge or power they possess or because they are representatives of qualities we admire.
The fourth is consensus. This is based on tribal psychology, the need to belong to a community. If everybody believes something, that gives the belief a certain momentum and makes one question their perceptions if it does not align to the one of the group. Here are a couple of great experiments illustrating this concept:
The fifth one is prejudice + probable cause, meaning cognitive dissonance. If we already believe something, new information that contradicts that belief will be explained away by assuming its probable cause. It’s because it’s false, stupid, ill-intended and so on. This ensures the preservation of the assumption.
The sixth one I have identified is an appeal to emotion. Strong emotions draw attention because they signal that something important is happening, whether positive or negative. This goes back to childhood experiences. For children, being met with negative emotions like anger or shame can be traumatic, as being loved is a survival need. That is why people tend to become attuned to the emotions of others and often try to attenuate them through various means. Moreover, negative emotional reactions often signal that some injustice took place, which draws the attention towards the victim, even though the reaction could be exaggerated or manipulative.
Now, before we go more in-depth into how these mechanisms of belief can be exploited, let’s look at the two wounds that makes a target more susceptible to being manipulated: the feeling of not being good enough and entitlement.
We all know someone who is always ready to help, who wants to be of service and right wrongs. I used to be that person, sometimes I still am. Seeing someone in distress can make a person empathize and try to fix what is apparently broken. But what happens when the person you help doesn’t want to take responsibility for their problems and instead expects you to fix it for them? Well, then you get an unhealthy dynamic.
You get one person that is perpetually taking responsibility for the other, sacrificing themselves, while the other expects this treatment and relies upon the former. This is called martyrdom or the savior complex and it can only result in conflict as it is based on a confusion of responsibilities.
The rescuer, even though her intentions are good, ends up taking away the power of the victim who could instead save herself, while the victim takes away the energy of the rescuer who could instead see that saving others is not her responsibility.
The martyrdom syndrome and the victim-rescuer-persecutor dynamic can help us better understand the two wounds mentioned earlier as we will see.
I recommend the following article on the victim triangle:
Not Good Enough
The first wound as I identified it that can be exploited is the wound of not being good enough. Actually, I’ve spoken of this before, so I’ll just share the video:
Hint: Somewhere after minute two I say what sounds like “convinced to feel it”, but I am actually saying “convinced to fill it”, which wasn’t the best choice of words, but eh.
So basically these attitudes can be exploited by appealing to ideals and good intentions, which gives the viewer a sense of purpose and the feeling of belonging by participating in a larger cause. That wouldn’t be a bad thing if it weren’t for the emotional investment, but because of the emotional investment, the cause becomes just as much about the external thing as it is about healing one’s own pain by projecting it on an outward victim.
This wound reminds me of the indulgent, over-nurturing mother, who always grants her child what it wants. This mother figure does not contain the child, so the child feels stronger and more powerful than any rules. Or it is the mother that showered the child in compliments of superlative values to the point that the child has a skewed perspective of what he can and cannot do. Or it is the mother that didn’t grant the child emotional support, so that the child felt like he had to extract it by temper tantrums.
Regardless the case, signs of entitlement in society are restrictions on what you can and cannot do, what you can and cannot say or at the opposite pole, expectations of special treatment. This is a projection of the need for a mother figure who tries to protect the child by being over-protective and who doesn’t allow him to develop his own autonomy and sense of boundaries. Now, there is definitely a fine line here. We can all agree that calls to violent action towards people should be sanctioned by law, and they are! The problem is that with entitled behavior, the aim is to sanction the potential of what words can lead to.
Even though they appear to be motivated by good intentions, such as protecting the vulnerable, what they really are is attempts at fulfilling unmet needs by looking for solutions externally, towards a mother substitute that nurtures and allows everything. The state thus becomes this mother substitute that enables the entitled behavior. It’s offering to be the mother you longed for while at the same time enabling you to see the problem out there and not in your history. But I’ll get into that later.
Moreover, this overprotective instinct extends to other areas as well, eg. censoring information because of what it may lead to. Remember Good Intentions in the Propaganda chapter? Remember the Martyrdom Syndrome from earlier? It is a classic example of confusion of responsibilities, taking away the right of others for deciding on the truthfulness of what is being witnessed. It’s like if experts decided that the vegan diet is the best and so you’re not allowed to eat any meat from now on. Or reverse that if you’re vegan.
The thing is that truth doesn’t need to be defended, it speaks for itself. It has proof on its side. Questioning it is what makes it stronger, because it stands the test of doubt.
