What you see is what you get


by Marcus Loane

10th December 2009



 Are you an avid follower of the news via newspapers, television, radio, or online? Have you ever noticed that the vast majority of news stories are negative? They tell us what is going wrong in the world or what could go wrong in the world or what crimes or natural disasters have taken place. This is because good news is not very exciting or newsworthy. There is probably a lot more good going on in the world which is why it is not very interesting to report on it. The bad news is what catches our attention.


 However there is a danger that we do not grasp this and we start to think that the bad news which gets reported reflects the true nature of the world. If our attention is repeatedly drawn only to that which is wrong and dangerous and ugly it will give us an inaccurate picture of the world.

 The same applies to what we pay attention to in our lives. If we are always pointing out the flaws and faults in people and society then that will be all we see. We will see the ugliness and not see the beauty. We will mistrust people and suspect their motives.
 If you do this, do not be too hard on yourself. It is quite natural. We are wired to detect danger and our minds naturally hone in on the negative, in other people, in the world and in ourselves. However as long as we are aware of this we can control it and start the habit of noticing what is good in people and start appreciating them for their good qualities and turn a blind eye to their "flaws". You may be wondering why you should do this. The answer is that it will make your experience of life so much better. You will not get irritated with people so easily, you will just accept them as they are. When people behave badly it is often because they are hurting and unhappy. Remembering this can help you feel compassionate towards them (and not in any superior way - we can learn to feel the same compassion towards ourselves and remember that we all share the human condition). You can also be genuinely interested in how other people see the world without needing them to agree with you or share your views.


 The more attention you pay to something, the larger it becomes in your mind, and the more it comes to dominate your life. If you focus on what annoys you then it is no surprise that you will feel annoyed a lot of the time. There are people who are in an almost constant state of complaining and irritation at almost everything. They get irritated at their loved ones, at the pronouncements of politicians, at the weather, at someone's bad driving, at their children enjoying themselves and making too much noise, and at almost everyone they encounter. Most of this irritation is self inflicted and can be eliminated with a change in attitude and perspective. The world is not at fault, it is the complainer's view of the world and their habit of focusing on the negative that is creating their own distress.


 [ A fascinating movie by Mike Leigh "Happy go lucky" illustrates how what we focus on creates our experience of life. Compare the constantly irritated and angry driving instructor with his much happier pupil. ]


 If we only focus on the bad in the world or we believe that the media accurately reflects the total state of affairs then we end up believing we are living in a horrible place. There is a kind of a feedback loop here, where once we have this negative view of the world then our mental filter will selectively seek out stories and events in the world and in our own lives which confirm our negative view. A similar process occurs once we have made up our minds about certain people too. Once we have labelled them as "bad" or "not nice" we tend to notice only the behaviours and traits which confirm our view and we tend to overlook and ignore anything which might contradict our view. Labelling anyone does a serious injustice to the complexity of any human being. This occurs with individuals and also with whole groups - ethnic, racial, political, religious or atheist.


 We can start to notice and focus on what is beautiful in the world and realise that many kind acts, much caring, giving, celebrating and joyfulness does not get reported.


 What you focus your attention on, becomes how you see the world, yourself and other people.


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