If you are old enough, you probably have experienced disappointment in your personal relationships, like the romantic ones, for example. The loved one is just perfect at the beginning, your mental model of this person might include a great personality, high intellectuality, a good sense of humour, and even be a good-looking one. After a while—a few months most likely—the illusion starts to fade away. She or he has changed, you tell yourself. A great personality is now unbearable, high intellect became pedantry, sense of humour is irritating and, well, not great looking anymore; it is time to walk away. If you have gone through this cycle several times, you eventually realize that you must do hard work—which starts with disappointment—to make it work with someone in the long term—alternatively, you could keep searching for the “perfect one” your whole life.
The real problem here is that our first impression of someone is always inaccurate. When we fall in love—which is a great English phrase, because we fall, quite literally—our lover is idealized, and even though it feels great while the illusion lasts, it's painful when it ends—and it will end.
But romantic relationships is not the main topic of this post.
This year I've discovered that there is another, more positive aspect of this problem. When we dislike someone (or something), that first impression is always inaccurate as well. If we stay long enough, we see things more clearly.
My mind fiercely clings to first impressions. Even though evidence shows me later that I was wrong (at least partially wrong), once I've come to a conclusion, it is hard for me to change my mind. This inflexibility causes me suffering.
As part of this personal experiment on negativity, I have forced myself to seek discomfort by not avoiding people and things I dislike. Similar to the illusion of love, the “illusion of hate” (or dislike) naturally vanishes as well. This came as a surprise to me.
I've adjusted many aspects of my life to develop a more flexible mindset. For instance, I used to have a curated RSS feed with only things I liked, that's not the case anymore. It requires no intellectual effort to embrace like-minded people and mute or ignore everyone else—this is particularly easy to do in virtual communities—I find this practice quite toxic and harmful. I read things I like but also things I dislike (or I disagree with). Even here at read.write.as, although I have clear preferences, I also spend time on blogs which I'd rather do not read. That might sound stupid, but I've found this practice quite beneficial, it is like a recovery treatment for my like addiction.
After spending some time on some of my non-favourite blogs, this is what I've found:
- I might disagree with other people ideas, but after a while, I'm able to see their point—even if I still disagree with them.
- I might not be interested in the topic, but I appreciate their wordmanship. I always learn something from a good piece of text, even though I don't really care about the topic.
- Even when I neither agree with their ideas nor like how they are written, after a while, I feel a certain camaraderie with or even appreciation for the writer. It is like your non-favourite aunt, the same who used to pinch your cheeks as a kid; in the end, you know, she's family.
In short, if I don't avoid what I dislike, after a while I realize it is not that bad, actually.
P.S. This post is part of an experiment about negativity (read about it).