The Forests of Our Own Minds

Part two of the Shattered series

There is power in our thoughts.

Sometimes, we wield this power for the benefit of ourselves and the ones we love. We think to defend, to love, to protect, to cherish.

But our thoughts are a double-edged sword. Just as strongly as they cut down obstacles, so can they cut you down.

And that sucks. Why would our minds turn against us? Why would our thoughts conspire to our detriment? Why can’t they just work well all the damned time?

Overthinking changes the landscape of our thoughts. A person isn’t just what he eats. He’s also what he thinks. And that can be deadly.

The previously green and healthy trees where birds roost and animals rest have now turned into bony and ominous husks with no life in sight. The clear stream had now dried up, cracking the riverbed.

How can a thought change how we perceive the world?

Primarily because we are what we think. We are our own biases. We are whatever we believe in. This can work for and against us.

Our mind landscapes are made up of the things we hold fast to, whether we actively want to hold on to them or not. Our thoughts stem from our fears, our previous traumas, our desires, our needs, our wants, our expectations, our feelings. There’s a variety of places that can catalyze the production and subsequent flourishment of our thoughts.

And it’s what we allow to catalyze that dictates what and how we think.

In a forest that you’ve built for yourself based on what you had experienced, each tree can serve as a nucleating point for a memory, a belief, a thought. And when you were still a child, you had no control over who planted what trees in your head.

Any abuse you’ve ever encountered as a child flips the entire landscape in on its head. Everything you experience after that will inevitably be tested and weighed against that single (or, I apologize if this is what you’ve been through, multiple) occurrence(s).

Just as in any forest, the first trees will be the tallest, biggest, and strongest of the bunch. As we grow older and continue planting trees (whether it’s us or somebody else), the entire landscape will change in accordance with the first trees.

So, does that mean that those who’ve had traumatic incidents early on in their lives will remain aligned with them for the rest of their life? No.

It’s way more complicated than that.

You can control what is yours.

Trees, like any other living being, need basic things to survive. Water, sunlight, air. In the same way, the forests in our minds require our attention, among other things.

Whenever we pay attention to a certain thought, we give it what it needs to continue thriving. The forest of our own minds knows how to prune itself and to keep the paths through it accessible. It cuts down trees that are no longer needed.

Overthinking causes you to focus on a single tree. And from there, the tree takes over and grows way bigger than it originally was. A single tree in the entire mind forest can take hold of you and control what else you think.

This is a cycle. The toxic tree that you’ve paid enough attention to now has power over you. And it’s directing you towards trees that are similar to it—trees that will make it even more powerful.

This is exactly, although in analogy, how overthinking works. Trees are planted in our mental forest. There are good and bad trees. Whenever we pay attention to the bad trees, it grows exponentially and corrupts the landscape.

However, we shouldn’t feel confined by this. We shouldn’t be caged by our bad experiences. Trees—and thoughts—are only as powerful as we allow them to be.

Sure, there will be trees that we can’t uproot because they’ve been so deeply ingrained in our psyche and in our minds. But what we can do is to figure out which thoughts we need to better thrive, and which we should keep at a minimum.

There may be trees planted beyond our control, but remember—your mind is your own, along with everything in it. And what is yours, you can control.

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Lost and Found

Part one of the Shattered series

How often, whenever you go to a mall or any public place, do you see a booth dedicated to items which were lost by their previous owners?

If you’re like me, who couldn’t care any lesser for such, you probably didn’t.

But occasionally, that’s where you will end up on. You’ll end up somewhere in the lost and found section, patiently, desperately, waiting. For someone.

And then, more often than not, no one comes.

If this all seems tragic and depressing, it really is. If you’re like me, who had no idea that I would find myself along with the someone else’s lost items, you would know how badly confusing it all would feel.

And that’s exactly what and where we’ll all end up at some point in our lives. We’d find ourselves along with the lost items of someone else.

The worse part of all this? You have no idea that you’re lost.

Okay, okay, I know it all will probably sound weird. How can anyone not even know that they’re lost? How can someone not know that they’ve lost themselves?

That’s the problem. We don’t know. We won’t ever know that we’re lost. And for the most part, it’s okay to admit that.