I maintain that Truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect. That is my point of view, and I adhere to that absolutely and unconditionally. Truth, being limitless, unconditioned, unapproachable by any path whatsoever, cannot be organized; nor should any organization be formed to lead or to coerce people along any particular path. If you first understand that, then you will see how impossible it is to organize a belief. A belief is purely an individual matter, and you cannot and must not organize it. If you do, it becomes dead, crystallized; it becomes a creed, a sect, a religion, to be imposed on others. This is what everyone throughout the world is attempting to do. Truth is narrowed down and made a plaything for those who are weak, for those who are only momentarily discontented. Truth cannot be brought down, rather the individual must make the effort to ascend to it. You cannot bring the mountain-top to the valley. If you would attain to the mountain-top you must pass through the valley, climb the steeps, unafraid of the dangerous precipices.
– Jiddu Krishnamurti
Going back to before, entitlement is basically a need for the external to be a certain way in order to feel safe or happy and it can be a sign of trauma. The sense of self is somewhat extended to the outside world and so there is a confusion as to what is under one’s control and what is not. For instance, I once saw a video of someone who was in a large conference room with many people who took a microphone and asked everybody not to be loud because it triggered his anxiety attacks. And while I can empathize, because I struggle with anxiety too, it was his responsibility to do what was within his power to get his needs met, in that case, leave the room or do some self-soothing exercises.
I mentioned temper tantrums earlier. Emotional reactivity ca be a sign of immaturity. I’m not talking about righteous anger here. Each negative emotion has its proper place but it can also be misapplied due to emotional wounding. A wound is triggered and then the trigger is mistaken for the cause which actually resides within the self. With a sense of entitlement, however, everything negative is thought to originate from the outside which orients the attention towards combating what is out there. This is called projection and it means attributing wrong values to external circumstances, whereas the pain and the anger originate from a denied aspect in the self. We tend to attribute to others the things that we do not see or admit in ourselves.
To illustrate this, I’ll tell you about a workmate I once had that really annoyed me. The reason she angered me as I saw it was because she didn’t take responsibility for her work and I always seemed to end up doing it for her in the end. That exhausted me and irritated me but I didn’t do much about it as I tried to make everything work for everyone (#MartyrdomComplex). Then one night I dreamt I was in my room, dressed in a black dress and when I looked in the mirror, I saw… her! As my reflection!
That horrified me and I woke up in distress! That was the last thing I wanted to see, myself as the person I disliked most.
But… upon reflection I figured… I was a lot like her. I too felt helpless and continue to feel helpless occasionally. I too didn’t take responsibility for many things in my life, I too engage in people pleasing and so on.
The more time passed, the more aspects of her turned out to be within me too. It was like many parts I had denied in myself for a very long time came together within her, like she was the embodiment of my shadow come to wake me up.
It wasn’t that she was wrong or bad, it was that I had poor boundaries. It wasn’t so much that she didn’t take responsibility, it was that I took responsibility for her. And it wasn’t so much that she asked for a lot, it was that I didn’t know how to say no.
And that’s how projection works. Sometimes we don’t see things within ourselves, but we may observe them in others, in the emotional reactions we have to them. Entitlement acts as that barrier that prevents us from seeing the source of our distress and instead directs our vision towards the external world and trying to remove the trigger. Quite an optical illusion.
The last thing I want to add here is in relation to the Drama triangle mentioned earlier. One important aspect of this dynamic that I want to mention is that those that perceive themselves as victims tend to feel entitled to the help of others due to their perceived powerlessness or to punish those that they perceive as persecutors, sometimes alternating between the two.
You know that Nietzsche quote?
Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.
– Friedrich Nietzsche
Well, that captures the essence of it.
I guess it’s clear by now how this can be exploited. Whether it’s misdirected anger or an expectation of preferential treatment, this can be channeled into social change, censorship or new laws and restrictions.
But of course, you need a good cause or a good problem for that. But maybe that is a subject for next time.
I am not an avid book reader. I read somewhere between 10 to 15 books a year on average. I tend to read mostly books on spirituality and personal development and I like to experience what I read thoroughly. These are some things I observed on what can make the reading process more enjoyable and satisfying:
Need is the best guide
I think the best way to enjoy a book is to seek for books that meet a particular need. Whether that need is for relaxation, for reflection or for finding answers to specific problems, the thought of fulfilling the need is what keeps you engaged with what you are reading.
I remember that in high school and in middle school we were assigned books to read and I thoroughly disliked most. It was so disconnected from purpose and need, that for me the exercise felt completely pointless. Instead of reading because I understood the necessity of reading, it all became about how reading makes you smart and knowledgeable, about how it made you appear to others. The more you read, the better.
The problem with that was that it created a vacuum, an expectation. It was not so much about your natural inclinations and interests, but about living up to a standard. So that connection to need and purpose was severed.
If we are not motivated into action by need, then we are doing so out of other external considerations.
