Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance that he himself has spun...

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Ted Talk: Perspective is Everything

Wonderful Ted Talk by Rory Sutherland who is a great speaker and quite a hoot.  Among the gems in his talk is this great line:

"If, at a party, you go stand and stare out of the window on your own, you are an anti-social friendless idiot.  If you go stand and stare out the window with a cigarette, you're a fucking philosopher."

What he's talking about is "framing" - the idea that it's not so much reality that gets you down as it it your reaction to it.  Not a new idea and one that was mocked so well in Voltaire's Candide and by Pierre-Henri Cami in this wonderful line, "L'optimiste est un homme qui s'abrite sous une fourchette le jour où il va pleuvoir des petits pois." (The optimist is a man who takes shelter under a fork the day it starts raining green peas.)

Soit.  But there are good reasons to "look on the bright side" and to "make lemons out of lemonade."   For one thing, if you have an evil perverse bent, nothing will drive your entourage into insanity (and pure mindless rage) faster then giddy smiles and unrelenting mindless optimism. I doubt that is Mr. Sutherland's intent.  Instead he's making the modest suggestion that we can take any situation (parts of which are not at all under our control) and perform the intellectual exercise of looking at it from different angles.  By doing this we almost always find a fresh way of looking at it and reacting to it that may make us feel a bit better.  To take another of his examples:  let's say you have a son or daughter who is unemployed and decides to wander the world instead of standing in an unemployment line.  What was, "my child is unemployed" becomes "my child is 'taking a year off' to tour Thailand."  His point is that how you frame any situation will impact how you feel about it and that just strikes me as simple common sense.

We can (within limits of course) fabricate our own misery or our own happiness and if we can learn to use a few psychological tricks to avoid the former and promote the latter (thereby improving the sum total of contentment and goodwill in the world), well that just strikes me as a very Good Thing indeed.  I plan to use this to good effect the next time I'm accused of being anti-social when I step outside for a smoke.  "But I'm a philosopher, my dear friends. Respect."  :-)

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