From Levi Strauss’ canvas pants to the minimalism of Twitter, every invention has its detractors. While Ryan Spanger counts himself among the indignant, he suspects something is amiss in our rush to judgement. When we learn to think beyond our gut reactions, he argues, we learn how to make innovation work for us.
I remember the first time I saw a mobile phone, and I remember my reaction: It was 1989, and a businessman was lugging this brick-of-a-thing down the street, in rapt conversation.
My reaction: How ridiculous! How indulgent! Why can’t he wait ’till he gets back to the office to make a call? My response was something close to outrage. Talkback Radio fodder.
Fast-forward 20 years: We’ve woven the mobile phone into the fabric of our lives. Now try telling someone you don’t have a mobile. Expect a similar derisive response.
Signs of unhealthy thinking
I always try to remember my mobile phone story when I’m confronted by something new that I don’t fully understand. I’m learning to recognise the signs: a mocking sanctimoniousness, a complete failure to ‘get’ it, and a sudden urge to ring up Talkback Radio, or fire off an angry letter to the editor, signed ‘Outraged’ of Glen Waverley.
Society has singled out contemporary villains that evoke its ire: graffiti, backward baseball-capping, and that most hated of cultural practices, low-panting (sagging) – you know, the extreme sport of saggy-bottom jeans wearing. The pastime that’s finally legitimated Mother’s hysteria about not going out without clean underwear.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m neither a proponent of low-panting, nor an apologist. What I question, though, is the mechanism in the human psyche that starts with “what the…?”, and leaps straight onto the express train to “how moronic.”
How many detractors do you think Levi Strauss had when word got round the gold-mining camps that he was sewing old canvas tents into trousers ? You can imagine the chatter at the local saloon that night:
“Did you see the getup that old Levi was wearing? (lol) Reckons he gonna sell ‘em.”
“Reckons he gonna sell tents as trousers? Why, clearly the man’s a fool!”
Uproarious laughter and much mirth ensues at the bar. All the while, our hero is hunched over Ma Strauss’s Singer, the flicker of candlelight illuminating the manufacture of what would eventually evolve into 501s, and a billion-dollar business.
Who’d have picked canvas-panting to take off like that?
Dealing with change and setting aside judgement
There have been plenty of things that put me squarely at the bar with the other Levi-detractors, and those suspicious of pants-variations in general:
When Twitter was explained to me a few years ago I laughed out loud. (I’ve since embraced it as an awesome tool to connect with people and information.) I’ve also noticed that, increasingly, I’ve closed my mind to much contemporary art – a growing suspicion rising in me that I’m somehow being conned.
What I think is really going on in me is the challenge of dealing with change. Humans have an inbuilt survival mechanism that drives us to carve meaning out of chaos; but just when we create some semblance of order they go and shift the goalposts again. This gives rise to fear, and its bastard child: outrage. Which keeps Talkback Radio in business.
Do you have any pet bugbears that provoke your ire? Well, what if you were to temporarily set aside your judgement? It’s your judgement, you own it, and you can return to it at any time. Be safe in the knowledge that no thief will purloin it if left unattended for a few minutes.
The next step is to approach the object of your outrage with genuine curiosity. If you know a low-panter, ask him why he sports his fashion that way. Ask him why like you really care, and you might learn something. Or, you might learn nothing. The result of your investigation may merely confirm your suspicions. Here’s the thing: there’s probably things that you do, things that conform to all your laws of logic, but are the equivalent of low-panting to others.
The cool thing about relinquishing your judgements about others is that, through the process, it’s often reciprocated. It also opens up paths and opportunities that a narrow mind had previously shut out. Be discerning, but row away from the rocks of your own cynicism.
Are there any opportunities under your nose that you’ve written off that may be worth re-evaluating? Ideas that could bring you some benefit, or teach you something?
Why not try dipping your toe into the pool of your own indignation?
Try it as an exercise: When outrage strikes, ask yourself why you’re reacting so strongly. What’s it setting off in you?
Chances are, it’s more about what’s going on inside you. Then you learn something about yourself. And that’s what alchemy is all about: turning rubbish into gold.
Ryan Spanger is Benevolent Dictator at Dream Engine Video Production. He helps companies ignite attention, educate, raise awareness, sell and simplify their message through video.