Compulsive book buying increases your to do list
I can sometimes be a compulsive buyer. It used to be a big problem in the past – I once bought books that cost me more than 200$ – but thankfully I managed to change this habit.
The thing about compulsive book buying is that it gives you a high when you do it, but then you have a big stack of things to do. When you buy books on sale, you are spending less than you would otherwise, sure, but you’re also increasing your backlog of things to begin, process and finish. And when you do this on a regular basis, the stack keeps increasing.
As humans we like resolution. We like safety, reliability and predictability because it gives us a sense of control. We like finishing things because it clears our mental space. We no longer need to worry about that, it’s done. But when we keep accumulating things, that can make them appear a bit unmanageable, like an endless row of things to do.
I personally like to take notes while reading. If I find something that speaks to me personally, I can be sure that I can learn more about myself by exploring it in writing or reflection.
Sometimes while reading, I reach a paragraph that feels like a new angle on a problem I am currently facing or something I have been thinking about. I like to take the opportunity to expand on it right there and use the momentum to lean into that insight. That feels like it creates a sort of opening, a way for a new perception.
I have heard of others doing this exercise at the end of the book, taking notes on a few key concepts that they took from the book and applying them in day to day life.
I think both are valuable, the former being more oriented towards specific insights of a more personal nature while the latter is more of a general overview of the ideas that made an impact. But regardless of the approach, I think it’s good to process the ideas that are relevant for the purpose of making them useful.
One (or two) at a time
I have tried reading multiple books at once. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. I think starting multiple books at the same time can be a sign that you are not sufficiently engaged with the book you are reading. Perhaps the language is a bit difficult, perhaps it’s repetitive, perhaps you are distracted and you need something else.
Alternatively, some books are of a different atmosphere. Like for instance, the writings of James Allen, Lao Tzu, Khalil Gibran or The Pathwork Lectures take a lot of contemplating. I take my time with reading them, because they are more depth-oriented so they can be better experienced in smaller chunks and they can be alternated with other books that don’t require as much depth of thinking and reflection.
But generally I prefer reading one book at a time for the reason that when you read a book you are taking part in its atmosphere, it builds a momentum, it carries you through its progression, whether fiction or non-fiction. Reading multiple books at a time can be like switching back and forth between two or more movies you’re watching. They lose coherence, you lose engagement.
Another good practice when reading books is to notice yourself in the process. Perhaps you are enjoying it and/or getting a lot out of it, perhaps you’re losing interest, or perhaps you’re using it as a distraction.
For instance, reading can be a displaced need for experience, or it can be a substitute for the need to know what to do, seeking answers externally or another mischannelled need. That doesn’t take away from the value of the practice, but it is good to be aware of the motivation.
Generally, when I feel I am making too much effort reading, I think that is a sign that I am losing interest in the book. In order for the process to be meaningful, I need to feel like I am engaged with what I am reading, that it is relevant to what I have experienced or am experiencing. So I either discontinue reading or read in smaller chunks.
What are some of your habits/reflections in regards to reading?
If as a child you were valued for your knowledge and intelligence at the detriment of other virtues, you may have decided that these traits were the most important ones to develop and pursue. Courage, kindness, patience may not have been given much attention in your environment which means they did not get a chance to grow in your field of awareness. Due to their apparent lack of applicability in building the life that you want, they were considered secondary or inessential. But while intelligence is a key virtue that helps unlock other virtues, it is lived virtues that are infused with life.
While the quest for knowledge may transition into the quest for wisdom and self-understanding in adulthood, the personality can still grow lopsided, because even though it pursues the wisdom of other virtues, it does not live or embody those virtues. Therefore, the proof of true understanding is action, changed behavior, not as a superficial superimposition, but as embodied knowledge. Knowledge in action. Movement. Otherwise you may find yourself, in the words of Sri Aurobindo, poeticizing on the peaks.
The pursuit of wisdom and knowledge at the detriment of action can also be a sign of a traumatized willpower. In childhood the personality may have been consistently met with negative feedback whenever displaying autonomous action which may have made it doubt its impulse for action.
The original need for self-expression and action is still there, but if the wrong conclusion is not made conscious, the personality may channel the urges of the soul for experience and growth into something else, into a substitute such as accumulating knowledge. Without the spontaneity of self-trust, the personality withdraws into fantasy or into the pursuit of knowledge in order to compensate for an unlived life.
Accustomed to distrust its natural instinct and inclination for action and choice, the call of the soul becomes more and more urgent, which causes more and more frustration, since the original need cannot be adequately fulfilled by compensatory mechanisms, especially if they are unconscious. If the need is made conscious, the longing is still there, but the urgency disappears.
