Owl's Roost

Assorted Thoughts on Things


Thoughts on Being Wrong

You will never persuade people to change their minds if they don't want to hear you out. Similarly, you're unlikely to change your beliefs if you refuse to listen to people you disagree with. Sometimes this is a good thing. More often, it's a problem. Learning often involves discarding old beliefs to take on newer, more accurate ones. If you refuse to listen to contradictory beliefs, then you won't learn that your own beliefs are flawed. You'll just accumulate proof that you're right (even if you're not).

Listening doesn't mean "there are sounds coming into my ears". It means keeping an open mind and considering the viewpoint presented to you- not just picking on all of its flaws, but finding its virtues. It's knowing that you might be wrong, then seeking out more information from all sorts of different perspectives. And it is okay to be wrong. Very few people get it right the first time. Most topics turn out to be more complicated the more you learn about them, and plenty of folks think they understand something and then find out they had the wrong idea altogether. The important part is that you're willing to admit "yeah, I had it wrong" so you can learn from the experience.

I think that this step is where most folks misstep, myself included. It's hard to admit that you're wrong. Confronting your own misconceptions can be really uncomfortable, and it's a lot easier to find "evidence" that you're right than it is to admit that you might be wrong. Learning means dealing with your own discomfort. It seems safest to bunker down and cling to old beliefs, but this just foists your discomfort onto everyone else. It also doesn't make you right. It makes you confidently wrong. If it's bad enough, then you become that one person that everyone's afraid to challenge on an obviously wrong belief because you're so gung-ho about it. In the long run, it's best to be open to differing beliefs. You've got the best shot at learning and growing that way. Yes, it's hard in the sort term, but it'll make your life better overall.

Thoughts from .

Thoughts on Friend-Therapists and Boundaries

An acquaintance introduced me to the Karpman Drama Triangle a while back. In short, this triangle explains three common (but maladaptive) roles people take in relationships. No one is stuck in any one role- people often move between them until someone breaks out into a healthier pattern. None of the roles in the triangle are healthy, though.

Three roles in a maladaptive relationship dynamic. The victim sees themselves as helpless and needing rescuing. They don't value themselves or see themselves as capable. They blame others for their problems and hope for someone else to rescue them. The rescuer swoops in to try to save the victim. They seem self-sacrificing and overly helpful, and they like to be needed, but they often engulf others and overextend themselves. They don't value other people's capacity to help themselves. The persecutor is angry, aggressive, and judgemental. They're often bullies and don't value the views of other people.

A while before that, I read an article about boundaries. It said that boundaries aren't something that you expect other people to do for you. Boundaries are something you do. If you tell someone that you don't want to talk about cats with them, then you've told them you have a preference. They can still talk about cats all they'd like. Your preference becomes a boundary when you do something about it. "If you talk about cats, then I'm going to end the conversation" is a boundary. "I won't give you advice on relationships, but I can listen if you need an ear" is a boundary. "Don't vent to me" isn't a boundary unless you do something about it.

The drama triangle happens very easily when boundaries aren't set. As an example, a lot of folks I know (myself included) have wound up acting as a stand-in therapist at least once. It can become out-of-control very quickly. Before you know it, you're desperately trying to talk your friend out of suicide or resolve their childhood trauma. Their feelings have become your problem. It's neither healthy nor sustainable to be in this sort of friend-therapist relationship, and it takes a toll on everyone involved.