We’re lost. Our pride and egos won’t allow us to actually admit that we’re lost, but we can’t exactly change reality with a deception.

So, how does one get lost? Surprisingly, there are a lot of things that can make you chase an inexistent entity and get lost in the forest.

That’s the first reason. We chase.

Maybe, we chase for a person, or for a status, or for a feeling. But that’s the problem with this first reason we’ll talk about. We chase.

A person chases something when that something doesn’t want to be caught. That’s always been the essence of the cat-mouse dynamic of you and the thing you want.

Maybe, that person you love wouldn’t want you if you stay you. No, somewhere along the lines, you get the idea that the person you love would love you back if you just changed. And of course, like any person who changes not for their own self, you will get lost. Sooner or later.

And perhaps, you were so entrenched with the idea of something that you would be willing to sacrifice anything. Yes, that’s the second reason. We desire.

Totally related to the first reason but slightly different, desire puts you in a state of mind that allows you to do stuff you didn’t think you’d do. Desire can easily turn to obsession. And if there’s anything about obsession, it’s that it can drive you mad.

To an obsessed person, the world will mean nothing if he can’t satiate his desires. If he can’t have what he wants.

You desire love so much that you’d be willing to sacrifice who you are. And that, that is the worst thing one could possibly do to himself.

The first two reasons are kind of easy to identify once reality (most often through your friends and other loved ones) slaps them across your face. But there’s a third one that you might not have seen coming before.

You never knew yourself.

Consider this: A group of teenagers heads into a part of the city late at night. They’re not exactly residents of this place and they’re just doing it for the heck of it. You’re a part of this group, and as the night wears on and fatigue creeps in on all of you, you decide to go home. Of course, in this scenario, let’s say that your friends quickly slip out of sight.

And now you, you’re on your own.

It should be okay, right? You’re a teenager who’s been through a lot of things and lived to tell the tale, and this one will probably one of those things. But no, because you don’t know where you are right now, and it feels like everywhere there are eyes watching you.

That’s exactly what happens when you never had any idea about who you are. Sure, you know what your favorite colors are, what your favorite foods are, who you like, what you like, what you want. But do you know who you are?

Deep inside, when you’re stripped of all the fears, traumas, desires, envy, bitterness, jealousy, what remains?

That’s exactly why you are here, in this dark, dreary, and sorrowful world of strangers. Why you are here in this part of the mall everyone overlooks. Why you are lost.

But don’t let fear consume you. You are still you, even if you’ve so badly and desperately sacrificed yourself for something or someone. And somewhere in this mass and crowd of people lies you.

Somewhere in this whole mess, there’s you searching for yourself. Retracing back your steps to see where you went wrong. Trying to figure out where you stopped knowing and started chasing.

Even if you aren’t aware of it just yet, you’re looking for yourself. And as long as you allow yourself to be found, you will be found.

When the Hierarchy Becomes Toxic

This is Part 5 of the Social Hierarchies Series.

Everything that isn’t handled properly will go haywire and injure everyone involved with it. The same goes for social hierarchies of any kind.

Toxic hierarchies are those which stifle and revoke all individual rights and powers. In other words, freedom is suppressed. Previously beneficial hierarchies which had experienced sudden reversals are often the most common sources of toxic hierarchies.

Any hierarchy can experience sudden reversals. What do I mean by this? Change of powers or leaders, unexpected circumstances, and threat to security can all tip the hierarchy and flip it in reverse.

Leaders are the brains of the hierarchy. Whoever leads controls the reins. He gives direction for the hierarchy to follow. Although his powers aren’t absolute, he still holds the supreme influence, which can make it easy for him to sway his opposition.

When leaders have different agendas, that is for the benefit of themselves, they can easily manipulate their subordinates and bring about the change that they had been insidiously planning all along. Further, leaders who are charismatic and hold an appeal can also sway their followers.

If a new leader has these characteristics and also has a different agenda in mind, the hierarchy can easily be disrupted and flipped on its compass.

