Let’s talk about context and perception

The value and importance of perspectives

(I understand this is a long text so for you lazy ones the TL;DR is in the end)

The confirmation bias trap

When you tend to work in one particular industry, one branch of that industry, one job for a very long time, or it may be even that you’ve been surrounded by the same people for very long stretches of time, or you follow the same ol’ influence groups/circles on social media. All that brought you to a state where you don’t challenge any ideas or beliefs anymore? If you have and haven’t noticed it, or worse, don’t want to change them, I’d be worried. If you have and did notice it….well, we’ve all been there at some point to a different extent — You tend to follow your confirmation bias which inevitably leads you to leaning towards people and groups that agree with you. The social (not necessarily media, because they kind of existed before social media) opinion bubbles. Nothing strange there, just natural as it seems that our brains have evolved in this way. But, as I try to incline above, the problem is not that it happens, the problem is how you handle it and what you can do about it.

The subject is complex but, it involves of course, the rise of the social media in our modern times that allowed many (if not all- wanted and unwanted-neeed and not-needed) people’s opinions to be heard (whether that’s good thing or not time will tell) but also human nature to surround ourselves with people that confirm and help in fueling and support our beliefs, prejudices, opinions and biases, no matter how wrong or right. This in turn makes people holding on to their prejudice/opinions/attitudes even stronger.

Perspective

I recently read an article in the New Yorker that sort of confirmed that my thinking along these lines is correct. It actually goes trough a bunch of studies done since the ‘70s that practically show (although it’s still too early to tell with absolute certainty) that the human mind has not evolved to accept ideas of reason and that we can be lightly persuaded of anything, but our mind is practically equipped to obsess over winning arguments and preserve the already formed opinion supported by our social group. Which means keeping our current beliefs is seen as some sort of a victory. Furthermore, findings show that the less we know about how something works the stronger we’re ready to defend our opinion. There is much more in depth explanation there but roughly that is the conclusion from the studies that the’re referencing. I highly recommend giving it a read. If we make an assumption that the findings in the article are true — what I said above would make people holding on to their beliefs even stronger, opposing acceptance and reassessment to an extent making some of them even hostile in environments where they feel pressured.

“As a rule, strong feelings about issues do not emerge from deep understanding”

Now, I want to make one thing clear. I refuse to believe that that is the case with the vast majority. I say vast because I still believe that that majority of people are following this evolutionary path and simply either don’t want to change, or don’t know how to. On the other hand, there is a whole layer in society (education and reason-wise, money-wise and society status is unimportant here) of people perfectly capable of adjusting their conclusions once they are presented with different perspectives and reasonable arguments and parameters. True they are less in numbers, but they do exist. In other words, prepared to listen to reason and ready to draw an unbiased opinion based on logic and presented data.


Perspective and context

We inevitably come to the subject of perception here. Perspective/context the way I see it is a subset, a natural deduction if you will from perception.

First and foremost there is no such thing as an ultimate truth, or ultimate knowledge, that would be border line mysticism. Or at least not that I know of -and I know very little tbh 😁

First step in dealing with this, if a ‘problem’ has been pointed out and you actually want to do something about it is reading. I like to call this step getting the appropriate knowledge or forming a base. All structural, conceptual and ‘some’ positioning towards practical knowledge comes from books/studies/materials. Books are a real mind-opener since usually lots of different perspectives in a certain context are being presented. So, one needs to put in the work and educate oneself, so that one knows which tools you have to help you the next time you identify a different perspective on a problem within some context. In the same way that a good healthy body comes from good diet and workout. There are no shortcuts people, believe me, I’ve experimented and I’ve tried. Nothing comes even close. So if you wanna have real foundation to achieve results you have to put in the work.

The great physicist Richard Feynman makes a point that we can only research or look at a certain problem from within a certain context. This context allows us to isolate different parts of the problems and then looking at the problem from different perspectives try to draw conclusions based on certain parameters within that context. Now, that being said, there is also another point of view here and that is of exceptional importance when we discuss/research/study different areas of our lives. And that’s the one of one’s willingness to adapt and readiness to accept a different opinion or belief given that the correct evidence. Or in other words: one needs to keep an opened mind.

The above is one of the fundamental concepts of the scientific method where you would define the boundaries(context) define the problem within a context, find a solution, confirm/prove that this is in fact a solution in this particular context(constraints) and then iteratively refine your solution as you find better ways to solve this problem (iterate until we’re satisfied for better more optimal solution etc). Something similar exists in software development, although it’s constantly upgraded with fancy terms such as ‘Lean’ or ‘Iterative development processes’ (of which Scrum is part of).