There are a few tricks I've learned that can break this cycle when you're getting stuck in the "must save friend" trap:

  • Assuming that someone will die or collapse without your intervention discredits their own capabilities. Your friends aren't helpless. They're people with their own skills and strengths. They can help themselves if you let them.
  • If you do all the work to help someone else, then they'll never choose to help themselves. They need to learn to fix their own problems without you stepping in.
  • Listening and being supportive is not the same as getting involved and trying to fix the problem. Listening gives someone a chance to rubber duck their issue, and they'll often solve it themselves in the process. Fixing the problem denies them the chance to learn from it.
  • People are responsible for their own decisions. If someone decides to do something harmful, then that's their choice. If someone really, truly wants to die, then nothing you could say is going to change their mind. You are not responsible for their choices. You are not responsible for redirecting their choices. The only person you're responsible for is yourself (and possibly your children).
  • Real friends want you to be happy and comfortable, not miserable for their sake. They'll appreciate you setting boundaries.
  • You have your own lives outside of each other, and that's a good thing. It means that you can trust each other to stand up for yourselves and be your own people. Don't take responsibility for someone else's life, because then it becomes your own.

Ultimately, it all comes down to communication. Talk to each other. If someone goes too far, then tell them so. They can't change their behavior if they don't know that there's a problem. If talking doesn't work, then put your boundaries into play and take action. You're the one responsible for getting yourself out of the triangle.

Thoughts from .

Thoughts on Communities and Cognitive Distortions

Lately, I've been thinking about a community that I used to frequent. While I'd rather not disclose the specifics, it was centered around a mental health condition that has a lot of stigma attached to it. I left the community because I no longer have that condition. It spontaneously resolved itself at the beginning of last year (work on other mental health issues snowballed in a good way). Even after recovering, I'd planned to stick around to share some added perspective, but I started noticing a lot of cognitive distortions that I'd been entirely blind to before. That bothered me enough to leave. I've still got a few contacts, but I don't engage to the extent that I once did, and I certainly don't consider myself as being part of that community anymore. I no longer see the identity I held there as healthy.

At the time, I'd desperately wanted to belong somewhere. The community made me feel special and appreciated for my unusual experiences. It made me feel wanted. Once I was pulled in by the kindness of strangers, the less conventional beliefs eased in under the guise of public acceptance and advocacy. People outside the community were out to get us in one way or another. Science wanted to erase us, regular people were misinformed or ignorant, and psychiatry might as well have been the devil. Psychiatry had it all wrong, especially the concept of the disorder itself. Only my community really understood me. We all had to have each other's backs against the rest of the world- to save ourselves from all the misinformation and stigma, to save our own right to be disordered. We even had to save ourselves from other people with the same condition. Folks who did accept scientific opinion were labelled as exclusionists, ablists, 'phobes, and so on. They, too, were the enemy of progress. Anyone claiming that we were wrong was the enemy.

In retrospect, it feels like I was indoctrinated. Something isn't right when a community so strongly rejects modern scientific opinion in favor of "us versus them" mentalities and personal conjecture. Some of the beliefs in that community are good, don't get me wrong- there was some excellent advice on functioning better, and self-advocacy is important. Heck, the whole issue probably is more complicated than science gives it credit for. It's the extremity of the community's beliefs and the lack of questioning them that has me skeeved-out about the whole affair. All of this was framed as normal and healthy. It wasn't even under the table- none of this was hidden or covert once you were part of the community. There are plenty of posts and essays out there that openly voice these beliefs. We all ate them up.

This community wasn't an exception to the rule. The problem was more pronounced than a lot of other social groups, but it's increasingly clear to me that every community has its own cognitive biases and misbeliefs. It's hard to decide whether to accept or reject community beliefs if you're not consciously aware of them, yet they tend to float unspoken and unquestioned until someone calls them out. The more questions one asks of the status quo, the more these distortions become obvious. These same questions won't win you any friends, though. There's a delicate balance between questioning community beliefs and conforming to a group. It's important to think critically, but it's just as important to find friends and support. I think a lot of us lean too hard in one direction or another.

If nothing else, I find that it helps to talk to people outside of that community and get their honest opinion on the topic, especially if they disagree with you. Sometimes that added perspective is all it takes to realize that something's not right. That's what made the difference for me. Had an acquaintance not shared their differing beliefs with me in late 2022, I would never have recovered from that disorder. I'd still be paranoid about psychiatrists secretly trying to cure me, still insisting that my state was healthy. And that's the most concerning part of all. It took an act of chance to change my mind.