Unexpected circumstances happen every time. But when a particular change happens too quickly and has a too heavy effect on the fragile system, everything collapses. For example, if a government is under threat of a rather large inflation, the people will riot and demand for help, taxing the already crippled forces of the government. The government will then be forced to execute drastic measures to counter the sudden change, and the process won’t be pretty.

The worst thing here is that mitigation measures usually cannot combat the circumstance, given its unexpected nature and severity. When this happens, the hierarchy is almost always surely obliterated.

The last is threat to security, which can also happen anytime. When faced with this, hierarchies often resort to subjecting their subordinates into a rigorous set of behaviors in order to deal with the threat.

For example, a government faced with the threat of rebellion can declare Martial Law. Individual rights are temporarily suppressed (including the writ of habeas corpus) and anyone can be imprisoned indefinitely. Military presence is heightened and curfews are usually imposed.

As we can see, a previous democratic country changes into a coordinated, predictable, and rigorous behavioral patterns in order to deal with the threat.

We’ve tackled the common reasons why hierarchies become toxic, but what should we do when the hierarchy we belong in becomes poisonous?

First is we must understand what the cause of the change was. If it was because of some threat, then it is understandable; but if it’s vague, there might be something more going on behind the scenes.

Second is we need to judge for ourselves if the sudden toxicity is justifiable. That is, if it really is necessary to be conformed to a pattern. If it is not, then you can see for yourself that the upper men must have something else in mind.

Third is we wait. Let’s have patience first and endure the sudden changes. If we see that the hierarchy is going on an unstoppable downward spiral then you better jettison yourself before you crash alongside them.

Toxicity is a really hard thing to endure especially in a calm and orderly place as a hierarchy. But when it happens, understand, judge, and be patient.

Stay tuned for the next installment of the Social Hierarchies Series!

To Climb Up the Ladder or Not?

This is Part 4 of the Social Hierarchies Series

As with any structure, there is always a form of categorization and strata which separates people from each other as defined by their functionality, prominence, and importance. In several instances, there is a possibility to jump from a lower level to a higher one.

First off, it is a rather messy and complicated and time-consuming prospect, and we’re not even sure if it’s worth the effort. What are the things you need to do in order to be able to qualify for a “promotion”?

It’s also a quirky territory to tread on, since the jump differs massively from one hierarchy to another, and more so about the requirements you need to have with you. I listed down below several general truths about hierarchies. Note that these are all generalizations and may or may not fit with the hierarchy.

  1. The more prestigious the hierarchy is, the harder it is for you to climb. You should be aware of this one already. More prestigious hierarchies invite more brilliant individuals also vying for the jump you’re eyeing on. This truth applies to the academic hierarchies (Cambridge, Oxford, Harvard), scientific hierarchies (Royal Society), and showbiz hierarchies (Hollywood).
  2. Larger hierarchies are much more challenging to climb. A smaller mountain is easier to climb than Mt. Everest, seriously. A hierarchy’s size is a major factor in determining the probability of you being able to climb. This truth applies to international hierarchies and companies.
  3. Prominence may dictate your shot. Famous persons are usually treated specially, be it in a company or club. Special people are generally at the upper levels thanks to the prominence factor that they have.

Given that you had been presented with the opportunity to climb up and you have all the requirements you need to do so, will it be worth climbing up?

There are reasons why you should and shouldn’t take the risk and jump. I grouped the reasons and hope you have a good idea on what you should do.

Reasons why you should jump.

  • A jump, or promotion in other hierarchies, is a good opportunity to show off your developed and innate skills. It may be a research or a highly coveted movie role, but whatever it is, it provides a path towards the higher levels of the structure.
  • Further, climbing up can provide a greater financial benefit, meaning that you can afford more luxuries than before.
  • A promotion also allows you access to managerial roles and test your abilities as a leader.
  • More services are also available to you since you are in a higher level than before.
  • Authorities also treat you as more capable of handling the tasks they give to you.
  • You can explore a broader area of the structure than before.

Reasons why you shouldn’t jump.

  • More responsibilities are given to you and higher expectations are demanded.
  • More taxing tasks are assigned to you and you are expected to work them through excellently.
  • You become a member of a planning team and are expected to perform well.
  • Your work and performance are subject to more scrutiny both by those above you and below you.
  • More attention, time, and effort are demanded from you, especially during particularly busy time periods.
  • It’s risky. One too many false moves and you’re basically out of the hierarchy (if it’s hostile) or you’re demoted and generally shamed (if it’s beneficial).