To put the above into more clear perspective, I’ll use another Feynman interview where he argues that he would not have become who he is, or rather he would not want to become one of those people with predetermined bias about nature. You have to be able to adapt and refine your knowledge and understanding and for that you need to be ready to be proven wrong. If we accept the fact that there is no such thing as ultimate understanding or knowledge of a certain context, the best we can work with is getting to a level where we have comfortable amount of knowledge and understanding to form a basis of an opinion so that you can have a discussion in the first place and be ready to take that further…by being opened to be educated and accept that (this happens more often then you’d want) you will be wrong…a lot.

One of the main characteristics of a person that wants to make progress, that want to grow and learn as much of nature or natural processes as possible is to have an ‘open mind. In other words to be able to define a context (or boundaries if you will) of a problem and to be ready to look at it from different perspectives.

It is hard to look at the big picture and draw objective conclusions i.e. look from an objective standpoint if you are surrounded by ignorance or pre-determined social bias or dogmas.


The Acceptance

There is something you should know about me. I come from Macedonia originally, from the Balkans (South-East Europe). Where the above social bubble/influence is as valid as it gets. With a few honest exceptions of some people that I hold very dearly to my heart, the rest of us during our growing up are filled with predetermined “social”(over there) acceptable silent unwritten notions/rules/prejudices of (just a few examples):

(rant alert)

  • we are the best, smartest, the most capable representative of humans in the world, everyone else is either stupid/not worthy of our competition (but for some lucky reason rich and lucky because they didn’t have so many wars bla bla…and millions of other reasons)
  • we have the best education and thus we know almost everything about everything, because we are so so smart and good 😁
  • we genuinely hate people that are more successful than us.
  • (recent) as long as you have a steady job, you should keep your mouth shut.
  • (recent) for some of the smartest people in the world, some still tend to let politicians pulling their nose. Politicians are the one single root, cause and effect of all problems in the Balkans, yet some people have been there for decades. Which to me, in the way democratic societies are setup at the moment is the number one reason of slowing down scientific and innovation progress, because it is contradictory to the cornerstones of personal and in general progress in any field.

(rant over)

I just want it to be perfectly clear that it was not at all my intention in what I wrote above to be evil and start a fuzz about different mentalities of European people. I son’t suffer from inferiority complex or something. The reason that I mentioned it is because I wanted to give a personal example of what I had to struggle with within myself and what the hardest thing was for me to start accepting. Those are also the areas that you have the most struggles and fights with yourself with. Areas that are most resistant to change, because there is a possibility that they were implanted in your mind at an early age, or you have lived with them for so long that they’ve always seemed correct because they were so strongly accepted in society. What’s interesting is that I have never been raised in this spirit. I was always thought by my parents to assess and deduct my own opinion. I am eternally grateful to them for trying to teach me some of these concepts while I was younger, although not ready.

I also want to mention that while I’m not a person that lightly reaches to generalizations, but these are some geographically characteristic traits of people living there (that I’ve identified, again, bare in mind, I’m no expert). I’ve seen this million times and it’s especially evident with young people that have to face different cultures or different social bubbles (example moving abroad). It always makes me a little bit sad and maaaybe even a little bit angry, because I recognize and see myself in those situations.

I was lucky enough to have a mind opening experience in the first company I joined since moving here to Sweden. It truly was a remarkable company setup in those days. Very international, very open-minded, transparent, very flat in organization and always ready for sharing ideas and knowledge. It was also my first steps towards exploration of the Swedish culture and mentality.

I’m not gonna lie, I struggled a lot with accepting some things. Carrying 30+ years of big ego, (carrying around some kind of self-implanted notion of higher value — that you’re the best and you do all the work and the others — they know nothing) of bias and constant struggle to prove someone that you’re the wizard, the guru, the best to be looked upon in admiration, pulling all-nighters to find a solution to a particular problem just because your pride does not allow you to spark a discussion with your co-workers, to be the man, have the highest salary (or a high position) and lots of other endless examples of goals needed to feed that enormous ego, or simply to live for other people’s praise and acceptance. I was that guy, sometimes I made it, other times I didn’t. I have to honestly say it was not easy at all to throw all these things away that come from mentality and deeply ingraved social expectatios and to replace them with something else. I’ve always felt that something is wrong with this and that something was missing. It shouldn’t be this way. I was struggling, I was unhappy.

