Monday, December 7, 2020

Reframing vs Posing

I've written a lot about reframing. I've also written a lot about "being" versus "seeming" - aka posing, aka authenticity (which, btw, I believe accounts for autism). None of my writings has summed that up as crisply as my oft-repeated observation that most singers become singers because they want to be singers, not because they want to sing.

I haven't properly joined the two (reframing and being/seeming) together until now.

We can simulate reframing without ever budging our point of view. It's childishly simple: you just claim to have reframed. You say the words, think the thoughts, and call it an accomplishment. You can easily make yourself believe it. You believe lots of hollow things you tell yourself!

Let's take forgiveness as an example. As I wrote in "Liberation and Addiction" (as a recent addition you might not have seen upon first reading; I often post-polish my more ambitious posts):
A really useful testing ground for reframing is the application of Forgiveness. Not big showy huggy dramatic gestures; I mean the internal process. Shift from seeing it this way to seeing it that way. That's what reframing is, and it's stupendously, maddeningly easy (don't tell yourself a story about having done it. Don't just pose. Really actually do it!).
"Don't just pose. Really do it." One can easily say "I forgive you" without meaning it. The same pose can just as easily happen internally: "I forgive him". And the charade might be ongoing ("I forgave him"). We can carry a pose, a charade, forever ("I'm a wonderfully forgiving person").

But there is, of course, an enormous difference between rotely saying/thinking the words and actuality. That's an awfully sucky term - "actuality" - but human language doesn't offer a rich palette in this realm. Genuineness is not an issue humans consider much, so our language is parched for terms. Much as eskimos have an abundance of words for snow, humans have many terms for artifice, charade, and empty drama, but what shall we call the real thing? "The Real Thing" is an empty placeholder, an expedient means of pointing to something unnameable. "Actuality" sounds crisply scientific, but it's as vacant as a variable...and truth should be more than a variable.

This distinction is more fundamental than you'd imagine, because consciousness is bifurcated along precisely these lines:
There are two aspects to consciousness: cognition and perceptual framing. We know an enormous amount about cognition, but few of us spend even a moment considering perceptual framing. It is assumed that external factors frame our perspective for us; that it's not under our own volition.

We'd freely acknowledge that a given city block is experienced through completely different eyes, depending on, for example, whether we've just been kissed by a new loved one or been ditched by a previous one. But we assume we must wait for external circumstances to provoke emotions for perceptual shift to occur. There is no reason for this assumption. All frames are available in any moment. We just get lazy, and forget that we can actively choose.

We are wrong about both, assuming that we own our thought stream - though we obviously do not (just try to not think about the thing you're currently worried about) - while we assume our perceptual framing is imposed from without - though it patently isn't (you can't make me angry, only I can make myself angry). Our confusion about the operation of our own minds is a central problem.
I can muster the thought "I forgive you" regardless of my actual view. Genuine forgiveness is a separate action, and it's not verbal. Neither a thought nor an utterance, it's a doing. It's pure reframing. It's hard to talk about. It's just a faculty we have, though we often forget we have it.

There's another pesky factor. We confuse the action of actual forgiveness - the reframing - with anticipated associated emotion. There's a bag we carry around with us; a burdensome dramatic obligation. We can't simply forgive; first we must perform a movie scene. You know the one, where a grave-looking person stares with gloomy concern out of a rainy window while cellos moan. How can I possibly forgive him?

Poignant! But let's give that cinematic layer the easy dismissal it deserves, being nothing but indulgent bullshit. You're not in a movie. You can forgive someone as effortlessly as you can manufacture the empty thought "I forgive him"....but it involves a separate faculty. It's a shift rather than a thought.

Try it! Pick someone easily forgiven. Not your ex who said that horrible thing, or that old boss who fired you. Don't get ambitious! Think of someone more readily forgivable, and do it. I'll wait!