That’s why I think it is important to orient towards living virtues, practicing them, as one may confuse the real thing for the description, like the anecdotal finger pointing to the moon. Otherwise virtues can become lofty ideals of an ethereal quality instead of lived realities.
This change does not happen instantaneously as habits take a long time to form, but it helps to know what kind of person you want to become, what virtues you wish to live and approach them daily through small actions.
While it is true that the quest for knowledge and wisdom does lead to other virtues, it helps to test yourself, to create a link between the intellectual knowledge you possess and your experience. Intellectual knowledge being what “is claimed to be” or “should be”, experience being “what currently is”.
In that way, you can see where you are in relation to where you want to be, not as a judgement, but as feedback of where you are with your progress.
Carl Jung defined synchronicities as “meaningful coincidences”. They can manifest as unlikely occurrences carrying messages of a personal nature in day to day living. They can be numbers, symbols, ear ringing or short meaningful messages that catch your eye during the day.
Whether they are the result of reality creation, timeline adjustments or reflections of the choices one makes, to an observant eye they seem to have a consistency of their own. You don’t have to go looking for them, in fact looking for them seems to stall them. Instead, they will find their way to you in a way that will catch your attention.
So why do we receive them? I think it’s two reasons:
Guidance – they come as short messages, not meant to give answers as to what you should do, but to help you reflect and find the answers within you.
Feedback – reflecting back to you your own state of consciousness or giving signs of encouragement or warning.
While synchronicities can be very helpful – and I found them to be pretty reliable in many cases – one can get lost in interpreting them, especially if you have the hypervigilant habit of making connections between things and figuring things out. I would also advise against learning about this topic if you are currently experiencing crippling self-doubt and fear of making mistakes or of making choices, as one may seek confirmations from the outside that the choices one makes are “correct”. That can lead to a cycle of self-fulfilling prophecies which I can say from personal experience is not a fun place to be.
Ultimately, it is the connection to our own center that can provide the most reliable source of wisdom, and synchronicities are meant to direct our attention to that. They are not meant to be substitutes for making choices. They are meant to be treated more as questions.
That being said, these are some of the synchronicities I have taken note of so far:
I think numbers can have a personal meaning or they can have a general meaning too. If your birthday is 22.12, then seeing the number 2212 may have a special meaning for you. But in general, there seem to be some commonalities about the numbers people see. For instance the usually reported sequences are 3-4 digit numbers, where either the same digit repeats 3-4 times, or each digit is repeated twice.
These are the associations I have made with various number sequences:
1111, 1212, 1122, 1133, 1313, 2222 , 2211– I usually see these numbers when I experience flow or non-resistance, where I am at ease and in acceptance, when I am at peace and in a good state of consciousness. When I do not experience self-doubt or self-will, but I am in the moment.
1110, 1211, 1121, 1132, 1312– I usually see these numbers when I experience self-doubt, when I don’t know what to do, when I worry, or when I feel that something is missing. The most telling one of them is obviously 1110.
1112, 1213, 1123, 1134, 1314 – I usually see these numbers when I am forcing something, when I am in a conflicted state, when I cannot accept how things are, when I fight what is, when I experience resistance. The most telling one is obviously 1112.
166, 616, 661, 1166, 1616, 1666, 666 – These are the most consistent sign that I am in a state of resistance, that I am forcing things inwardly, that I don’t want to pay the price for what I want, that I am not taking responsibility, that I am acting despite confusion, that I cannot accept things as they are.
911 – This number seems to mean multiple things. It is either a confirmation of flow, a warning, an announcement for a message that usually follows it, or a confirmation that an insight has been received.
An example for this number was when I saw 911 WWO on a car. I googled WWO and the second result was an Urban Dictionary page which said it meant “Wings Wide Open”:
“This statement is a metaphor for saving ones self from a bad situation. It is derived from a bird in free-fall. If the bird spreads its wings, it can simply soar and stop its impending pain/demise. Likewise, when a bird wants to fly away quickly, it spreads its wings wide open and with a few powerful thrusts flies away. Consequently, this statement is often used to remind one of their inner strength.”
I can’t tell you how fitting it was at the time!
152, 1152, 512, 521 – These numbers seem to appear in association with self-doubt for me. I can’t tell you how many times this has been the case, from getting 1152 on a train ticket for a ride I wasn’t sure I should go on, to 152 on the tag of a dress I wasn’t sure whether to buy.
444 – This number seems to come up when I worry or when I am in distress. From the testimonies of other people it seems to be like a message of encouragement for those in confusion or distress. Everything is going to be alright.
555, 1515, 1155 – These number sequences seem to announce a change, a new decision. I do think, however, that they indicate the potential, not the manifested reality.
0000 – This one is more rare but seems very significant to me. What it means to me is that a cycle has completed, a lesson has been learned, or that something has been released/integrated/zero pointed – ending of a karmic cycle.
