In the 21st century, our attention span is shrinking. While a now infamous 2015 study from Microsoft suggested that the average human focused for a grand total of eight seconds (a mark that even goldfish surpassed), it's important to remember that as technology evolved, so have we.
The bit about lacking introspection, however, is still true. Understanding our motivations is tough to do with 24/7 access to multiple screens. Just look at the amount of material on Netflix alone! That's one streaming service among many in 2020 with Disney throwing their hat in the proverbial ring last year, along with Hulu, Prime, and nearly every cable network.
The bottom line is that it's easier to not face the truth behind our own fiction, aka the lies we tell ourselves about why we do what we do, say what we say and feel how we feel. But in the midst of a pandemic, with bars, restaurants and retailers closing around the world, introspection has a way of creeping in.
Yesterday morning, I woke up thinking of a far-flung friend. I haven't heard from him in over four months and, in that time, went from mildly concerned to moderately annoyed to down-right pissed. Ghosting is common today and because of all the distractions at our disposal, it's often barely noticed. Add distance to that equation, and being ghosted is more akin to learning a show you enjoyed was cancelled a few months after the final season ended. You know you'll miss it but also know that with a few swipes on a screen, you'll eventually find something else you enjoy just as much.
The thing is, we're so busy distracting ourselves, we often forget to recognize the context or backdrop of our choices. What surprised me most in the last day or so when thinking of my lost friend was that, I was willing to assign him negatives rather than see what was completely obvious--he's been rather busy dealing with a health issue.
With my medical background, I tend to see things others don't. People present with various physical symptoms all the time and if you're not familiar with medicine, you may not realize that it's a symptom at all. Even if you do notice it, you wouldn't necessarily equate it to a larger health issue.
Sadly, I did nearly the same thing to this same friend last summer--assumed something negative when it was the opposite. Of course, friendship is a two-way street. Expecting people to glean the truth from subtleties as opposed to effectively communicating what's really happening is part of the problem. But I still had a role in what was clearly a breakdown in our dynamic.
It was easier to believe my friend was not a good person--that he somehow "fooled" me. Rather than explore other possibilities, I made a unilateral decision to help facilitate my detachment.
When someone exits your world, you have no further agency. That stings, for lots of reasons. As you have no control and can't change things, applying a cynical template helps us to move on. There's no point in crying over the loss of someone you've conveniently categorized as a user (and potential abuser). If you continue to see a beloved individual as a god among men (and women), you'll forever look for them in others and ultimately never be happy. Because, no one can really replace an individual who is unique in your experience--hence the feeling of loss/grief that comes with break ups, at least, for a person in love.
What I describe above is reactionary behavior. Reactionary behavior is fear-based. And, anytime fear is making the decisions for you, you're adopting a victim-mentality. Victimhood is narcissistic. While it's true that many, many many of us are victimized for our "otherness," it's equally true that even when victimized, we do not have to remain victims. That part is a choice. When we make the choice to stay a victim (or blame others for the failures in our lives), we are self-sabotaging, a strong indication that we are also emotionally (and mentally) vulnerable.
I cared about my friend. So much so, I felt a deep abiding connection. Yet, when he needed me to see things he could not say, I let insecurity rule out logic. That's called projection.
Applying previous experiences is part of how our brain helps us to survive. But if we don't use our intelligence to override those built-in neural pathways, we cut ourselves off from expansion, growth and future opportunities. Sure, we also feel safer. It's hard to get hurt when you don't really allow people in. You also feel a bit vindicated when the inevitable disappointment rolls around. But, how much of that disappointment derives from our own expectations?
I'm a perfectionist. It's part of being a researcher, writer and editor. Details matter. A single misplaced dot can alter meaning. This is also why I excel at language and mathematics. Patterns are easy for me to both discern and emulate. However, that doesn't always translate well to social interactions. When I recognize a familiar pattern, I react instinctively. Similar to playing the piano or knowing the numerical value of every letter in the alphabet on sight. It's automatic. If you see someone raising what looks like a gun and pointing it at your chest, you move. You don't think. So when my friend disappeared, on some level, I did, too.
Possibility is not the same as probability. Given the physical symptoms my friend was consistently presenting with, I have a general idea about the overall diagnosis. Without blood work, I can't go further than that. But from pure observation alone, it's not hard to surmise what's likely happening in his world, and has been for some time.
There were other clues I'd missed, like a sudden change of job and job status, as well as the need to return to my friend's home country--a country with socialized healthcare. He said the decision had to do with a change in personal relationships, but knowing what I know, I'd guess it had more to do with his health. He also has an exaggerated belief in fate--this is something that happens in human psychology when presented with the unexpected, or circumstances beyond our control. We can see it with the C19 crisis, too--people referring to the pandemic as a "sign" of the apocalypse or "end of days." It's easier to believe in fate than to take responsibility for unethical and unhygienic behaviors.
Introspection a la the C19 crisis allowed me to acknowledge things I'd taken for granted--things like pain being my fallback position. It took about a week of having less distractions for me to get there though. I had to exhaust household chores and minimize social media (and my Netflix queue!) before my mind could start solving the social puzzles I'd mentally discounted to avoid pain.
Use your time in quarantine (and while social distancing) to gain further insights into what motivates you. Increasing self-awareness will be a crucial survival skill after C19 has left its indelible mark on our planet.
If you'd like to work on guided meditation to help increase your self-awareness, or want to chat about anything from parenting to anxiety to depression to grief and more, please click on the link below and sign up for one of my sessions. I want everyone to live longer and stronger--we're all in this together. By the way, that's not something I just started saying since C19 hit...I've been consistently saying it right here since 2009:
Stay safe, y'all! Until next time....