Ravi Mohan's Blog

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Balloons, Pins, Ego

A thought experiment.

Picture yourself holding a set of helium filled balloons, of various sizes and colors. They all have a string tied to their base and you hold all the strings in your hand.

Each balloon has a label on it which names one of your "attributes". Say "Indian","American", "good programmer", "employed", "iit" (;-)), "thoughtworker", "ai hacker", whatever.

Now ask yourself if you are holding those ballons very tightly , to the point where you can't let go (or can't bear to see others jab it) or do "you" exist independently of the balloons you hold?

I just did this experiment for myself , and found that I get irritated when people prick a balloon labelled "rational" . In other words, I get irritated when people accuse me of behaving irrationally, accuse me of implying things I didn't etc.

Of course this is stupid. My rationality or irrationality has nothing to do with whether people say I am irrational or not.

Fairly obvious huh?

I found this "which of my balloons is being pricked?" a valuable question to ask myself whenever I start feeling irritated, angry, cornered etc.

And then prise those fingers apart and let the balloon float free.

or confidently wait, knowing the ballon is unassailable and unbreakable.

Or just enjoy the "pop" and smile


Anonymous said...

Hmmm, Ravi, This one sounds like one of those psychology books LOL. Just kidding.

But, I have a question on the basis of the post. Why the labels? Now. I understand I might be taking this conversation in a different path that you never intended. Apologies in advance.

But what I mean to ask. Why do Indians have to belong to a group? Why is collectivism so much in the blood? Does it make one secure?

I am what I am. Irrational? -F@#* yeah. Who cares? I make my life being me.

But I have to say a good post. I felt that rise in anger at the burst of the rational balloon LOL. But then, does radical thought processes like the balloon bursting trick - Does it work?

Ravi said...


The point was that the 'labels' are what makes sense to the person who does the experiment.

Whether "India" is or is not an "appropriate" label objectively it is not important. What is important is if you (the experimenter) thinks it is a valid label, it is.

The idea is not to create some theory of psychological reality ( :-) ). The idea is to use a mind trick to step outside yourself for a moment and see which of your "hot buttons" are being pressed. :-).The buttons themselves maybe wrired to all sorts of deep pysychological grunge.

As for "does the trick work"? If it works, use it, otherwise all you waste is afew neurons firing!

If you can think of something better, let me know!! I am interested in anything that can increase my effectiveness.

As for why "collective" , Fwiw, I am a very "uncollective" person :-)

Anonymous said...

Hmmm you know what. It works, really. Then again, I have always been proud of the fact that I have been able to analyze myself quite a bit. But the balloon trick makes it easier.

Well, when I did this, I ended up understanding there are labels that you can change and labels that you cannot. The second ones, if you are not happy about it, is probably gonna torture you for the rest of your life.

But, once you know your enemy, the enemy becomes a little less effective. I would always love the known enemy better.


It works :-)

Great post.

Ravi said...

cool :-)

Now I just need to spin this into a million dollar book and retire :-)

"Balloon Soup for The Soul"?