During my psychological learning I was given chance to study about Behavioral Conditioning. In general, the theory of conditioning points out that when a person is given a stimulus each time as he/she is exposed to a condition, even these two have no any prior linkage to each other, then gradually he/she would associate the two together. Despite the possible occurrence of only one condition, the person would automatically track for traces of the other.
This makes me reflect on the habitual acts and thoughts in life. During my interactions with the others, I notice a particular pattern of us – we all get agitated by the strange and unknown by the others. Then the more I observe, the more I come to be aware that the provoked emotions are mostly not directly triggered by the others themselves, yet mostly from our own defensive mechanism shaped from the past experiences. As I explore more about the past happening , I feel the deep worries, alertness, insecurity, venting anger running within their bodies, reminding me the marks left from the past negativity.
Such mechanism helps us react efficiently to the situations, and protects us from the rising possible past negativity around us – to set things right. Yet something seems not right after we defend and react. What come next are mostly the conflicts, disagreement and widening distance. The meaning of protection turns to the driving force of separation, and we are left with loneliness and more suffering.
I recall an article I read about from the Readers’ Digest which I would like to share with you all. The writer shared about his experience with a man in a subway in the US, and it turned out to be something more. I try to re-write the sharing with as much accuracy as possible. However, as some details of the story are vaguely remembered, I am compelled to convey the ideas in my own words.
“I was taking subway one day. There was this man who attracted everyone’s attention. He was poorly dressed with crease shirt which emits the unpleasant body odor. Looking at his greasy hair, it seemed he had not taken shower for quite sometime. The man was dazed out and ignored completely the surrounding. He just stood near the train-car door, blocking the path of the other passengers. There were several times he even bumped into the walking people and gave no apology nor proper response.
It was until he bumped into a lady who was holding a baby, then he seemed to regain the awareness of the surrounding. He slowly approached the seats area and sat down next to me.
I felt annoyed by that man and thought he was an improper mannered man, and probably a failure in life. His failure was probably due to the lack of education nor learning – probably he did not bother to do so, for he did not even seem to notice the impact of his poor conduct onto the others. He even did not have respect towards the others, especially an innocent child. He did not seem to feel apologetic for his problems.
After sometime, I could not hold my silence and decided to point to the man for his ignorance. After my speaking, there was long silence, and finally the man looked up for the first time, and spoke,
‘I am sorry I may act poorly. It’s just that I just came back from the hospital in where my wife died during labor. I just lost her and our baby. I do not know how to continue to live.’
A complete different story I expected. From then my perspective was utterly shifted. In front of me was the husband who had just experienced one of the most tragic deaths. Two of his most important persons were taken away. I truly realize my ignorance and blindness.”
We are habitual individuals who think, feel and act according to our natural instincts and the learning experiences. However, at times our mechanism can protect us much in the way they block us from connecting with the past wound, and unfamiliar newness.
The world is so huge and diverse, and our own minds are limited. We lay out our own territories, and we believe we can hold onto our own defensive and powerful lands. Yet we are bound to cross paths with others’ areas. Mostly we may try to avoid the confrontation, yet the inevitable outcome lies in front of us – we must overlap and share.
It is true that we live together on this round planet. We are social beings who are bound to share the land. In relationships, we interact and cooperate in order to survive. We may notice the familiarity and similarity, as well as the strange and even known yet disliked facets in others. Yet what is amazing about the relationship is that it muddles everything together, including our similarity and the differences. There is hardly clear label tagged about the others, let alone the splitting clear cut line between the similarity and differences.
It would be hard for us to purely rely on our habitual mechanism. At most times there is no logic or rational in the relationships. As we react, we seek to protect, and get crippled by the endless argument on right/wrong; and as we understand, we break the barrier of right/wrong, and rather focus on respect, acceptance and love – what is more important than that in such beauty of human connection?
As we pause and reflect on our responses to others’ thinking, feelings and behavior, we may come to ask ourselves –
“Do I really know what he/she is thinking/feeling/doing?”
“Is it something I truly understand, or it is just based on my subjectivity?”
“How is it for him/her to think/feel/act?”
“How will our relationship change once I act in this way, especially now I am aware of our similarity/difference?”
I believe the true gift of a person is the spiritual being. We are born with the animal-like natural survival instincts, to follow our own protective and defensive mechanism. Yet more importantly we are granted with the spiritual journey which helps us conquer our protective wall, to face our darkness of fear, until we arrive at the realness of human connection.
Open our hearts, and embrace whatever comes to us. We may face the known and unknown, likes or dislikes, and we seek to understand. This is how we connect and be together. And soon we taste the sweetness, spice and wonders of the newness, and our lives are forever richened.