Jean Piaget, famous child psychologist, noted that one of the most fundamental deficiency’s of children’s thinking between approximately 2-7 years of age is that of egocentrism. This is defined as, the failure to distinguish others’ symbolic viewpoints from one’s own. One of the earliest examples of children vaulting over this mental block is that when they wish to show another person a picture, they turn the picture toward their audience with the correct side facing away from them. That is, they don’t believe that their viewer can see what they see and they correct it.
Why was I thinking about this?
Because I have been obsessed with the mantra “focus on the positive” this year.
For example, so many overwhelming events happened to me this year. Before I was quite mentally ready to become a parent, I was. Plans to move to a new exciting location with undiscovered secret spaces fell apart. Potential unemployment, and the shock of stay-at-home-mom syndrome beset me.
On the other hand, so many great things have happened to me this year, I became a mother, moved into the quaint city of Salem, and found myself with abundant time to read.
It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that these things are the same list. Most of my life I have been convinced that seeing the truth meant expounding on what things have not happened. That the most accurate perception of something meant a careful balance of good and bad faithfully recounted, and yes, whined over.
I have been troubled by what Jean Piaget would term EgoCentrism, believing that my own life, of which I am the star, can be perceived in only one way. My way. It’s tempting as an individual who does, in fact, command center stage in the role of this life to believe that what has happened has only one facet. However, if I can step back for a moment, and place myself an arms length or more away, then I am able to see that my own life is multidimentional.
Earlier in the year I listened to a speech by an EAP psychologist brought in to my workplace deliver a sidesplitting monologue about how to destress. This dynamic five foot tall grandmother who lifts weights uttered phrase: “Anytime I hear someone say, ‘I’m just telling it like it is’ I want to ask them ‘Who DIED and made YOU God?”
This could be taken as an advocacy for relativism. In fact, it should be taken as such, since relativism in this circumstance is not a dirty word. This is an example of another commonsense psychological phenomenon known as social comparison. By looking around at those in my peer group my life can certainly appear one dismal way. Last year I was gone from my house 5 of 7 nights of the week, often out until 11 and able to do things far more spontaneously. If I were still to stubbornly measure my life by these standards (and oh, at times I try) staying in 6 of 7 nights a week would seem gloomy.
However, if I buck up and admit that my peer group has changed to now include other families, I can see it’s going fairly well. If I even open my mind to include those who are not in my current social class, or who are in other countries, I can weigh far more events and markers into my decision to complain or rejoice.
I can focus on the positive. I can adapt to what is, the way that I see what is, and perhaps attempt to see what is another way.