It’s so easy to get offended these days.
We’re increasingly exposed to subcultures of people with varying contexts, viewpoints, and value systems - all with the potential to cause harm.
Further, our media consumption is tilted by algorithms optimized to evoke outrage; a profitable trick that takes advantage of our need to watch for surprising information that could affect our survival and monetizes it through advertising.
One approach to remaining unassailable is to give zero fucks.
Though it may work in the short-term, that path loses the lesson that helps us to remap our understanding of ourselves and those around us. As social creatures, this causes us to become disconnected, leading to another type of harm.
To counteract this inevitability I repeat the mantra paraphrasing Hanlan's Razor:
Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by [ignorance].
Building on the Buddhist principle of Moha, I like to run a surprising result in my world though a 3-step process to debug when something goes awry: Awareness, Attention, Articulation.
Awareness is the first step, and the base of the pyramid, because people can only meet you at the depth they have met themselves.
And yet, estimates show that only 10-15% of people are truly self-aware.
Thankfully, this is a skill that can be cultivated, and practices like Vipassana meditation are designed to improve our awareness so that we can more clearly see the world as it is.
It seems obvious and self-evident that we exist in the world and therefore can see it, but even a short meditation will show how much of our perception is warped moment-by-moment by our animal brain.
Developing awareness is a lifelong goal that is critical in understanding the lens through which we see the world.
After all, “We do not see things as they are. We see things as we are.”
Clarifying questions: Does the other person show awareness of themselves in this situation? Am I aware of my Self in this situation?
We live in convenient though distracted times, so sometimes what we say and what is received are very different.
In the past couple of years, we’ve become more comfortable with video chat which affords us a stronger emotional connection with another party compared to voice or text alone.
Still, notice that even in a high-res video chat, we are looking AT each other’s eyes, but not IN each others eyes.
There’s nothing like the emotional bond and full engagement of an in-person conversation as electricity passes through the pupils of each person, transfixing them to the present moment.
That gets us closer to communicating our intentions, but it’s not perfect.
So much of what is communicated is non-verbal, and we have varying degrees of perception for the micro-expressions that signal our true emotional state.
Clarifying questions: Does the other person notice what I see? What I mean?
Setting aside narrative language for a moment, there are over 30,000 named human emotions in English.
Once we’ve expanded our awareness and bring our attention to a given situation, finding the right words to express ourselves and accurately reflect back our understanding of others is imperative.
But the words can escape us, and the fog of connotation vs denotation plus native language differences can mean huge gaps in understanding persist.
Practicing our articulation inside models like non-violent communication can turn impossible impasses into harmony in as little as 20 minutes once we can articulate the needs of each person.
Clarifying question: Do we mean the same thing in the language we have chosen?
There are lots of places that we act with ignorance.
Many times, a missing link in the chain of expression causes inadvertent harm but we can learn from these moments by closing the gap in understanding by debugging the disconnect.
The practice then, is to slow our emotional mind from taking over and see where we can course-correct for our growth and to help those around us be better understood.
In the end, that's all we really want.