I recently had a drone – which I had spent many hours building – stolen from me. Not very fun. But it has also been an opportunity to revisit the feeling of loss, the feeling of negativity towards the world due to loss, and the process of working through these feelings. You can treat it like a story – a story through the mind as different cognitive destinations are reached. These have then been condensed into stages… and what can be found below is the result. I don’t really seem to align well with the more classical “5 stages of grief”, it seems.
1. Feelings of negativity towards the rest of humanity (generalisation). Twenty minutes ago I was flying around, stopping (just in case I flew too close) whenever some dog-walkers came past. I would smile at them and they would smile back. Now I look at the same people with a frown, thinking, “are you the thief?” When it could have been anyone to have wronged you, it’s easy to look at everyone as if they possibly did. To lose faith in everyone, because you decide the only reasonable action is to trust no-one.
2. Feelings of negativity towards a small sub-section. After a few minutes of thief-generalisation and a loss of faith in humanity at large, I came to another conclusion: even though I don’t know who did it, that doesn’t mean I can’t trust anyone. Not everyone would steal the drone, only a select few. It’s important not to project the behaviour of a few dicks onto the rest of humanity. Just because – sadly – there is no huge neon sign above each dick who is sneakily integrated into the rest of society doesn’t mean I should imagine everyone with a neon sign over their head.
3. Choosing not to dwell on negativity. I enjoy reading books regarding our relationship with ourselves. Some people give these books labels associated with a lot of questionable attributes such as “self-help”, or “spirituality”. Daniel Goleman has recently successfully rebranded them as under a more respectable (and approachable, for sceptics and scientists) category of Emotional Intelligence. Goleman teaches that emotional intelligent people have learnt how to control the amount of time they spend ruminating: that is, the time they spend focused reliving negative emotions that don’t lead to anything fruitful. One of my favourite ‘spiritual’ teachers, Anthony de Mello, goes into it more deeply. He says, “understand that the feeling is in you, it is not in reality. No person on earth has the power to make you unhappy. Only no-one told you that. They told you the opposite. Rain washes out a picnic. Who’s feeling negative, you or the rain?” Negative feelings happen due to our judgement of the event and our expectations. I was emotionally attached to my drone so to have it torn away from me is a painful and unexpected removal. I want my toys back. I expected to be able to keep the toys that I bought myself. But reading de Mello allows me to re-frame the experience in a different light. I can enjoy the picnic while it lasts, but if it unexpectedly rains, there’s no point being angry at the rain because it didn’t do what I expected (and hoped). Note that I’m not saying that I should allow myself to be a victim, and I that shouldn’t make efforts to mitigate the rain with, say, an umbrella (I hope you’re still somehow following this analogy). It also doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t, as a society, stop trying to minimise the number of instances of ‘the rain’ happening. But, regardless of all our efforts, some events are out of our control. And after all is said and done, does this excuse the behaviour of a thief? No. Which leads to step no. 4.
4. Revisiting negativity. I’ll be honest, a lot of my teenage years were spent thinking (read: ruminating) about the motives of dicks. I was compelled to know: why did they do it? I probably could have had a happier childhood. But at the same time, there’s something to be said for working through a painful thought process for the purposes of insight. I have a huge respect for people who choose to tackle these problems head-on (by going into professions such as mental health, nursing, etc) instead of putting their heads in the sand under the excuse of “not ruminating”. The conclusion I’ve come to is that everyone, to a certain extent, can be selfish and thoughtless towards others from time to time. The intensity and frequency of these events vary between individuals. But the law of nature is like this as a whole: the lion doesn’t consider the gazelle’s feelings. The lion considers whether he selfishly wants to eat or not. Humans have, to a large degree, been able to transcend this primal natural law by creating a society with its own set of laws. It’s really amazing how malleable the human mind is, to see it come from primitive ‘lion’ origins and then over years have it hammered to conform to view the world through the laws of society. And we can see this in kids: because kids are dicks. The kid who punches another kid in the face because he’s getting more attention. The cruel and thoughtless remarks. Kids stealing possessions from other kids, “because he wanted it.” But then, over the years, something magical happens. We can slowly watch as the once-dickish kids are hammered more and more to society’s vision of how to behave, and amazingly, the number of dicks get smaller and smaller. Indeed, to unconsciously see theft in such a negative light after revisiting how far we’ve come as a species is a testament to our ability to relabel a once “natural” action as “wrong” (I hesitate to call it a “natural” action, because the word “natural” is associated with positive traits. There is nothing positive about theft. Our ability to adhere to the less “natural” rules of society – which are, at the end of the day, a human construct – is nothing but good).
5. Humanizing the thief. As I said in the last point, we’re all dicks to some degree at some point or another. I’m definitely guilty of watching an illegal movie. I.e. I’ve stolen movies. So in some way, I can associate with the thief. Does that mean I also deserve a big neon dick sign over the top of my head? Well, I’d argue, “no”. My drone was a personal singular asset that had an emotional significance to me. The film is an infinitely reproducible digital product that cannot, in the same way, be stolen. The impact: emotionally and economically, is a lot more acute with regards to the drone. Does that excuse what I did? Not really. I guess I’ve stolen a service which the film provided me that I should have paid for. I’ve been a small part of a collective movement that could be destroying film. It made me think about how I can live my life better, when trying to align my actions to my values. Maybe I deserve a teeny tiny dick sign over my head.
6. Focusing on being a winner, as well as not being a loser. There’s one common theme about all of the 5 steps above. They all focus – by either trying to avoid it, extinguish it or understand it – on loss. Even if I was 100% successful in avoiding negative feelings associated with loss, I would only be completely neutral on an emotional spectrum. I’ve avoided the stick, but being completely focused on avoiding the stick, I’ve failed to notice the carrot. The carrot is gratitude. I’m grateful I still have my health. I’m grateful I have the means to buy another drone. I’m grateful I’ve learnt the skills to build the next drone faster, and potentially better. And I’m grateful that I’ve hopefully learnt a lesson on how never to get a drone stolen again.