Learning how to see

Exhortations to do the right thing or to change our behavior almost always fall on deaf ears. Telling us to do something differently contradicts what we know to be true. We have already learned to see what's what and how to react to that evidence. We didn't learn how to see these ways from formal instruction: lectures, homework or tests. We picked up how to see by hanging out with peers and role models. We got the picture by how they picture what we're both seeing. We learned to fit in by seeing things the ways they do.

In The Social Animal, David Brooks explores how this unconscious "learning to see" overrides most attempts at self-control and behavior change. If we're seeing opportunities to exploit, abuse or steal from others, we're not seeing the consequences or any alternatives. If we're seeing others' feelings, viewpoints and interests, we won't see opportunities to exploit, abuse or steal from them. We're immersed in a consensus that results from a myriad of little influences, incidents and interconnections.

William Glasser M.D. has also explored this unconscious "learning to see" in his Choice Theory model. When we're feeling a need to be in control, we will see ways to undermine the relationship with those who we see as out of control. It will appear there will be no cost to manipulating them, telling them how to live and framing them negatively. We won't see what we're doing to the relationship or how we're feeding their ways of acting "out of control". We won't see that we have any choices.

According to Glasser, problems with controlling others disappear when we exercise choices about how we see others and our relationships with them. We see how others are seeking a "quality world"  that will provide them with congruent feelings, purposeful conduct and significant experiences. We acquire choices to show them respect, to listen to their concerns and to care for the shared relationship. We respond to what occurs with choices, rather than reacting as if we hard-wired to an out-of-control situation.

As I read several of the reviews of The Social Animal this week, I noticed how many of the reviewers reacted as if David Brooks was out of control. They found fault in his book for not being scientific enough, literary enough or comprehensive enough. They seemed to be issuing exhortations for Brooks to change rather than relating to his quality world, his phenomenal achievement and his significant contribution to our ways of seeing. These reviewers have learned to see what wrong with books, authors and prose rather than what is right, valuable or insightful. They are likely immersed in a consensus on the payroll where they work. They are fitting in by seeing things the ways their colleagues and managing editors see things. They have no choices. They have already learned to see what's what and how to react. Perhaps they experienced The Social Animal as an exhortation for them to change what they know to be true.

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