999, 1919, 1199 – These numbers seem to announce endings or potentials for endings or resolution.
Ear ringing can come in many forms. Whether they are tune-ins, deaf tones, changes of pressure between the ears, flutters or clear ringing, they are very distinct and attention grabbing.
These are my experiences with ear ringing:
Right Ear vs. Left Ear
There seems to be a distinction as to the meaning of getting signals in the left ear as opposed to the right ear. For me at least. The signals I get in the left ear always seem to carry the message of a warning while the ones I get in the right ear seem to be of a more positive nature – encouragement or confirmation.
Signals sound like Morse code. They can sometimes be really clear and distinct. For me they usually relate to my state of mind/consciousness. If I am overthinking, struggling, forcing things, making poor choices that give me reasons to worry, act recklessly, the left ear will be activated with signals. If, however, I am in a peaceful state, open, surrendered, at ease, then my right ear is activated with signals. I seem to get them in my left ear when I rush into decisions I am not able to carry through with out of impulsivity and lack of commitment.
Tune-ins seem to be a form of check-up. Sort of like seeing what my current state is, what my intentions are, where I am going. I have not closely monitored this, but I think that left ear tune-ins might be a precursor to a challenge in the future, as for the right ear, I have no idea.
I also got them pretty consistently in my left ear when I was doing Somatic Descent meditations at night, which is a great and powerful meditation proposed by Dharma Ocean. The tune-ins made me feel afraid to immerse myself in the meditation so they always seemed to interfere with that.
Scroll to the bottom of this page for the Somatic Descent meditation if you want to try it out:
Not to mention other interferences I got, but perhaps more on that later.
Here is where there is much difference in meaning between the left and the right ear. Getting them in the left ear seems to be some kind of warning, preparing you for a conflict or a difficulty/challenge.
Someone I spoke with said they were on a group chat when they got a ringing in their left ear. Soon after that they got kicked out of that chat. He said it was as though the moment the people on the group decided on kicking him out – on a negative intention towards him – that is when he got the ringing.
I have gotten these signals myself and sometimes they were so loud they startled me! I have gotten them consistently prior to someone engaging me in conflict, as a sort of warning to not go into reactivity.
In one particular instance, I got them multiple times, as well as saw 911, yet I was not prepared and lashed out at the person that was challenging me. That led to a major conflict which resulted in a particular course of action shutting down for me, sort of like putting me on a lower timeline where my options were much more limited.
As for the right ear, I usually get ear ringing either as a sign of encouragement or as an indication that something that I am saying, thinking of, reading or hearing has a significant importance. If I reflect upon what is being said, I usually get a lot out of it.
I have experienced other types of signals but I do not yet know what they meant as they were pretty rare.
Signs and Symbols
Signs and symbols come in many different forms. They can be thoughts in our head of a different quality than we are used to, dream symbols, meaningful messages, songs or something we may overhear someone randomly say.
The messages are usually cryptic as they are not meant to tell you what to do, but to make you find within yourself the answers you are seeking. They often speak in visual terms like in dream symbols or a particular symbol that keeps coming your way. Animals are common presences in these symbolic messages.
For instance, I was seeing foxes a lot for a period of time. I go to Facebook, foxes. I open the SMS emoticons, foxes. Buying something at a store, has the fox symbol on it. I still haven’t decoded the meaning, but it was definitely a recurring symbol for me.
Another time I had a symbol leaking from a dream into reality. I was on the fence of what to do about a particular decision and on that night I dreamt a personified form of a dog holding hands with a personified form of a horse. I didn’t know what to make of it, but later that day I went on Facebook and I saw, get this, a video of a dog and a horse. The horse was tied with a rope and the dog untied it and took it for a walk. I think it was this one but I’m not sure:
Upon researching the meaning of the dog and the horse, I took the dog to mean guardian or protector or vigilance while the horse meant freedom without restraint. I interpreted the message as containment. Temperance. “Watch out for impulsive behavior.”
If I had reflected upon it more, I would have known what to do and it would have been the preferred choice for sure.
Aside from symbols, short and meaningful messages are another common occurrence. They can come up as songs that keep finding their way to you, like how Let It Be kept playing in my head once, or messages about faith, “Where is your faith?”
Or recurring messages, in various places, holding the same idea, often centered around a virtue. Guidance.
Of course, messages can also be of discouragement if you are pursuing a course of action that would not be good for you. Sometimes they can be blatant like that one time when I got the message “If you’re looking for a sign to break up with someone, this is it.” Other time they can be more subtle but persistent and they often come as difficulty in carrying through a particular course of action.