Don't be me. The beliefs you need to question most of all are the ones you agree with.

Thoughts from .

Thoughts on Healthcare

People shouldn't have to pay a premium to stay alive. I really, really wish that this weren't controversial in any way, shape, or form; unfortunately, it is. Plenty of capitalist healthcare systems don't understand that forcing people to pay for their survival is awful. If you have a disability and require periodic refills of medical supplies to keep yourself alive, then your life has a price on it. You can get food, water, etc. through other means if you're truly desperate. Medical supplies aren't quite the same. If you pawn off a friend or eBay, you're betting your health against someone else's old supplies. It only takes one re-used needle to spread disease. An ill-fitting wheelchair or prosthetic limb can cause more pain than it solves. You'd better hope that those pills are what the seller claims they are.

Many of us are kept poor by our own survival. Thousands of dollars have to go towards medical costs instead of life goals. Wheelchairs cost as much as cars, if not more- and if you can't walk at all, then home accomodations and caregiver staff are further expenses on top of the cost of a wheelchair. Insulin is one of the most expensive liquids in the world (to say nothing of the price of test strips, pumps, lancets, etc.), causing many to ration it in hopes of living long enough to see the inevitable complications of doing so. Even "cheap" disabilities aren't cheap when you look at the social costs, or the difficulties finding work, or any of the many areas that disability makes life more costly.

"But insurance!" you might be thinking. Don't get me wrong, insurance helps a lot if you're stuck somewhere that doesn't offer free healthcare. It's not free either, though. Insurance is expensive. It costs money, and it costs time. I can't count how many phone calls I've had to make just to keep my insurance on board with what it claims it'll pay for. It covers only the bare minimums, and only when coerced into doing so. If your mobility aid breaks before insurance deems it time for a replacement, you're screwed. If you need more medication than what your insurance covers, you're screwed. And thanks to the insurance industry, medications are too expensive for the average disabled person to afford on their own (doubly so if they're on a disability income or can't work full-time), so it's not like you can go shopping and buy medications for cheap.

Our peers don't have to pay for their body's innate functions. We do. And that's just plain wrong.

Thoughts from .

Thoughts on Validity

"Am I valid?" is a stupid question. The whole concept of needing to be "valid" is terrible in itself, but outsourcing your sense of self-worth and acceptance to internet strangers is a horrible decision.

And really, what does it mean to be "valid" anymore? Does it mean being socially acceptable and pleasing to others? Does it mean being normal or common? Is any of that something you want to prioritize over self-acceptance? Why ask if you're "valid" when you're really asking if you're a terrible person for having an experience? Why ask when no one can say "no" without looking like a jerk?

Like I said, it's become a stupid question. Ask what you really mean instead.

Thoughts from .

Thoughts on Internet Specificity

It's that time of the month, folks- time to go off on a rant about online culture.

The internet lacks tone and nuance. It's part of the medium- we're mostly engaging through text, so a lot of the extra information carried in a face-to-face interaction is missing. Folks have tried to solve this problem in all sorts of ways. Text formatting to convey tone (eg. "oh really, you've got to be kidding me"), emojis, tone tags... every so often, another solution gets added to the mix in hopes of fixing the problem once and for all. None of it solves everything, but people sure do try.

The issue is that all of these solutions tend to reflect another problem common to the internet: hyper-specificity. If you don't use these markers, then folks tend to make hostile assumptions or demand that you start using them "because they can't tell". If you do use these markers, then you need to remember the meanings of an exponentially-increasing base of them (ironically, this makes them less accessible to the exact people that need them most). To compound the problem, the intended meanings of these markers often don't match their actual uses, making the whole thing into another layer of missed communication.

