Life With Robots
Watch your thoughts, they become words;
Watch your words, they become actions;
Watch your actions, they become habits;
Watch your habits, they become character;
Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.
Sometimes, it’s not until you get something, that you realize that you weren’t getting it, and that you need it. In my case, one of the things I most need in this world is for people to reveal themselves to me more openly than they do, so that I can make sense of their words and actions, so that I can feel a bit safer around them. It wasn’t until I met and got to know Sally that I could begin to deeply know that that’s what I had been looking for.
The thing is, there’s a whole dimension to human existence that most people in our culture try to sweep under the rug. Look at that quote above. It has left out the most important piece. The first line should read like this:
Watch your feelings, they become thoughts.
To my mind, nothing could be more obvious: the people of this culture operate out of an underlying layer of sensation and feeling which shapes every aspect of their lives: their thoughts, their words, their actions, their wants and desires, their loves and hates, their goals and dreams and hopes. I can see it like a bee sees the ultraviolet secrets of flowers. I can smell it like a dog following a scent. I can sense it like a starling senses the movements in the flock around her.
I know it’s there, this undercurrent of feeling. I know it’s in you because I observe your words and behavior, and see how they match my own, and know the most parsimonious explanation for this is that your interior experience matches mine as well. (The other explanation being that you are all robots with no matching interior experience, who are just programmed to match my behavior.)
I know you are filled with feeling because I know that, if I push you just a little bit, or confront you, or challenge you, or sometimes just invite you, you will reveal a bit of it to me. A choice cut of your anger. A slice of your shame. A moment of your self-doubt or unattained dream. A glimpse of your secret grief. A chapter from the story of your wounding. A flash of your joy. It’s all there, waiting to erupt. I’ve seen it leak out, explosions of hot gas and flows of lava. I have had many experiences of this.
I know it because I have studied you my entire life, making careful observations that correlate outward signs with expressed inward feelings, studying your psychology and sociology, and listening intently to those few who have been ready, able, and willing to reveal their inner selves.
The thing is, while I know your feeling layer is there, and can usually sense its presence, I have some difficulty understanding it, or knowing how to interpret it, or connecting it with your words and actions. Your words don’t always match your face, or the situation. Your actions don’t always follow logically from the things you say. And sometimes it becomes clear that there are things about which we cannot speak, ideas we cannot discuss, and lines we should not cross. And I, who knows when a dog wants me to pet her and when she does not, withdraw my hand, and step back, and let you be.
The thing is, I understand the dog. I understand why she’s wary and afraid. I understand that she’s been hurt in the past. I understand that strangers are tall and unpredictable and sometimes do inexplicable things.
And I understand humans in the same way.
Because I know what it costs us, to suppress so much feeling. I know why we hide it. I know how the culture pushes us to stay positive (but not too positive) and discourages any expression of feeling that is termed “negative,” unless there’s a product available to soothe it. I know the shame that gets attached to our wounding, the fear of appearing weak or vulnerable, the expected social costs of risking conflict. I know how these suppressed feelings build up over time, over generations, increasing in temperature and pressure until it feels like they’ll explode, if we try to open a valve and let some of them out. I know how this culture lost its healing arts. I was raised just like you were. I know how it works.
But still it’s what I need. Maybe it’s what most of us need. And I know that there are others out there who want it. So I continue to work at giving voice to what’s going on inside of me. And I gravitate to those few others who are doing the same.
I appreciate dogs because they are so utterly honest. They wag their tails. They growl. They pin their ears back or raise their hackles or lick your face like you’re the best thing they’ve ever seen in their lives. They let you know, as best they can, what they want and need and how they feel. And then I can know when and if and how to approach them. But humans have been taught not to be so honest. And so I keep my distance.
Sometimes humans do feel like robots to me: clanking around the place, oblivious to their own deep programming. I really appreciate those of you who are trying to become dogs. It’s really scary and hard, I know, but keep growling and wagging!