avatarNatasha MH



A Picture of Love But All You See is Hate

How our inability to read the room compromises intellectual growth

Photo by Maxime Roedel on Unsplash

I did it again. I woke up to Satan’s command and got lured into Instagram before brushing my teeth. You’re supposed to put on your running gear and go for a 5km sweat or meditate. But nah, I chose to go to the garden shed, look for toxic chemicals and pour cyanide into my coffee. I figured Pitfall Editor Philip Ogley might appreciate a round of Glyphosate on his editorial lawn.

For this morning’s pick of the litter, I came across a clip from the AFI Life Achievement Award archives in 1979. It’s a prestigious award established by the board of directors of the American Film Institute. Recipients are filmmakers honored in terms of their total career contribution that has fundamentally advanced the art of American film and withstood the test of time.

The recipient in the clip was none other than Alfred Hitchcock. Hitchcock was a writer, director and producer of movies such as Strangers on a Train, To Catch A Thief, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Rebecca, The Birds, and the famous gothic thriller, Psycho. That’s just the tip of his credential iceberg.

Upon receiving his award, Hitchcock presented an eloquent speech that showcased his infamous acerbic style of expressing himself. It’s a wonderful speech, witty and intelligent. The clip showed just a portion of it where Hitchcock says:

I beg to mention by name only four people who have given me the most affection, appreciation and encouragement…and constant collaboration. The first of the four is a film editor, the second is a scriptwriter, the third is the mother of my daughter Pat, and the fourth is as fine a cook as ever performed miracles in a domestic kitchen…and their names are Alma Reville.

Had the beautiful Miss Reville not accepted a lifetime contract, without options, as “Mrs Alfred Hitchcock” some 53 years ago, Mr Alfred Hitchcock might be in this room tonight…not at this table, but as one of the slower waiters on the floor.

I share my award, as I have my life, with her.

With award speeches in recent years trying to stuff political agendas and inflated egos like cheap processed sausages, it’s a treat to hear one that is authentic, clever and genuinely romantic.

And then the comments ripped it apart. That’s when I sipped my acid brew delightfully. It’s what I live for.

Commenter 1: Forgive my ignorance but who is that guy and why is this so important and has so many views and likes?

Commenter 2: He thanked one person — his wife — who was all mentioned. Why are people dissing him for referring to himself that without her — he himself would have been one of the slowest waiters and not the person being honored is beyond me. Y’all need to “listen” a bit more carefully. Alfred is not going after the wait staff.

Commenter 3: He was not dissing the waiters, he was humbling himself. Not a perfect man, but he sure knew how to publicly honor his wife.

Commenter 4: She deserved better.

Commenter 5: Great speech, but I expect some side glances from the waiters.

Commenter 6: Brilliant — I see some complaints about his waiter comment — that’s called comedy.

Commenter 7: At the same time women need to take note as well. Be a supportive wife who encourages her husband to be great and instead of emasculating him or putting him down. Like so many women do nowadays.

Commenter 8: I think women can take more away from this than any man…

Commenter 9: And he says that, thinking of all the young blond actresses he lured after while making his movies!

Slurp. Sip. Sip. I could read this all morning, but Satan’s sister has things to do.

The comment section on social media is a landmine of contradictions and insights on the human brain. It’s my Comedy Central.

Sometimes I’m not sure if people are trolling for fun or if they’re genuinely clueless to the world they’re supposedly a part of. We like to think that with access to information within our fingertips we would be wiser, sharper, and more connected. Instead we use our access power like a monkey with a bouquet of flowers. At least a beetle knows what to do with dung.

It would be understandable to ask who Alfred Hitchcock is. No harm there. But it’s also common sense to make a quick Google search instead of typing your ignorance.

What amused me was how the focus shifted to waiters from Hitchcock’s wife, and later the boat capsized to gender bashing. I’m trying to imagine if we placed all the commenters at a table in a room. How will that end?

Maybe it’s because I was once a teacher, I try to understand how people read and comprehend a simple speech. Is the reading level that low to misinterpret Hitchcock’s noble intention? Is Hitchcock too visceral with his old-school mordacious approach for millennials? Surely people can’t be that obnoxious, can they? Is it the loss of critical thinking skills? Could it be a lack of assertiveness? Perhaps. Could it be impulsiveness? Perhaps. Could it be sheer ignorance? Maybe.

It’s like saying grace before a meal only to end it with questions about the relevance of God, and being offended that members of the supply chain aren’t highlighted. The whole idea is to pause and pay attention to good things that one might easily take for granted. Saying grace adds to the enjoyment of a meal. We don’t stop to look at the cook worried he or she is slighted and is going to protest.