I'll use tone tags as an example here since they're recent, but the same applies to most artificial tone markers I've seen. It started as a simple, practical addition of a /j or /s to indicate jokes and sarcasm. This is something that's easy to learn, follow, and use. Not everyone likes tone tags, though. Even in their infancy, not all people wanted to use them. Sometimes this was okay. Other times, people flipped out if a joke wasn't tagged "properly", insisting that the person tag it so they wouldn't freak out thinking it was serious. It could be argued that this was an accessibility problem in some cases, but at a certain point that excuse falls through.

As tone tags became more widespread, people made new ones to cover other edge cases. Nowadays, using them means memorizing a laundry list of arbitrary letters: /nbh, /srs, /nay, /npa, /nm... if you want to see how bad it's gotten, here's a list. You'd think that most of these aren't ever used, but I see at least half of them on a regular basis and have to check what they mean. I can never remember that /nfl means "not flirting". And then there are the issues with /nav actually meaning "this is absolutely a vent, but I want to dump it in a public space without consequences", /nm meaning "I actually am mad but I want you to think that I'm not", and other common cases where tags no longer mean what they claim to mean.

We're at a point where if you have to say /gen, then maybe the problem isn't with the other person misperceiving your tone. Even with the sheer number of tags in existence, tone tags often fail to serve as the immediate, simple marker of intention that they were created to be. Tone tags were meant to make the internet more accessible to those that struggle to detect tone over text. Now, they've compounded the problem.

This post isn't about tone tags. It's about how the internet is becoming more hyper-specific in the name of accessibility and "validity", a pattern that does more harm than good.

I'll give you another example. In the LGBTQ+ community, there are a lot of labels. This is a good thing in many cases, as it lets people express their identity. Sometimes the labels are hard to understand without an explanation, but gender and sexuality are so complicated and individual that it's a bit hard to avoid that issue. The problem is that people will try to force each other to use the "right" label even if their target disagrees. Online, words have only one meaning and your definition needs to match my definition. This has led to a lot of infighting that you never see in offline spaces. The labels still exist offline, but they're only an issue once you log on to hyper-specific spaces.

I'm not entirely sure where I'm going with this, but this issue's been getting on my nerves increasingly often. Maybe it's the digital communities that I tend to wind up in. I've noticed that these issues show up more in minor-heavy areas, so maybe it's time for me to "graduate" from those spaces. Then again, I've seen the same problems in more mature spaces as well, just in different formats. It's beginning to feel like most of the internet is this blown-up place where people can't read plaintext without assuming the worst if they're not told what every word means.

Thoughts from .

Thoughts on the Stories We Tell Ourselves

Everything has a justification.

When you do something, it's for a reason. You tell yourself that you cut your hair because it's getting in the way. You buy a new shirt because the old one has holes and you need to replace it. Dinner happens because you're hungry.

This might sound obvious; of course your actions have reasons behind them. Why would anyone do anything otherwise? Life is one long chain of cause and effect, each event sparking the next until we have nothing left to do but die. It's a lovely story. It has clear motives, connections, logic connecting it all together into a coherent narrative. Any loose threads can be woven back into the chain easily enough if you can figure out why they happened. Everything seems so simple.

There's an experiment called the Split-Brain Experiment where people who had their brain's halves disconnected (usually to treat something like severe epilepsy) were tested on a few different things. It's often used as proof of "oh, the left brain does this and the right brain does that", or sometimes as justification for consciousness being weirder than anyone thought it was. One part of the experiment has stuck with me ever since I first read about it: the left-brain interpreter. The participant's right brain was shown something. Their left hand was able to point at it. When asked why they pointed at it, though, the participants came up with entirely different answers from "because this is the object you showed me". They were unaware that anything else had prompted that action.

Our stories about ourselves might not be as accurate as we think they are. I know that my own justifications for an action can be very different from the real reasons behind it. I can't count the times I've done something out of fear and justified it as something more acceptable, only to later realize that it was fear all along. It's all too easy to rationalize things so that they make sense in the larger story I'm part of- so easy that I miss the unconscious motivations behind them. I doubt I'm alone in this. Language lends itself to stories, and stories are easy to get trapped in.

