While I was sitting in my office chair, I learned never to believe in cowardice. I listened to life reports for 17 years, every hour, a new account of another life. Never in those 17 years have I met a coward or a weak person in my psychology office.
This made it impossible for me to believe that cowardice or weakness exists for human beings. Even those who proclaimed themselves cowards, weak, loose, were absolutely strong, combative and fearless.
It is not difficult to understand my point of view. But, let’s go to parts.
Each life needs to be observed and evaluated individually. That is, the pain of each one must be understood as the pain of each one. Therefore, the sieve that measures one person is not meant to measure another. The small genetic and historical variations that each of us carries are large enough that each one needs to be understood within its own reality.
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Therefore, unlike what the Soviet Communist Party wanted in the 1960s, we must accept that the subjective exists. That is, each one is each one, we are not an indistinct mass that can be managed, evaluated, led like a handful flour into a large flour package. Of course, if we think in terms of terror and extermination, then we can be communists or Nazis: we disregard the subjective and kill who is ‘individual’.
As the subjective exists and, through Vygotsky, we can explain how this relationship between individual genetic variation and the history lived by each adventurer, we must then understand the perception of fear (generator of cowardice), the perception of power and the perception of responsiveness individually and changeable for each person. These are the constitutive elements of courage and cowardice in behavior.
1 – The perception of fear
The perception of fear is responsible for reading the environment and recognizing the size of the dangers faced. A Brief History: One patient had immense difficulties leaving home. She always thought and did the mental metrics catastrophically, so taking the elevator down to the ground floor was a direct confrontation with death, the mind literally predicted (erroneously) that the elevator would fall and she would die with a lot of pain in the background.
So getting off the elevator was an act of extreme courage and much personal confrontation for this lady, albeit trivial to the rest of the flour package.
On the other hand, a patient who was a police officer placed himself excessively at risk in everyday life. He was always driving over the speed limit, reacting violently to simple problem solving (bank, cashiers, queues), and at work, he often took the lead in armed confrontations, almost irresponsibly. He had gone through many armed confrontations, shootings, and very violent persecutions, so his perception of risk, like the lady of the previous story, was not very accurate. He broke both legs skydiving.
Therefore, getting off the elevator was an unnoticed and automatic act for this grain of flour, the perception of a fearsome enemy was very difficult to be felt.
2 – The perception of power
The perception of potency is the reading of our own constructive capacity.
Literally how much we perceive our physical strength or ability to act on the world, to deal with the things of life.
This insight shows us how much we can stand in combat, what we can fight, what we are capable of facing. If we realize that we are not strong enough, small problems can be huge problems, if we think we can too much, we reach exhaustion without being able to deal with the confrontation until the end.
Unlike the elevator lady, the wrong reading here is not about the environment but about yourself. A short illustrative story: One gentleman had worked all his life as an inspector. He had faced street checks, confronted smugglers, arrested truckers, and dealt with troublemakers.
Always with good manners and excellent policy, he had assertively confronted and succeeded in extremely delicate and extremely dangerous situations. But he was married to a quarrelsome lady. Housewife with strong but wonderful genius, devoted mother and powerful wife.
He always had the impression that he had no strength, no power, no ability to argue, negotiate, and convince his wife. He always assumed a passive and submissive position simply because he felt that he could not convince her to do, think, want or act differently. He felt himself in marriage far below his real power of resolve over worldly things.
Another story was of the boy who got beat up almost every weekend. He had a very strong reaction to alcohol, and with two or three bottles of beer, he saw himself with a superhero. As a result, he felt stronger and more powerful than he really was, he felt more skilled than he really was. He always ended up buying more intense fights than he could handle.
True, he looked like an ox, spending the week at the gym training to achieve the desired strength, this perception of a beefy body, reinforced the distorted thinking generated by alcohol. He ended up in my office after his jaw was broken by a much smaller physically opponent.
So far, we have two facets of the same coin: in the first one, fear perception, the size I see the monster. In the second, the perception of power, the size I see myself.
How do I see the world? How do I see myself?
3 – The perception of reaction capacity (responsivity)
The perception of responsiveness is linked to shock. When we encounter a problem, the first reaction is always shocking. In the relationship between the two previous perceptions, we calculate the size of the problem and the power to solve it. When one or both variables are distorted, the ability to react is distorted as well.
This perception is easy to understand when we get back to the cavemen: One hundred meters from the cave, still in the savannah, the subject faces the Lion. How the brain will perceive the lion’s size and personal ability will build the responsiveness. Whether he fights with the lion or runs a hundred meters will be defined by the reaction: fight, run or clash.
Nowadays, 10,000 years away from caves, the brain continues to do the same calculations. A bill has arrived: is the value high? do I have money in the account? do I pay it out? do I call to negotiate? Do I leave the billet in the drawer for the gods to take over my destiny?
I always reinforce in my blogs that life is hard for everyone. There is no free lunch and even the clock needs a battery or a winding. So, for free, not even forehead injection. By that, I mean that life is, in every second, a game of chess for the brain. A constant and uninterrupted problem solving and this represents a state of constant confrontation.
We are all the time without interruption being confronted by reality. We need to breathe at least every 2 or 4 seconds. This implies the perception that there is oxygen in the air we pull and that there is physical (muscular) power to make the lungs fill and empty. We resolve this issue every 4 seconds automatically. But we still resolved.
So in evaluating each individual against these 3 criteria, I never found a coward, a weak, or a loose one. All the people I met tried to confront their monsters and enemies with all their strength they thought they had, reacting to the world with everything they thought they could give. And amazingly, life never made it easy.
After the storm comes not calm but flood. Your life is no longer difficult because you have been through this or that, your life is not easier because you have had this or that. Life is, and simply is, difficult for everyone. Privileges are political acts. For 99 percent of us, seeing reality as it is, seeing ourselves as they are, and reacting promptly with assertiveness is all we can ask for.
Seeing the elevator as it is, seeing its own problem-solving ability as it is, and not letting life go afterwards are the keys to comfortable living in the face of all difficulties. But distortions in belief processes about yourself and the environment make us work far beyond what is needed or far below what we would need.
My dad always says that even as an adult, we still look at the world as if we were still children. So the people around us and the problems we need to solve are viewed in an infantile way. We find things much more complicated, dangerous and unattainable than they really are. On the other hand, we also continue to look at ourselves as if we were still children, so we do not see how much we have grown, how much we have learned, how much we have developed over the years. Thus, we do not realize our ability as adults.
Finally, we continue to deal with the world as if we were the fragile little children of our childhood and the world was filled with fantastic monsters. Assessing yourself in this reality is more than facing the elevator or the shooting, it is more than telling your employer what you think. To evaluate oneself is to discover one’s own reality within reality. Literally find yourself on the board.
I wish good luck to all of us who release the lions.