Don't just say the words. Feel the shift. Experience the minuscule sensation of blissful unwinding, like a knot being untied. Our bodies are programmed to reward certain choices - sleeping, eating, procreation....and forgiveness is an oft-forgotten item on that list. Why is it forgotten? Because we assume we must play out a movie scene, and it likely doesn't jibe with our current plot arc at any given moment. The fake, ridiculous, self-indulgent cinematic experience - me up there on that screen! - is, for most people, unquestionably primary. So if one fancies oneself to be in a movie, forgiveness requires a laborious rewrite.

Real forgiveness is simple and instantaneous, but it's nothing like blandly uttering the words. It's a foundational shift, easy though it is. If you want to play with this function, and explore reframing, check out the previously linked post about forgiveness.

But let's go beyond forgiveness to a real world framing example that involves interacting with another person rather than silent machinations in the corridors of your private mind.

You run a business with a critical, terrifying problem. Your tech guy crashes on the problem tirelessly, finally coming to you, eyes ablaze, with an impossibly brilliant solution. He needs to share the details, because it could only be properly appreciated if you really understoodd what he did.

That's him. Now let's swing the focus over to you. You're not a tech person. You barely understand what he's saying. Every cell in your body wants to tell him to shut up, go away, and just hook it up, now.

Let's call that management choice #1: The Imperious Asshole.

There's a second management choice: The Patronizing Asshole. You recognize that he's bursting at the seams, viscerally needing to spike the football by explaining what he did. He will resent you if you dismiss him. It will harm your relationship and deflate his morale. So you steady your gaze at him, restraining your eye roll, and nod your head engagingly as he recounts his actions, punctuating the tech lecture with eager "uh-huhs!" When he's done, you express your astonishment re: his brilliant genius, wait a couple beats, then rub your hands eagerly together saying "Well, let's hook it up, then, shall we?", patting him on the shoulders as you retreat to your office to let this annoying, overheated little geek do his thing.

There's also a third choice, which would never occur to most managers. Actually listen to the guy. Try to understand, and genuinely share his enthusiasm - not just for the fact that a solution was reached, but for what he actually accomplished in solving it. Make an effort to get a genuine sense of what he did and share his moment. This involves shifting your attention momentarily away from the big problem stewing in the gurgling acid pit of your managerial stomach. Shift to his view and be an engineer for a sec, not a manager, even if this is a realm where you're tenuous and thus vulnerable, and must allow yourself to be lectured to by your institutional inferior. You'd feel much more comfortable; more secure; more yourself by interrupting him to tell him (more or less bluntly) to shut up and just go hook up the fucking thing. But you don't. You shift over to his world, his framing. You roll with it.

#1, The Imperious Asshole, maintains his perspective tenaciously, and would snarl at the suggestion that he do otherwise. As Manager, he occupies the center of the circle. Other people must shift to share his perspective, not vice versa. This, sadly, feels to him like privilege.

#2, The Patronizing Asshole, is just as tenacious in his frozen perspective, but goes through the motions. He follows a flowchart any dumb computer could obey:
#3 doesn't have a name. "The Real Thing"? "Actuality"? "Humanity"? The manager reframed - amid a crisis, too, which is extra hard given that humans abandon their values under duress. You can't name what he did. It's not something taught in business school. You can't devise a procedure to accomplish this. It's the thing computers (or people who act like computers) can't do.

Reframing is the thing computers can't do.

There's a new wrinkle these days. Managers try to add genuineness into the mix. Like a powder. They recognize (blurrily) the shortfall I'm describing, and try to fix it via extra conscientious patronization. Let's call it meta-patronization. "PLEASE DON'T THINK I'M PATRONIZING YOU," the manager pleaded, patronizingly. It's just a minor subroutine to add to the flowchart - Patronization_Erasure.

This sort of thing is a natural outgrowth of the thinking that makes corporations design products to power up saying "Hello, Jim, how are you today?" It's a way of having computers - and people who act like computers - simulate better, to hastily patch over the sticky wicket of authenticity. Authentic authenticity is scarily unthinkable, whereas contrived Authenticity-Seeming is more viable. You can develop and procedurize and test it.

No comments:

Blog Archive