Coincidentally (to some extent) right after my move to Sweden I was lucky I got a chance to be able to work in an environment where all of a sudden people listened and they expected you to listen as well. Seemed as though the basic premise was for people to respect and take each-other’s knowledge and ideas into consideration. This particular concept of sharing knowledge and ideas was mind blowing to me. With the company being as international as they come in one discussion you would get so many different perspectives on a particular problem, things you haven’t thought of, things that you didn’t put in context properly, ideas you weren’t ready for! This was also the case going further and working for other companies, both as a consultant and as an employee. Some may argue that this is some kind of Swedish mentality thing, I assure you it is not. It is as common here as it is in any other country. You still get those “We’ve always done it this way” places. People here are generally more prone to trust the professionalism and good intent of their co-workers and rely on self-organizing teams. But, that’s another very interesting story on it’s own, for some other time.


Perspectives

All of a sudden, after being confused for a good part of the first year or so I had finally came to a breakthrough realization:

IT DOESN’T MATTER

It really doesn’t matter how many or which programming languages you know, if you know the Kernighan and Richie by heart, it doesn’t matter if you know the Linux manual by hearth. Hell, or if you know enormous amount of Pi digits, it doesn’t even mean that you need to impress your boss. It is not a competition. It doesn’t hurt to be the best but, that is a contextual measurement on its own (best in what and where?).

If there is one thing that I need to single out if you ask me what is my most important finding in my last 15+ years in the industry is that what matters most is your attitude and mindset. You have to at least like what you do to care. Of course there is a basic “threshold” knowledge level, it’s still a complex science/discipline and there are basic concepts, like in any other science/field, just so there are no misunderstandings. If you’re ready to cross that treahold, there is a great chance you like what you do.

Coming back to my example-once I understood and identified everything that I would need to address I became a different developer and a person, for that matter. A whole new world opens up when you admit you were wrong. A world in which I was no longer under constant stress and anxiety. A world in which I just loved my profession again.

I became a person that actually wanted to be proven wrong. I wanted people to change my opinion. I wanted to spark discussions and dissect problems from different perspectives. Because that’s how you learn.

THE ATTITUDE

In some eastern religion someone once said: “Nobody has ever learned anything from talking”. Listening, contributing by giving suggestions and offering practical solutions and not complaining about everyone else is stupid, identifying and putting things in to the correct context, being opened to consider and break down other people’s ideas so you can perhaps tweak and adjust your own knowledge and perception on a particular problem.

There was no better word that would explain this other than clarity-after I realized this. It’s like your mind suddenly opens up and is ready to absorb x10 more knowledge. There are many other benefits to opening your mind and allowing different perspectives to enter your brain and be identified. We cannot ultimately solve every problem in nature or nature itself, but we can at least try to explore it an particular contexts. Once we limit and isolate a particular context, we can then focus on different perspectives on how to tackle the understanding and/or possibly find a solution for the problem that this particular context is trying to solve.

There are a lot of problems and blockers with this, but according to me the biggest asset that we have as an advantage compared to other species in this case is working to our disadvantage. I can already imagine a lot of you rolling your eyes. But, let’s look at it from this perspective. When presented with a new point of view that is unknown to you. Instead of embracing it and evaluate it trough several parameter that matter to you (intuition, data, logical deduction etc.) and deciding that this is something that you’re willing to accept or not based on the previous criteria. Your frontal brain fires up with it’s evolutionary programming and immediately goes to work to find a way to keep yor current state (because it’s safe, it’s something you can rely on). This is bassically how some psychadelic drugs work: they numb (shut down) the defending part of the brain that serves as a guard and tends to overthink everything and with that it allows many different areas of the brain to make connections. Connections that haven’t exiayed before. That’s why you see so many people come to break-trough realizations while on LSD.

Going furter one other problem, a big one, one that people temd to forget is what I like to call a perspective on perspectives (a certain parameter in the equation if you will) that people often neglect and take it as a constant. It’s a fact that when people look from a certain perspective, not everyone’s personal context (chemical state of the organism, or brain) is the same at all times. I might have a headache, or not in the mood, or I was sick the day before. No two brains works the same at any given moment in time. This is ussually where teamwork or the group or just an objective co-examiner (colleague) comes into play here. But, that’s another story. We’ll come back to that later.


The earthquake (just when you thought you had it all figured out)

Fast forward 5–6 years and as if moving to another country and culture wasn’t enough. A major life changing event occurred for us as a family.

We’ve got a beautiful baby girl. Happiness, love and generally good vibes all around!