One such incident was when I impulsively rented a place in another city for one month. I found that I could not access my Airbnb account because there was a problem with the captcha so I could not login. I tried to do it by phone, but then the phone I had used for that account was my Dad’s, and it was no longer working. I created another account and an app on my phone that I use for self-remembering told me “Stop!”. All these signs, that I thought, hah, maybe they are not coming from the positive kind of discouragement, maybe it is the negative kind.
I was doing all this to run away from where I was, not to pursue something that I wanted and in matters like these, the intention is paramount. I didn’t know whether to continue with it, so I postponed it for a week. Just before leaving for the apartment I got 11:12 on my phone, which was really discouraging, as this is one of my most clearest signs of forcing things. Yet, I had already confirmed that I was going, so I stuck with it.
I must say that those were 2 of the most horrible weeks I have ever had. I have never felt so afraid, so out of place and so alone in my entire life. Not only was the studio much smaller than it appeared in the pictures, but it was in a very old building that smelled like piss and it was right in the center of the city. Not only that, but I felt very restless the entire time, I was on the last floor, the 7th floor, and in one of those days, someone was sleeping in the hallway.
But the worst part was that in one of those days I had a very troubling abduction dream. I have never had dreams like that and this time I did. It felt like the most vivid and real dream I have ever had. I could feel myself being pulled up and arriving inside a ship. I was almost immobilized but I struggled against it and then I woke up. I was so scared, that even in the dream I had my eyes closed. I felt so relieved upon waking up!
I think what this meant was that I had lost protection by going against intuition. So yeah, all of those were clear signs. One thing I observed was that going against intuition increases confusion. I was still questioning whether that decision was right even after all that! Good thing for that moment of clarity!
Messages of encouragement and discouragement can have negative sources too. They generally play into our wounds and fears and nudge us towards taking negative courses of action, by chasing unrealistic solutions to our problems such as distractions, evasions, running away, or chasing external fulfillments that are meant to compensate for unmet needs OR they are messages of discouragement towards a positive course of action by playing into our self-doubt or negative self-image (such as the belief of being bad people).
I mentioned earlier my experience with the Somatic Descent meditation. Well, aside from the tune-ins that I mentioned, for a few nights in a row, which is when I did them, I would get disturbingly loud car noises outside my house pretty consistently, and I live in a rather small village! One night there were even some young people arguing and making noise, again in front of my house!
So yeah, I think this is how negative interference looks like.
For more information about distinguishing between positive and negative messages, please see the following amazing article:
“It’s easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled.”
– Mark Twain
Media Manipulation can be difficult to expose because it is so consistent. If it were made up of thousands of unconnected lies it would be much easier to dismantle. Its strength, however, lies in the many connections that would collapse if one lie was exposed. And since those connections are vast and ramified, it seems preferable to the mind to doubt the instance rather than question the integrity of the whole. It would be like pulling one key piece in Jenga and collapsing the whole structure.
The question is, do we want to preserve the structure or do we want to find out the truth?
In psychology this is called Cognitive Dissonance and it means holding opposing views within one’s mind. This friction needs to be resolved somehow, whether by discarding the new information, or by questioning the views we already hold, as the mind does not like inconsistency.
One way or another, the new information needs to be dealt with. And our attitudes about having our views challenged are an important factor as to how this inner conflict will be resolved. Are we comfortable with the thought of having been wrong or are we attached to our views? Do we hold our opinions lightly or do we fight to defend them?
Ultimately this boils down to two attitudes:
The intention is to seek truth.
The intention is to be right or to prove wrong.
The former is an anchoring to a higher principle which makes it immune to the hooks of conflict. The latter is emotionally entangled with its views and so it can be hooked into the traps of inferiority/superiority or the traps of fear/anger.
In order to understand media manipulation, we need to look at both the manipulator – the media and the manipulated – the unsuspecting viewers. As the saying goes, it takes two to tango.
A good place to start is to look at the strategies people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder employ as they are very apt at emotional manipulation. The most important strategies they use are:
Gaslighting means making your target doubt their own perceptions and adopting your own. This creates a sense of safety for the NPD person as they cannot be held accountable for their actions.
In the media this is done by demonstrating the “appropriate” reaction to things, encouraging a sense of superiority in those that agree with their views, discrediting dissent, using labels.
Projection means not admitting wrong and instead always blaming others for your mistakes, always spinning things in such a way that the other is always to blame for your mistakes.
In the media this is done by character assasinations, discrediting dissent, not admitting to error, not taking responsibility.
One such example can be seen in the great documentary The War You Don’t See by John Pilger, which is a documentary about the media’s contribution to the invasion of Irak based on the false claim that Saddam Hussein held weapons of mass destruction. It is evident that the journalists that were interviewed for this documentary refuse all responsibility for their errors in reporting.