Yet, when you read the comments that seems to be the case. Hitchcock’s charming speech disguised as a declaration of love became a character assassination.

I often think about how having access to a wealth of knowledge seems to be working against us. We cherry pick information based on biases and prejudices that intensify our discrimination towards our environment. Then I came across Alchemy, The Dark Art and Curious Science of Creating Magic in Brands, Business and Life by Rory Sutherland, and realized I may be paranoid about the erosion of modern intellect.

According to Sutherland, we haven’t exactly dumbed down as people may think. It’s what behavioral economists call the focusing illusion — our habit to vastly overestimate the significance of anything to which our attention is drawn.

In the case of Hitchcock’s acceptance speech, the director made an attempt at being romantic. The social critics however, didn’t see it that way. They didn’t seem interested in that respect. Thus, they failed to celebrate the essence of how remarkable and powerful Alma Reville is. They missed Hitchcock’s punchline — how the real creative maestro behind his career is Reville.

Whatever the case, it is worth understanding them and the role they play in distorting our behavior. Interpretation is a culprit to misunderstandings while misinterpretation has been the mother of all disasters. But what if this becomes a habit and all that we see are what’s wrong rather than what’s right in a given context?

If that is the case, we are shifting our intellectual paradigm for generations to come. That’s how we went from building the ancient pyramids of Giza that lasted 4500 years to building the ugly Žižkov Television Tower in Prague, Czech Republic in the 80s. That’s how we went from the exuberance of Rococo to the Brutalist architecture. But hey, one man’s meat is another man’s poison.

The same framework can be said about netizens’ focusing illusion on social media. But what we don’t realize is how we speak and think today shapes how we design conversations in the future — and the strength of our species depends on it.

Photo by Gary Meulemans on Unsplash

Our words shape our world. That’s Sapir–Whorf hypothesis.

Neuroscientist Michael Graziano explains, “If the wind rustles the grass and you misinterpret it as a lion, no harm done. But if you fail to detect an actual lion, you’re taken out of the gene pool.” It is in our evolutionary best interests to be slightly paranoid, but it is also essential that our levels of attention vary according to our emotional state. It seems to be the case with commenters on social media when their observations are off the mark to what’s relevant and crucial. We can’t always be in attack or defense mode and reading the room incorrectly.

According to experts, our sense of priority shapes and determines what becomes the “truths we seek.” It’s no different to fashion and how fashion works on us. We think we consciously select our clothes and determine our fashion sense, not realizing from color, style to silhouette, we select what have been pre-selected by the powers that be. In that sense, fashion is a form of biases, or evolutionary selection. We flaunt what’s deemed popular as a way of fitting in. Parade or perish.

The next popular question: is our mental health failing? The good news is maybe not. But intellectualism is a different matter.

Social media has allowed practically anyone with access to the internet to participate. It’s a healthy exercise in inclusivity. You now come across posts by folks with diseases, handicaps and social conditions you never knew existed. Social media is a human library of sorts. We are exposed to more society stories and that too has boosted the way we tell stories.

Not everything on social media is putrid, vile and toxic. We need to accept that it is a form of creative expression. We shouldn’t curl our lips in disdain at emojis. In ancient Egypt an identical language system was used called Hieroglyphs.

What’s nasty is when people speak before thinking and there’s no one chairing the flow of conversations.

The moment one person writes something that belongs silently in the head, it opens a Pandora’s box for more hate, ignorance and intellectual deviation. In a classroom, a teacher monitors and mitigates the flow of discourse. At home, when tempers flare among siblings, parents step in. At least, that’s what traditional thinking tells us.

Graziano further cautions that we have to be careful before we start to casually label biases as inherent mental failings, rather than the product of evolutionary selection.

Consider this scenario: when walking on our own down an unlit street, the sound of footsteps will occupy more of our attention than it would on a crowded street in daylight. Sounds harmless, you think. Evolutionary biology showed us why we are highly attuned to detecting faces or animals in the environment. Threats would have been posed by other animals and thus, being able to recognize them and read their mood tells us the difference between life and death.

But what happens when you tend to see human or animal faces when they aren’t there? What happens when you begin to see threats everywhere?

A brain which sees faces in every rock or tree — paranoid delusions — would not be useful. We breed fearmongers, generate mistrust, and we manufacture fallacies. This, I’m afraid, is the precipice where we currently sit while facing our next cultural renaissance.

For now the best advice we can follow is what grandmothers used to tell us: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, best keep your mouth shut.”

My sincere apologies to Alma Reville.

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