Fast forward even one more year and I got to stay at home and take care of our daughter (at that time 1). I stayed at home with my little girl for almost 6 months (during wintertime….in Sweden). I know this is a Swedish thing but I really feel like this is something every dad needs to experience. The level of bonding with your child, getting to know each-other and the actual experience and life lessons that you get from it is priceless. I will always and forever remember this period as the best period of my life compared to almost anything else.

The reason I’m mentioning all this is not to brag (OK, maybe a little 😁) but to illustrate with a personal example what ground breaking perspective changelooks like and how I handled it and approached it.

First there was an accommodation period where I honestly didn’t know what was going on. Now, we as a family are generally quite organized, so the fact that we had a ‘rough’ plan made things quite easy for me to accommodate thanks to my wife and the leads I got from her (still there was that confusion, though, lingering in the air). Luckily this was just a short while and I think it was connected with the anxiety of facing something unknown.

Suddenly, few weeks in a subtle but still very obvious in a way period of becoming aware of what you are actually doing here. In the following weeks this gradually went from huge realizations to an actual perspective change. I actually came to quite strong realizations during this period, which led me to the conclusion that my priorities in life have drastically changed and that on the highest/ultimate level of priority will without a doubt be my family and taking care of them. Career second and unfortunately fun / games / football / beer all the way in the back.

Somewhere around this time I “decided” (read: combination of literally not have time and using this as an excuse to actually throw the phone away in the morning and forget about it). Still used it for research in subjects I wanted, and the more time passed, the better I was at focusing my attention during this limited time slots that I had here and there. The reason I’m mentioning this here is because if you do even a basic analysis, you will find out that you are wasting an enormous amount of time reading totally useless and un-backed by anything things that are passed upon you as information, but which is of no value regardless of what perspective and context you look at it from. Except for maybe serving someone’s agenda.

Anyway, the chunks of time that suddenly appeared at my disposal were more than welcome, because I knew exactly what to do with it. But, that wasn’t even the biggest benefit. The most valuable takeout from ditching sub-par-quality social media like Facebook, Twitter etc. was the peace of mind that you get. A whole section of your brain becomes clear as it hasn’t been in a very very long time because of this useless information overload. I actually had time to think of important stuff. Things that would be beneficial just by spending time on them. So, encouraged by these findings I went on.

Next, came the period that I called the introspective phase, a period in time where you do a lot of thinking (OK, decent amount, in between meals preparations and diaper changes and nappies 😁). When you are alone at home with a small child, you tend to think a lot. This thinking goes in higher levels at first, but then it gets deeper and deeper, until you actually start asking yourself some serious questions and analyzing your very core. This is where you question everything and everyone. Every step you made, every step you want to make going forward. It was a period of many positive, but also negative findings.

I embraced this because I love to learn and understand myself (turns out it’s not as easy as you might think). I realized some things about myself that many would rather keep under the carpet and live without knowing them. Anyway, I got sidetracked a little bit, let’s get back to our subject in context of profession since this is where the biggest breakthrough happened and is the most valuable in our subject of context and perspectives and “angles” of perception.

I feel a strong and deep connection to what I do. I’m a developer / programmer / software engineer (along with a lot of other titles both formal and informal), always have been, always will be. I have never done, nor I want to, nor I know how to do anything else. I feel this connection so strong that it’s a part of me by now in a great manner. To a point where you get to do certain things on autopilot subconsciously, in a same way that you drive a car, not even thinking about certain movements and actions because they are just there without bothering to focus your attention on them. But, even though I did make significant changes in the past and that was, of course, a ground breaking move forward towards learning and adjusting your mindset to thrive and enjoy what you do in a proper, satisfying way. Turned out something was always there in the back of my head, lingering. I just didn’t spend enough thought and focus on identifying what it was before, because other things always had more priority. I was wasting too much time still chasing some kind of an abstract dream. A goal. I had this sub-conscious vision in my head that I had to ”make it”, get ultimate recognition. I was still chasing money and I accepted jobs that conflict with my philosophy of work and approach that I wrote about above. I had not quite to a full extent gotten rid of the very things I tried to get rid of in the first place. I could not feel the excitement and passion and that is when I realized the reason why.

This actually helped me understand why I had acted in a certain way when analyzing some situations from a while back. Except the fact that I was ungrateful to some people that didn’t deserve to be and that I own a few apologies, I actually wasn’t disappointed, or sad, or angry. I was happy that I managed to understand and identify the problem. So, a made a decision and I decided I need to approach this with a new plan.

So, I sat down, wrote positives and negatives of the current situation and pictured how the ideal would be. I was not driven by money, even though working as a consultant I was making good amount. But, I was never in this for the money, I was init for other reasons. Reasons that had to do more with what’s good for the soul and not for the pocket. I knew I had to take a pay-cut for the sake of my dream of freedom, so I determined the absolute minimum I’m not willing to go under and equipped with my list of and I went on with my search.

