I like relativism. It's useful, because I know that my perceptions, memories and reasoning are not perfectly reliable. Similar people, both intelligent, will disagree. I like estimating likelihoods, confidence intervals, doing internal modelling that balances my view of information against others. I have to make decisions all the time that involve favouring some interpretation of reality, but I generally decline to commit to it, or assert it. Just conditionally accept it, given the information I have at hand. I want to reduce some types of errors in judgement over others. I assume that ultimately a lot of things are objectively true, but I'm skeptical of my ability to really know them with certainty.
I used to be more absolutist. I was more confident in my ability to acquire relevant information, reason accurately on it, and come to nearly-certain conclusions. I was arrogant, too. I thought that I could do this better than many other people. I was happy.
Regardless of how effectively I may have reasoned, or how close any of my perceptions, memories, or conclusions were to 'reality', I made a fatal error of asserting my imperfect self over the imperfect selves of others. I would argue with people passionately, like a bulldozer, until they would concede. In theory, that might be fine, depending on the person. In theory, they could argue just as passionately about their ideas, and in theory, we might both be open-minded enough to come to an amicable and happy agreement in the end. That's how I imagined it happening, at least.
I don't believe that people should have to fight to have their ideas entertained, their intelligence, existence and experience respected. Lately, I think a lot about experiences.
I think about our experiences in the work I do. User eXperience (UX). It's a field. I think about it with the products and services I consume. I think about it with my education, my student experience. I think about it with my thesis, the reader's experience. And, of greatest interest to me lately, is an interest in our social experiences.
Worrying about experience is a bit of a luxury, a privilege. Arguably, the user experience for software 20 years ago might be considered "awful", except that in many cases we understand the limitations of the time, so we excused a lot then that we wouldn't excuse today. When you're more concerned about even merely providing a base service or functionality, it's hard to worry about whether it's easy or pleasant. It's doable, it works, that's good enough.
I sometimes wonder about that in relation to social issues. Activism broadens to include more and more elements of a subject's experience, as fundamental needs get met. Doing that incrementally isn't ideal. Who wants to first worry about the right to live, then the right to vote, then the right to marry, then the right to pay equality, step by step? Especially when each step isn't atomic, is never fully completed, and never happens in a sensible order. However, it seems that's practically how society in its multitudinous, diverse population negotiates its change sometimes. Unsatisfyingly slowly. I wish some critics of activism would spend less time arguing about it not being necessary, and more time understanding the experience that motivates it.
Lately, I'm curious about the differing experiences two people can have interacting with one another, relative to "reality". Sometimes I have what amounts to a misunderstanding with others that leads to someone becoming upset. If it's the other becoming upset, I would have formerly (and sometimes still) insisted that they've misunderstood, and expect them to correct their understanding, correct their perceptions, correct the impact on their mind, correct their conclusion, correct their experience. And that's bad. I know how horrible it can be when someone dismisses my own experience, and how it makes me feel about their respect for my judgement and perceptions. Especially when its recurring.
I really want to change that about myself. I want to be supportive of others when we differ. If my intensity is higher than theirs, I want to lower my own to match theirs, to ensure they feel comfortable differing from me. I want them to feel like their experience is valid. I want both of us to feel that our perceptions, regardless of how they differ from one another or objective reality are respected. If there is a systemic error one or both of us are making, I don't want them to feel judged as being worth less for it. We should both feel comfortable acknowledging our own limitations. Ideally, we could both acknowledge the imperfection of our own perceptions, our own reasoning, our own memories. Even if imperfect, these comprise a lot of our identity and experience, and are very important our sense of self-worth. We want to make good decisions for ourselves, and much of our life is spent building our understanding of the world to enable that. Having those efforts denigrated does not seem like a conductive way to build understanding, or effect helpful change in either of us. I'm not responsive to belligerence. I'm not very interested in the opinions of others who don't act respectfully to me. So why would someone else respond well if I failed to respect them and their experience?
Even if our perceptions are skewed significantly, even if our memories
don't accurately reflect history, even if they're all wrong, I think they still matter. They comprise our experience, which is everything we have. We may still yet reason logically on bad information and come to meaningful conclusions that might hold general validity even if they don't exactly apply to a specific issue.
One of my challenges involves insecurity and how it affects my perceptions of other people's behaviour towards me. Sometimes, this issue flares up, when experience upon experience seem to compound in the same direction: rejection. If it compounds enough that I speak out, I usually find out that my perceptions don't correspond to other's intentions. I appreciate friends who don't just dismiss my skewed perceptions, but also consider how they contributed. I want to be that generous.
So, going forward, I hope I can better acknowledge and appreciate other people's experience. Even if I disagree with their conclusions, I hope I can help validate their experience, and not bull-doze them with my own, or make make dangerous, biased assumptions about the superiority of my own. I remember fondly walking home from high school once, furious about how dumb something my friend F had said, when in my fury, reasoning why he was wrong, I realised he was right and I was wrong. It was a revelation. I hope to have less fury and more revelations.
[General] Experience, validation, perception, memory, generosity, and imperfection
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