Do you sometimes wonder, like I do, if one day our world will be run by smart robots? Developments in Artificial Intelligence increasingly endeavor to decipher the governing properties of the human mind and create machines in the image of humans.
I hope that these machines won’t be as evil as presented in some science-fiction. What alarms me more is to what extent we, humans, resemble computers. Just like computers we are being run by the scripts encoded into us. Wars, social injustice and much of our collective and individual misery results from the fact that we are being programmed a certain way and we don’t even realize that.
So today I would like to invite you to contemplate together our computerized ‘condition’ and what we can do about it.
Our programming begins even before we are born. And here genetic codes play a significantly smaller role than psychological and emotional algorithms. The matrix is provided by our parents and grandparents, as well as society at large. Without consciously knowing it we inherit their anxieties, preconceptions, taboos and values.
Furthermore our early interaction with the world serves as a mirror through which our self-perception is formed. And if the mirror is distorted (as unfortunately is often the case) we end up with all kinds of insecurities and misconceptions about ourselves. They generate fear and mistrust. They stop us from opening up and reaching out. They inhibit our growth and limit our self-fulfillment in life.
So what can we do?
Opening to change
I would say we need to rebel! Like ‘Neo,’ the protagonist of The Matrix film, we can try and undo the programming that keeps us under control. But first we need to realize that our reality is not the actual reality, but in many ways is an illusion created by the innumerous complex scripts. We need to really see it.
Awareness is the key to success in this process. We need to become aware of what scripts are running us and how they operate. Only then can we stand a chance to break free from them and move forward.
Of course, if we continue the computer analogy, we may say that what we are doing is just a re-programming: replacing the old script with the new one. But this is not entirely so because in the process we learn to be open to change. And such an ability of continuous self-evolvement from within is something that computers don’t possess.
Opening to change may be unnerving and one has to be motivated enough to face the challenge… But if there is a part of you that feels curious please read on and see how the free spirit within you responds to it.
We are hardwired for safety. The need to be safe is linked directly with the survival instinct and is, of course, very important. However, there is a catch as we tend to associate the safe with the familiar – even when the familiar is not really safe, if we look at it objectively.
It may sound like a paradox, but consider, for example, this pattern. Why do so often people who have been abused (emotionally or physically) as children end up in a relationship with somebody who continues to abuse them in a similar way?
I don’t believe that these people consciously or subconsciously ‘attract’ such partners. They don’t want to be abused again! But their ‘alarm system’ is impaired because they have been used to certain types of behavior that other people won’t tolerate. So they miss the first warning signals and go headlong into the trap. Thus for some people a person with unstable moods and a tendency to ‘flip’ will be a definite ‘no-no’ while others will just take it as something they can manage because their father or mother were like that.
The misleading subconscious association of the safe with the familiar can also prevent us from speaking up for ourselves, having fulfilling relationships or getting a dream job.
If someone grew up in a house where emotional expression was not encouraged he or she will later have difficulties emotionally connecting with other people. It won’t feel safe.
Or if one’s parent had been prone to outbursts of anger the child would often adopt a strategy of being quiet to keep out of trouble. And that would be just the right strategy for the child. But then the child becomes an adult who cannot face conflict situations or express his or her needs for the fear of provoking anger.
Safety maps, as with all maps, need to be constantly revised because the territory is changing continuously. What has been a desert yesterday may be a rapid stream today and we need to be able to recognize the change and to find a new strategy for navigating it.
To a greater extent than we realize we are prisoners to the ideas handed down to us by parents, teachers, media, magazines or books. For the most part, we didn’t consciously choose our values – we have inherited them and adopted them for our own. And we rarely question them until we face some deep crisis that turns our world upside down.
One of the great “bookish” beliefs that I held on to for a long time was an idea that “true love” can only happen once and it lasts forever. Because of that belief I used to have a great difficulty of letting go (within myself) of relationships that have already ended. I felt that by doing so I would be betraying myself and my ‘everlasting love.’
Our inherited ideas are usually very rigid and black and white. There is ‘good’ and ‘bad,’ ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ and very little gray area. This dualism is also linked to safety because we derive comfort from sorting things neatly and clearly into fixed little boxes. This is how we deal with the anxiety of uncertainty and the pain of impermanence.
Where to start?
It may be a good idea to start questioning our everyday behaviour, our ideals, common truths — everything. Imagine that you are an alien who has landed on this planet and is trying to make sense of what is going on, not take anything for granted. What do you do? Why do you do it this way and not another? Why do you believe certain things to be good or positive and other things to be bad or negative?
Turn it upside down, give it a shake and take a fresh look. Reawaken the inquisitive child within you and learn anew to ask questions, even about the simplest and seemingly obvious things. Don’t be afraid! At this point you don’t need to change anything in your beliefs or in your ways. Simply become open to the idea that different perspectives are possible.
It can be immensely helpful to talk things through with a person who is not afraid of asking difficult questions and doesn’t leap up with ready-to-hand advice. Psychotherapy or counselling provides a safe space for such an exploration. And if you have friends who can become your companions on the journey by all means do engage their support.
It may also be useful to keep a diary of recurring thoughts and emotions. I have created a simple Word template for this purpose which many of my clients have found helpful. If you are interested please feel free to send me a request and I will email it to you.
Success with your journey!