I started asking myself a simple set of questions and I tried to honestly answer them to my self. I’d rather not go trough all (I have a list) but I can provide a few simple ones.

  • Why are you doing this? What is your purpose/goal in all of this?

In order to answer this I had to dig deep all the way to my childhood and the first days of Commodore 64 at home in my childhood room. Looking at myself back then it was simple: I wanted to feel that excitement, that glimpse in the eye of actually building something our of nothing, but, also I only wanted to do good! I wanted to help people, help humanity in any possible way I can. In those days it was magical, I want that magic back.

  • If you look at yourself again in 15–20 years from now, what would you want to see, that would make you feel you’ve achieved your purpose.

Joining a cause, a belief, and idea that people believe in and follow. I want to be able to say: Damn, what a ride, it was hard and challenging, but we did some amazing work, look what we’ve build, it helps thousands/millions people to do [this and this]. I absolutely decline taking credits for it, no matter how crucial I was for the project. Let’s let history decide on that. Only then I could face myself and be proud of myself and have something to show for it.

  • What kind of a place would you like to work in? Describe the perfect work environment.

I always answer this as: I want to be a part of a place where you want to go to work instead of have to go to work each morning. A place of mutual respect and collaboration where people actively work on making each-other grow both as people, as human beings, but also in knowledge and contribution. A place where I’ll be surrounded by similar, open-minded people ready to go deep into dissecting a problem from all perspectives (of course in a given context :)))))

There was much more, but this are the most important exempts from my notes. I had to make a plan of action so I did make one. I decided I won’t go chancing many companies at once, because it would be overwhelming and unproductive (ever heard of: spoiled by choice).

As with all job hunts in my line of work it didn’t take long until the mailbox got flooded with offers of all types. I knew I had to filter, no hard feelings, just by gut feeling and companies I was 100% sure I don’t want to work for.

Then it happened, one of the only two companies I interviewed with. The moment I stepped into the office and met the guys from the team I felt the connection, the vibe. Interview went great, and after a few small hops, I signed up at Urb-it. A small but very mature company with a clear vision and determination. Not a big development team, but a team in which even after a few days I get the vibe that we are a perfect ideological match.


There it is. The result, well…I genuinely smile more. I’m able to feel that pure happiness and enjoy life without something constantly hanging over your head, pushing you into things and situations that you don’t want to be a part of.

Note: This is not a brag. This is a description of my beliefs, how I changed my beliefs and continuously chose to do so. This is a description of what kind of a person I’ve become. I don’t try to sell it as the timate truth, there is no such thing. I’m just presenting a way of thinking, a paradigm, if you will that you can try for yourself and see how it works for you. It might be what you didn’t expect or it may lead you to paths you never thought if exploring. In any case good luck! Please share your thoughts/experiences/dissagreements. I would love to hear different perspectives and opinions/thoughts on this including people from all professions/gender/race/country or planet.

Conclusion or TL;DR;

I managed to apply the principles I discussed above, kept and opened mind, looked at the situations I was facing from different perspectives. Came to one satisfactory solution-reprogrammed my mind. Went on a 5–6 months of parental leave. Reassessed life and happiness and profession. Identified the points that are making me unhappy, took actions by determining a clear understanding of what I want and acted on those actions.

Thanks for reading and I wish you all happiness and positive vibes all around.

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2 Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing your story with us.

    Talking about perspectives and context a colleague of mine told me a story recently that I like to share:

    In a culinary exam a girl got a task to make a traditional meat loaf and she was extremely happy and felt confident that she would make it perfect, since it was something that was made for generations in her family.
    She prepared and baked it perfectly, but just at the very end when she was seting the meat loaf for presentation she cuted the edges off.

    The professor stops her at that moment and said:
    “You made a big mistake and you are about to fail the exam. You should not have cut the edges off. Now all the juices are going to be released and the meat will become dry. Why did you do that?”

    Shocked the girl says:
    “But that is how it is done. My mother always does that.”

    Then the professor says:
    “OK I’ll give you a chance. Let’s call your mother and ask her why.”

    When they call the mother she says that that’s how her mother(the grandmother) used to make it.
    And they end up calling the grandmother asking her the same question of why she was cutting off the meat loaf edges.

    The grandmother confused answers:
    ” What are you talking about? What edges? I only had a smaller plate so I had to cut the edges so the meat loaf would fit in.”

    Like

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