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I and many reading this have seen the flame exchanges in forums and in virtual Worlds. People form their opinions of who is childish or wise, mean spirited or tolerant, rude or gracious, inappropriate or tuned in, and narrow minded or thoughtful from what they read and hear there. A few people even display serious behavioral disorders. People’s discussions often escalate to the point management or moderators step in and take action. Seeing these exchanges I often wonder how many of us actually choose our personality or even realize we can shape it and by so doing can affect others.

The opportunity presented by virtual worlds and online communities allows us to experiment with personality in ways not possible in real life. In general many have decided that online worlds and communities have a penchant for being rude and crude, filled with insults and people exhibiting their more negative sides. There are, however, places where people are showing the noble parts of human spirit and changing their online experience.

My belief is that the more negative aspects of online life come from a small number of people that most of us have no idea how to deal with, which is why I started SD&D. The basic ‘karmic’ nature of humans and our tendency to reflect another’s behavior (or react in the same tone, for those not into the metaphysical) means one negative act can bring out negativity in all those around them. The world seems built to be a positive (reinforcing) feedback loop of increasing reactions. Few of us consciously realize that if we do not recognize the problem and take corrective measures, we are changed and those changes appear in our real world lives.

One of the blog writers I follow has written her experience and thoughts on these matters in her philosophical article, Transcendence through Second Life. This article is about her perceptions of self, not about SL. What one experiences online and how one sees their self and others are not limited to or dependent on any single virtual world or community. In each place she writes SL could substitute another virtual world or online community. The article is deep, but easy reading. It is also long, 6 blog pages.

You should probably read her article for my following writing to make sense… more sense.

Gwyn is pointing out that humans have an easier time making a choice about how they respond in a virtual world than they do in real life. This ‘choice thing’ is a major topic in psychological study. Is there a human difference or do all thinking creatures have an ability to make a choice before reacting? I’m not sure we will ever know. We do know humans do. We think animals don’t, but I suspect that is rather chauvinistic.

In psychology there is a model of the mind that is common to different styles of thinking. There are generally three parts to the human mind, thought process or soul, whatever you call it. Different schools of thought label them differently. I like the labels Noble-Self, Conscious-Self, and the Subconscious or basic-self.

A noble self is the part of us that is altruistic. We might sacrifice our life for our child or a brother in arms or a cause. The thought that leads us to those actions comes from the noble or high self. It is the more ideological part of us.

The conscious-self is what we think of when we think ‘me’. This is not a part of the brain or body that we are referring to, it is in a broad since ‘us’, what we think of when we think of self in regard to our thinking. It is the part of us that is aware of our thinking. It is the more intellectual part of us.

The subconscious part is not in our conscious thinking. Many think it is the part that stands between us and the world we react with coloring how we see the world. Some think of it as a gatekeeper, allowing in only those things it believes we can handle and deal with. In many ways it considered the child within us. Often the process of reaching an inner-self or child is about getting in touch with this part of our being. Many consider it is the part of us that is emotional and that actually gets angry and feels strong emotions. Most agree it is a very influential part of us.

Gwyn’s writing covers the 0.2 seconds it takes a human to react and the very Buddhist idea of transcendence by observing the mind and body’s response to stimuli. We have time to decide whether or not to react. We may not be able the decide ‘how’ to react, but we do have time to put into play an action or no action command… run, fight, or freeze seem to be part of our basic behavioral emergency response system.

Gwyn is writing about re-training our brain to handle responses in new ways. She is focusing what to her was a learning-later-in life-that at any time a human may decide to rewire these behaviors. In my thinking when one learns is not as important as whether one learns.

In my terms this retraining is about stacking up a repertoire of responses connected the basic emergency response system. For those times that the basic-self decides there is no chance of winning a fight and it is time to run, one wants to be sure and run the right direction, so we have fire drills. Beyond directions it is possible to build in new no-win situations. In life we learn you can’t argue with a drunk, an idiot, or a zealot.

Some people get the wiring messed up. Battered women are an example. When one is being harmed and cannot escape the basic-self usually leans on the fight button. Once the basic self learns an opponent cannot be defeated all sorts of strange behavior comes into play. Now the run and fight reactions don’t work and freeze is painful too. From outside one cannot see the decision process the basic-self is dealing with. How does the inner child figure out how to keep the things it wants, home, food, income, love, sex, and other good parts and get rid of the bad parts? See our basic self does not make the best answer to these types of problems.

It is like the monkey traps made by putting small hole in a coconut and rice inside. Clutching the rice the monkey’s hand is too big to withdraw. The monkey, presumably, being overly attached to food gets caught rather than let go.

Transcendence is about using the conscious mind to observe what the subconscious mind is doing and how it is responding then teaching it new ways to respond. Gwyn has right. Practice is how the subconscious learns. Things that work are easily absorbed. But under stress the inner-child will resort to the tried and true. One has to give the child clear reasons why it’s not good to eat two dozen chocolate donut at one setting. Often it is not until the child experiences the pain that information becomes learning and changes behavior.

I am finding I am much more friendly and gracious in RL because of the flirting I do in SL. I know more of what I can get away with and what is acceptable with strangers. I’ve made my mistakes and know more about what not to do and when to just shut up and back off. I have way more come back lines for those REALLY bad pickup lines. That learning is transferring to RL.

Practice is the best training for our basic-self. SL and other virtual worlds give a reasonably safe place to practice and some advantages not possible in RL. Whether we put a Buddhist and mystical slant on it or a secular and pragmatic one, we end up doing the same things… becoming aware of our behavior then choosing and practicing our new behaviors. Pressing the ‘freeze’ button and stopping to think is a good behavior for SL… or any virtual or online community.

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