As you may have observed, the reasons why you shouldn’t jump revolve around your performance, time, and effort, especially with sensitive work and event preparations. However, granted that you are a natural when it comes to leadership and excellent workmanship, then these shouldn’t be a problem.

It’s also worth assessing your purpose on taking the jump and climbing up. It’s okay if it’s for self-gain, especially with the financial aspect, as long as you don’t come off as manipulative and coercive. It is good to note that climbing up a beneficial hierarchy usually provides much better opportunities and experiences.

When you do decide to climb, remember that the state of your subordinates define the state of the quality of your work, regardless of whether they directly or indirectly affect your work. Keeping a good eye on them will prove useful.

Stay tuned for the next installment in the Social Hierarchies series!

Identifying the Nature of the Hierarchy

This is Part 3 of the Social Hierarchy Series.

Last time we’ve talked about the effects of a hierarchy, be it hostile or beneficial. As a quick recap, a hierarchy’s effects can be seen on how an individual functions and interacts with other members of the hierarchy. This time, we will be talking about the nature of a hierarchy.

First thing’s first: What do I mean by the nature of a hierarchy?

A hierarchy’s nature is different from its effects, although the nature of the hierarchy defines how it affects its members. A hierarchy’s nature defines how it is labeled. A hostile nature dictates a hostile hierarchy and a beneficial nature dictates a beneficial one.

The signs of a nature are seen on its effects, so it is important to read about the effects of a hierarchy first here.

It is important to identify the ruling power in the hierarchy, as their own nature and personalities are often the defining factor for the identity of the hierarchy’s nature. It isn’t really a difficult task, since the leader is almost always made known to you as soon as you enter a hierarchy or if you’re planning to join one.

Observing the ruling powers for some time is an effective way to determine their natures. However, it might not always be a fruitful method as there are people who are able to effectively conceal their true motives.

Generally, by looking at the power’s history, achievements, controversies, and certain methods of implementation (rules, projects, etc), you can build a good picture of how the ruling power functions.

A hierarchy’s nature can also be identified through its background and history, as well as how its members, both present and former, describe the state of the organization. Nothing else is more effective at identifying the former and present nature of the hierarchy than by how the members describe it. Talking with its members will provide a good picture about the hierarchy itself.

Third, it is also a good way to look at the hierarchy’s mission and vision. A hierarchy always possesses both, whether they are clearly defined or not. The vision describes the hierarchy’s goal or ideal state. Its mission defines why it exists and also paints how it plans on achieving its vision.

For example, a hospital’s vision may be to build a community where people are healthy and far from diseases, while its mission talks about preventing and mitigating casualties from diseases, hiring quality personnel, obtaining excellent and complete equipment, etc.

Apart from these, it is also worth identifying how the individuals are functioning under the hierarchy’s rule, as we’ve discussed in the previous article.

Using these four techniques, it is possible to accurately identify the nature of the hierarchy and escape the hostile ones. There is one thing which is common among these four techniques though: Observation.

By observing its ruling powers, its history, its purpose and vision, and its members, a clear picture of the hierarchy’s nature arises into view and helps fuel your decisions of joining one or not.

Stay tuned for the next part of the Social Hierarchies series!

Time Immemorial

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For we are nothing but leaves on a tree, each passing and going, leaving behind our wake the things that we have done for the people surrounding us.

Memories.

Who doesn’t have them? Even those who had amnesia or Alzheimer’s remember at least something. But how important are these memories? Are they even worth remembering?

To answer the third question, yes. Memories are worth remembering. That is their purpose.

So, what gives?

There are several things you need to know about the nature of your memories.

First, they are subjective. No, that does not mean that whatever you thought you remember actually happened. Our brains process the memories more to suit what we wish happened. The memories which we think are rigid and cannot be edited, is actually edited by your brain each time you summon the memory. It is further affected by our current situation and whatever thought or stimulus lead to the triggering of the memory.

