I recently went for a walk with a friend. We live about 2 miles apart and planned to meet midway and continue together. It was a bit cold and windy so I wore a full-sleeved top and grabbed an extra layer. When I bumped into my friend though, she was in shorts and a sleeveless tank top. She said it felt warm and windless in her neighborhood. Even though we’re geographically close, it sometimes seems we live in different microclimates. I’ve noticed on prior walks how spring and summer flowers in her less-shaded neighborhood seem to open ahead of the ones in our shaded backyard. She also lives in a south-facing home that traps heat and keeps her warm.
Even metaphorically, we dress for the weather outside our front door. Our day-to-day circumstances being the weather we plan for and our thoughts, emotions and actions being the metaphorical dress. How we “dress” is also based on the data points we’ve lived through. We assess our current circumstances but then call upon our personal histories while making decisions on how to behave. The unseen assumption is that our data points are complete and accurate, and our responses are based on the full picture. It’s easy to forget that our history determines what data we collect, and that our current reality is often different from another’s.
Going back to the metaphor of clothing—we clothe ourselves based on context and when the context changes, we alter our outfit. It gets hot on a hike, we take off that extra jacket. It gets cold, we pull out our gloves and scarves. We don’t waste energy or get attached to the way we were dressed 30 minutes ago. We don’t question our actions or berate ourselves incessantly. We respond to the changing weather without attaching our identity to the artifacts of clothing. The response feels seamless.
Obviously it’s hard to be so detached from the trifecta of our thoughts, emotions and actions. But understanding the current and historical “weather” we or another human has lived through creates an awareness about the context within which they have had to operate. It creates flexibility, and is the first step towards relational ease and eventually shared sense making. It helps us know why they came to the walk in a tank top while we showed up in long sleeves.
“Perception precedes reality.” — Andy Warhol, artist, film-director