Over the years, I've used a lot of words to describe myself, and they've all grown in on me like poison ivy vines over time. My own rationalizations are just as dangerous. They're fragile. One knock to the right place leaves me floundering for another reason I behave the way I do. When I look closely at my story, it all unravels back into the loose threads that created it.

What freed me was realizing that while it's easy to tell a story about yourself, your story isn't who you are. Everything about your story can be changed. Even if it becomes unrecognizable, you'll still be there. You're the narrator, not the plot. More importantly, you get to decide how to direct that plot. You're an ongoing act of creation, and you're the one with the paint. The rest is up to you.

Thoughts from .

Thoughts on 24/7 Availability

It used to be that contacting someone meant reaching them in person or by letter, either of which could take days to weeks. Waiting was expected. Nowadays, if someone wants to reach me, they can send me a message that I'll near-instantaneously receive. I can reply to that message just as quickly. It's effortless to communicate with one another thanks to technology.

This speedy conversation comes with a cost: people expect each other to be available nearly 24/7. Waiting days to respond is now seen as rude. People want replies as soon as possible, and there's pressure to be constantly on-call in case someone needs you. To catch all the digital stimuli thrown our way, we check our phones first thing in the morning, during every lull in daily life, and right before we go to bed. Notifications control many people's lives.

About a month ago, I set up my phone to turn off push notifications after 20:00 (8 PM). All of the pings and badges were keeping me from getting to bed at a reasonable time. I was expecting that change to help me establish a better sleep schedule- it did!- but what I wasn't expecting was for it to point out one of my biggest problems with social media, internet culture, and the modern world: there's no stepping away from the constant steam of stimuli and notifications. There are no breaks from being available.

Is that constant availability healthy? I can't speak for others without digging into research that I don't feel like doing today, but I know how it affects me. Maybe this sounds familiar: one person is asking me about computers while another talks about their personal issues, a third is asking me where to find a link, a fourth is documenting a problem in a Discord server that I'm expected to handle immediately, my friends text asking when I'm free, my inbox lights up with an email about a task I really should be working on right now, another text interupts me while I try to respond to my friends' texts... and that's all on top of my offline life. Before I know it, I'm drowning under overload. The tension that results is often so severe that I can't wind down to sleep, and I always put down my phone feeling worse than when I picked it up. Despite that, I keep picking it up out of fear that someone needs me. Those little red badges call me back every time.

Ever since I turned off my notifications at night, I've felt calmer. More specifically, I feel less pressured to do everything now. I don't have to be online if I don't genuinely want to be there. The digital world can wait, and wait it does. It turns out that I don't particularly enjoy being online. I'm spending a lot less time on my phone now that I've removed the siren call of notifications, and I'm able to focus better on the things I really want to do. I wound up turning off push notifications for most apps completely because I've felt so much relief each night when they turn off. It feels like I've been given control over my own time again.

I'm also less stressed over internet things that never mattered to begin with. All of the petty chatroom slapfighting and bickering over words/theoretical morality is ridiculous when you step back from it for a while. Some online things still matter (like my friends- hey guys!), but I'm able to choose when and how I want to engage instead of being lured in by a red badge on an app. People can wait if I don't feel like getting around to answering yet. If they can't wait, then they can find someone else to help them. I shouldn't be the only source of support in anyone's world.

With any behavior change, it's important to find something else to replace lost time. Checking notifications is an activity in itself, and turning them off doesn't magically get rid of the urge. If you don't find something else to fill that time, then you'll turn right back to checking. I filled that time with journaling since it can be done quickly and has a clear positive impact on my life. One solid example of how to replace checking with journaling can be found here if that sounds appealing. I've also replaced it with reading blog posts via RSS. That fills a similar niche but has a positive impact on my life: I learn things without the crap that's ubiquitous on social media.

It's nice to not have to be available 24/7. I'd recommend it.

Thoughts from .

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