Second, these things are cued in and made more unforgettable by the number of sensory stimuli we feel. I’m sure you are already quite aware of this. You probably heard a particular song and remembered someone who loved singing to it. That, is the power of cues which arise from other sensory inputs.

Third, memories which bring more impact tend to be more unforgettable. That car accident you experienced several years ago? I’m pretty sure the memory is still vivid until now. The more gravity an event contains, the more likely you’re going to remember it.

Okay, we got that covered. We already know that memories aren’t the perfect movie scenes we imagine them to be. So, a particularly ominous question arises, are you fooling yourself?

Probably. It depends.

A good memory (be it positive or negative) is something which isn’t easily forgotten. These things last in our minds for probably our entire lifetime. But with our brain constantly changing and editing our memories as we replay them, we tend to ask how we can ensure that whatever we remembered actually happened.

You ought to do the following:

  1. Write. Writing is powerful, especially if used to express something you feel and experience. Called expressive writing, putting down your thoughts and whatever experiences you feel is not only relieving, it also improves your health and psyche. This is especially true for traumatic or emotional situations. Although it may seem counterintuitive to write something which troubles you, studies have shown it has positive effects on your well-being. So, write your thoughts and experiences, as they may lapse into memories and paint a much more vivid and more comfortable viewpoint on the things you’ve seen or done or experienced.
  2. Record. Be it taking photos or videos, recording the things you see and experience provide more comfort since they trigger visual inputs that may have otherwise been corrupted by your editing brain or forgotten in the recesses of your memories. Watching these things seem to teleport you back to the time and place, all unchanged and where the emotions are much stronger. They also provide glimpses into a point in space and time you no longer recall, as shown in Ron Haviv’s The Lost Rolls Project where he uncovered over 200 rolls of film which have never been developed (read more about it here). Compile photo albums and video tapes, and when you’re in the distant future wondering about what you had back then, you can always return to those events by watching them unfold before your very eyes.
  3. TalkThere’s no better way in retelling your memories than telling it with those who were involved. You may talk about your wonderful class memories when you reunite with your former classmates. You can record the memories by talking about it in your phone’s audio recorder, or better yet, an old cassette. Then, when you feel like it, you just pop the files into the player, sit back, and listen to the raw memory or to you narrating the events. It’s a comforting and soothing experience.

As you may have noticed, all three ways of storing your memories for a more realistic retelling involves stimulating your senses. Writing affects your eyes and hands, watching involves your eyes and ears, and talking involves your ears. Combining the power of the senses provides a more picturesque and nostalgic feel.

Memories make up who we are as a person. They are unique to us. Even if two people watch the same game, they will have different memories. It’s all in the perspective, and perspective is a powerful ability.

So, what are you waiting for? Memories constantly happen around you, whether you are a passive or an active participant. Record, record, and record, so that when the time comes that you feel lonely and down, you can always listen to your past joys and sorrows and learn from them. And whatever you learned from them, you can use to become a stronger, happier, and more satisfied individual.

 

Differentiating the Effects of a Hostile and Beneficial Hierarchy

Part 2 of the Social Hierarchies Series

Last time we talked about social hierarchies and its different parts and how they interact with each other. Before we deal with the nature of the social hierarchy, let’s take a look at how you may fare in each type.

As stated before, social hierarchies are present almost everywhere. It’s likely you’re in one right now. One of the most basic social hierarchies exist in our respective homes—our families.

Many families produce happier and much more productive offsprings, while others don’t. So what does this have to do with social hierarchies? Simple. It’s the effect of the nature of the hierarchy they are in that ultimately impacts how well they behave and perform in the general society.

Although there is a huge number of social hierarchy settings, they are generally categorized into their effects on its members, particularly those who are on the lower levels of the strata. These effects are grouped into two—the hostile and the beneficial.

Let’s begin with the hostile social hierarchy.

A hostile hierarchy may or may not reveal its hostility to its members. It may be masquerading as a beneficial hierarchy (e.g., a corrupt church system or an office setting where your colleagues are “helping” you out) or showing you plainly its nasty colors (e.g., in a school setting where you are almost instantly picked on).