Abstractions and Ambiguity
Abstractions and Ambiguity are used in order to distract and confuse. The purpose is to keep the conversation away from concreteness, knowing that the subject will fill in the gap with their own interpretation of what these abstractions mean. Word salad is also used for the same purpose of evading accountability as well as generalizations which are meant to hide nuance or create either/or thinking.
In the media this is done by using euphemisms, being deliberately vague, using passive voice, and generally using language tricks which are the opposite of evocative and concrete.
Discrediting the Opposition
This strategy is meant to suggest that the opposition is not to be taken seriously due to reasons that have nothing to do with the ideas they propose. This takes away from the point that is being made and instead moves the focus towards the personality.
In the media this is done by name calling, by discrediting dissent, by appealing to emotion, by assuming the reasons of the opposition (deciding it is motivated by stupidity, hate, xenophobia, etc.), by mixing ideology and identity, by shaming, ridicule.
Boundary Testing and Hoovering
This strategy is meant to gradually cross the boundaries of the other person without it seeming obvious. It is meant to condition the other person to accept the new demands, to become accustomed to the new status quo, the “new normal”. In persuasion psychology this is called Mere Exposure.
Mere exposure is the reason why that song on the radio gets stuck in your head or why you remember the slogans on the commercials on TV. It means that the more we are exposed to something, the more we grow to like that something. And that includes ideology! But more on that later.
In the media mere exposure is the way that boundary testing is done by gradually promoting certain ideas, not by going on full campaigns from the beginning, but by incrementally bringing them forward in the public consciousness.
These are the strategies I consider most important when it comes to psychological manipulation. For more information on NPD tactics I recommend the work of Shahida Arabi:
Now that we got manipulation tactics out of the way, there are two more things we need to look into: propaganda and language.
Let’s start with propaganda.
“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. …We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society. …In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons…who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind.”
– Edward Bernays, Propaganda
This quote belongs to Edward Bernays, also known as the “father of public relations”. He was also the nephew of Sigmund Freud which would later influence his trajectory as we will see.
Bernays graduated with a degree in agriculture, yet he decided to pursue a career in journalism and was later involved in advertisement for major corporations and institutions. He even took part in propaganda efforts to justify the entry of the United States in WW1 during the Woodrow Wilson administration.
The work of his uncle gave him great insight into the minds of potential buyers which was the source of a new approach in advertisement: know your customer. If before the selling process relied on the persuasion skills of the merchants and on the qualities of the product they sold, now the paradigm had shifted to persuading the customer that they needed the product.
What Bernays understood was that the reason for buying a product were irrelevant, and that moreover, they could be borrowed, suggested, insinuated. That’s where propaganda came in.
Here are a couple of examples:
Torches of Freedom
In the beginning of the 20th century, smoking was regarded as promiscuous in women, and that represented half the population, half of potential buyers. What an opportunity to change this!
Bernays saw this opportunity and knew that the commercial success of cigars had nothing to do with smoking itself, all that mattered was the perception people had on it. Promiscuity was not an easy place to start, but so what, Bernays had many tricks up his sleeve.
So what could he do? Well, a few things! He hired models and had them parading for the freedom to smoke in New York. He had actresses photographed in magazines holding cigars. He linked smoking with the emancipation of women and he denounced the opposition as prejudiced. And most prominently, he called cigars Torches of Freedom which was of a strong emotional impact.
This created an either/or scenario in the public consciousness, where the only apparent options you had was to either support smoking or else be considered prejudiced. Pretty clever!
Bacond and Eggs
Another campaign that belongs to Edward Bernays is making Bacon and Eggs a trademark of the American breakfast diet. Who would have imagined that something so trivial could be the result of such an organized effort?
The pork industry needed a boost in consumption so an image was crafted of how Bacon and Eggs for breakfast was part of the ideal American lifestyle. This image was associated with a happy family and national identity, so it was framed in a larger context and coated in glamour. Kind of like the opposite of that Stoic exercise of stripping things of their embellishments so that they can be seen as they are.
Even today, the propaganda techniques that Bernays proposed are still very relevant:
So how do they work? Well, I have identified a few common denominators:
Ideals, Strong Positive Valuesand Good Intentions: like Freedom, Empowerment, Happiness. Associating smoking with the idea of freedom. The rational mind needs to be convinced and ideals represent great tools of persuasion.
Powerful Symbols and Imagery: Torches of Freedom, Happy Family. A symbol for victory and empowerment. The subconscious mind doesn’t know how to argue. If the conscious mind accepts an idea, the subconscious will grow it.
Single Perspective: Heavily focusing on a single aspect of an issue like in the case of women smoking being linked with emancipation to the exclusion of all other considerations.
Appeal to Emotion: The public needs to be emotionally invested to care.
