Saturday, February 6, 2016

“Aha! Moments” and “Oh Sh$% Moments"

A few days ago I wrote a post about accidentally overheating some puréed sweet potatoes for my daughter and how that triggered something for me.

It got me thinking about "aha! moments".

Apparently "aha! moment" is worthy of an actual dictionary definition:

a moment of sudden insight or discovery.
"it was one of those aha moments, when you know you have to risk it all"

Sound like a good thing.  A flash of insight or clarity, a new realization that clears up misconceptions, or forms a new connection.  A breakthrough.

Form a few mental image of an "aha! moment".  Everybody is happy.  Everybody is smiling.  Where the light bulb was once off, now it's on.  There is light where there was once darkness.  You're scribbling furiously wanting to write it all down to make sure that you don't lose it.  It leads to action and productivity.  You want to share it with those close to you.

Here’s the thing though.  I don’t actually want to talk about "aha! moments".

What I was referring to in my previous post is actually the nefarious sibling of the “aha! moment”.

I’ll call it the “oh no” moment.  And I'm not talking about an "oh no" moment in the sense of "I just lost Super Mario Bros" or "That chili isn't sitting so well."  I'm talking about something big.  A game changer.  I'm not even talking about devastating health type things (though those may lead to an existential crisis), but rather an event that leads to the opposite of an aha! moment.

You know what?  “Oh no” or "Uh oh" doesn’t cover it.  It’s not strong enough.  It doesn’t do justice to the reality of it.  If you’ve had one, you know what I mean.

Something stonger is needed.

“Oh shit.”  That's it.  An “oh sh$% moment.

Much better.  (I'll censor it the rest of the way as I feel no need NOT to.)

I don't mean this comedically, though it may carry that connotation.  I mean this in the sense of dread and angst.  In an extreme case, your world comes crashing down like a house of cards.

For this post, I thought I'd try to come up with a few characteristics of an "oh sh$%" moment.

Not all of these apply to each and every "oh sh$%" moment, but most probably do.

1 - An "oh sh$%" moment has to do with something major or significant.  Something existential, bound up with your identity, worldview or well-being.  It has to be major to illicit a response strong enough for it to qualify as a true "oh sh$%" moment.

2 - An "oh sh$%" moment is disorienting.  Rather than the light bulb going on as in an "aha moment", it's more like a light bulb going off.  It's often accompanied by an experience of extreme cognitive dissonance.

3 - An "oh sh$%" moment isolates you.  You can't just run out and tell everyone about it.  Because it has to do with something major or significant, is very likely to be bound up with your identity, world view or sense of ultimate well being, and because it is so disorienting, it's difficult to talk about it.  It's not just difficult as in it's confusing or disorienting and difficult to get the words out, though it may be these things.  In many cases you simply can't talk about these things with just everybody.  When it comes to "oh sh$%" moment material, we tend to group together with those who think like we do, so we're forced to bear it alone.  We're either afraid of rejection, or we don't want to hurt our friends or loved ones, or both.  I'm no sociologist so this is just a novice observation.

4 - Unlike an "aha moment", you aren't out looking for an "oh sh$%" moment.  If you are looking for it, I contend that your "oh sh$%" moment had already occurred and what you're now searching for is a way to move forward.

5 - There's no going back after an "oh sh$%" moment.  You see something in a way that you can't unsee it.

6 - While an "oh sh$%" moment may seem like it came out of nowhere, you may be able to look back and see that the seeds of it have been in the soil of your life for awhile.

7 - An "oh sh$%" moment, though it may be characterized by any of #'s 1-6 above, may ultimately prove to be a necessary precursor to an "aha! moments".  While the two are quite different in their immediate experience, we may be able to look back at "oh sh$%" moments and see that the lines that separated them from "aha! moments" have become a bit blurry.

8 - If #7 applies, only the one who experienced an "oh sh$%" moment is allowed to look back and say how it was actually an "aha! moment", that it "made you who you are today."  You don't get to make that determination for anyone else and nobody gets to make that determination for you.

Did I miss any?

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