Its members may or may not be aware of its nasty effects, and if they are, they are blinded by the nature of the hierarchy’s leaders.

So what are the indicators of a hostile hierarchy?

The tree is known by the nature of its fruit. The same is true for any kind of social hierarchy. It sounds plain and simple, but in reality, it is a deep and complex interconnection between members and how the connections interact with the hierarchy as a whole. Sounds complicated right? It is, so let’s tear it apart.

A hostile hierarchy is usually run by an elite and small group of people at the top. Although it may look like your opinions matter in the formation of decisions, it’s merely a decoration to help hide the hierarchy’s nastiness. And what happens when there are only a few people who makes all the decisions? Selfishness and polarization of interests.

Just like any other hierarchy, a hostile hierarchy requires a source to feed on, and in this case, its members. A hostile hierarchy keeps a tight grip on its members through the use of manipulation, be it covert or plainly shown. What do I mean?

Imagine this situation. You are short on cash and your kids’ schooling demands more money. You decide to work on this company who knows your problem and “helps” you solve it. The company manipulates you and gives you way more work than what your regular load allows. You’re forced to go overtime but receives the same salary. And if you threaten the system by leaving? They simply remind you of your children’s fate if you leave. You are then forced to stay, no matter how irked you are, because you couldn’t find a much better system.

A hostile hierarchy is usually overrun by individuals who have crab mentality. Crab mentality is a selfish trait where people follow the notion “if I can’t have it, then neither can you.” These people desire personal gain over the collective improvement of the system. They pull people down because they cannot afford to see everyone else succeeding while they are still failing.

In general, members of a hostile hierarchy feel the following:

  • Ripped off (i.e., gaining less than what you deserved)
  • Manipulated/forced
  • Pushed down
  • Worthless

It is also worth noting that a hostile hierarchy acts like a narcissistic entity. It craves attention and a source to feed on. If you have trouble seeing through the fuzzy fog and comprehend the real effects of the organization you are in, it’s best to seek the opinion and advice of your friends and loved ones. They aren’t as blinded as you are and can provide you with valuable inputs which you can use to escape from the clutches of hostility.

Let’s move to the beneficial social hierarchy.

A beneficial social hierarchy is a place where the interests of the collective group are prioritized more than the individual motives of its members. It isn’t flawless but at least takes into account the needs of its members.

Unlike the hostile hierarchy where power and influence are polarized on the upper parts of the strata, the beneficial hierarchy ideally has the powers spread equally throughout the different levels.

Each opinion of its members are considered before making a final decision. As a result, its decision making is much slower but the satisfaction gained by the collective group is much higher.

A beneficial hierarchy is typically described as warm and accommodating, although it may not always show this trait. Some hierarchies, especially those which are broad enough or its members are too widespread, do not exhibit this trait. An example will be the United Nations, which, although wants the best interests of the collective group, doesn’t usually exhibit the trait. This is particularly evident in situations of high tension.

The moral system of a beneficial hierarchy is usually based upon the ideal state of human ethics and behavior. It treats its members in the way that emphasizes and upholds the highest state of human satisfaction.

For example, a beneficial company desires the well-being of its employees. It provides social activities designed to strengthen connection between its members (e.g., team building exercises) and provides good and concrete guidelines to be followed by everyone (e.g., good guidelines on sick leave, vacations, work load, and salary).

Unlike the hostile hierarchy which is described as a narcissistic entity, a beneficial hierarchy may be described as a democratic entity.

Members of a beneficial social hierarchy typically feel the following:

  • Satisfaction and/or happiness
  • Social growth and development
  • An overall sensation of well-being

Conclusion and Side notes

It is important to note that the beneficial and hostile social hierarchies are not as defined as black and white. Rather, they belong to opposite sides of a continuum. A beneficial hierarchy in one setting may be a hostile one in another.

There are also settings wherein one type of hierarchy is much better and well-suited than the other. Take for example a classroom or school which should be a beneficial social hierarchy while the military is much better with a hostile one.

Generally, strict rules and regulations demand a hostile hierarchy while those built on the foundation of development and cooperation require a beneficial one.

Stay tuned for the next installment of the Social Hierarchies Series.

On humanity and the things that make us human