Authority Figures: People we can look up to that can take a leadership role.
Powerful Words and Slogans that refer to superlative values.
Associations: Linking the product that is to be promoted with an ideology or a powerful image.
By themselves, these are not necessarily bad, as they can be motivated by good intentions. However, if they take away from the facts, from the full picture on an issue and if instead they appeal to emotional reactivity, especially to fear, anger and self-righteousness/entitlement, that can definitely be a red flag.
Now let’s have a look at language. And what better place to start than George Orwell’s essay Politics and the English Language?
George Orwell was deeply interested in the power language has in influencing perception. In fact, this was one of the major themes of his most popular novel 1984. In it, the world is split into 3 totalitarian superstates. The main character lives in one of these superstates, Oceania, where his job is to alter historical records to the version of the truth that the state wants. Those that do not comply with the rules of the state mysteriously disappear without any evidence of having ever existed. People are under constant surveillance and they cannot exhibit independent thought without terrible consequences. Yet it is not only due to fear that this is the case.
In order to prevent rebellious thought – which is thought that challenges the government – a new English language is created, called Newspeak. In it, the original language is heavily edited, words are removed and meanings are changed, to prevent even the possibility of wrongthink. And thus, limiting the capacity for thought becomes limiting the capacity for and scope of action.
“If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”
– George Orwell
In his essay, Politics and the English Language, Orwell identified two major faults of the English language, staleness of imagery and lack of precision. If the first dulls the mind, the second confuses it, both of which reduce clarity of thought.
“If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration.”
– George Orwell
So let us have a closer look at the bad habits of the English Language as Orwell identified them:
According to Orwell, dying metaphors show mental laziness, as if not even the writer or speaker is interested in what he is saying. They don’t have any evocative power, which means they don’t engage people’s imagination. Some examples are: stand shoulder to shoulder with, no instant solution, wide range of options, the fact of the matter is, time and time again and so on.
Dying metaphors are high level abstractions and they fit under the NPD tactic of abstractions and ambiguity.
This makes the listener lose interest and not pay attention to what is being said. If attention is overwhelmed, it loses its focus. This is actually an NPD tactic whose purpose is to confuse and distract. Some examples are: make itself felt, exhibit a tendency to, play a leading part in or render inoperative.
This is to say “something was done by me” instead of “I did something”. Or even worse, to say “something was done”. The difference is that with passive voice the focus is on the action, while with active voice the focus is on the subject.
Politicians often use passive voice to evade accountability, creating the perception that whatever happens is due to unfavorable circumstances. Here are some examples:
It is also important for the people of Iraq to know that in a democracy everything is not perfect, that mistakes are made.
Mistakes were made here by people who either did it deliberately or inadvertently.
– Bill Clinton
Abstractions and Ambiguity
This might ring a bell from the NPD chapter. The deception lies both within the language and the intention with which it is used, which is to distract and confuse, as well as avoid accountability.
“The whole tendency of modern prose is away form concreteness.”
– George Orwell
“Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way. That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition, but allows his hearer to think he means something quite different.”
– George Orwell
This also links into what we mentioned earlier in the Propaganda chapter about Ideals which explains the success of political campaign slogans.
Here is an example from an Obama speech:
“As I said yesterday, the details of this deal matter very much. That’s why our team worked so hard for so long to get the details right. At the same time, as this debate unfolds, I hope we don’t lose sight of the larger picture, the opportunity that this agreement represents. As we go forward, it’s important for everybody to remember the alternative, and the fundamental choice that this moment represents.”
– Barack Obama
Notice the lack of evocative power? The abstractions, the lack of concreteness, the ordinary phrases?
Politicians often use pompous terms in order to appear knowledgeable and authoritative in front of their listeners. This creates the impression of competence and diplomacy, yet it is just another way to confuse the audience and make it tune out, because if the language is dull, the mind goes on autopilot unless it makes a conscious effort to pay attention. Here are some examples that Orwell gives: phenomenon, element, objective, liquidate, utilize, inevitable, triumphant.
That is diminishing the importance or the impact of an event through language. This method prevents people from visualizing the horrors referred to, which distances them from reality.
“Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them.”
– George Orwell
I highly recommend this bit by George Carlin on Soft Language and Euphemisms:
To wrap up this chapter, here are Orwell’s reflections on the effects this kind of language has on the speaker:
“A speaker who uses that kind of phraseology has gone some distance toward turning himself into a machine. The appropriate noises are coming out of his larynx, but his brain is not involved as it would be if he were choosing his words for himself. If the speech he is making is one that he is accustomed to make over and over again, he may be almost unconscious of what he is saying, as one is when one utters the responses in church. And this reduced state of consciousness, if not indispensable, is at any rate favorable to political conformity.”