Transcendence through Second Life

Second Life as a Path to Enlightenment

(That would actually make a nice title for a book to be sold in airport lounges 😉 )

One day in SL I was having a violent, rabid discussion with a resident that shall remain unnamed. We flew insults at each other, and, on my side of the keyboard, I was in tears, totally devastated. I was furious, angry, and terribly sad at the same time, with a huge sense of frustration. Why, oh why, couldn’t this guy see things like I did? (because obviously I was right and he was wrong)

There is an old Netiquette rule, from the olden days when people still knew what that was: before sending a furious email or writing a forum post (or blog comment), let it stay unsent for 24 hours. If after that time you still feel the same way about it, then send it.

Whoever wrote that rule was very wise. As a day passes, things change. The conditions that made you so furious often fade and disappear, although not always. The email or post you read, after some time, just don’t convey the same intensity of feeling. You might simply have woken up to a new, bright, shiny day, and things don’t sound so gloomy or insulting as before. Even if you end up sending the message, it might get a strong revision first, and be quite milder. It might even accomplish the desired effect — e.g. persuading others to see your point of view — just because it is much less angry/insulting, and have more compelling arguments.

Second Life, however, in its early incarnation, was all text-based. That means that you can always think before you write. Since there is always a delay, and the Delete key is always available, it means that when you’re utterly furious you can pause to think. And that is a huge advantage!

We all have experienced discussions iRL when we regretted our words afterwards. We excuse ourselves and say that we simply were forced to say what we said because our emotions pushed us to that. It’s true — anger drives us to say irrational things, and we cannot “fight” it. And there is no question that insults and similar things will drive us insane. Sometimes just someone’s presence fills us with anger, and we just say what we have to say. We might apologise later (or never), but on that moment, we cannot “go against our nature”.

But often we wish that we could have had a bit more time to reflect on what we said; and we might even consider that, though justified, we could have employed different words.

Now in SL we can do that very conveniently. We can take an insult, kick some chairs iRL, throw the keyboard against the wall (I have seen some people doing that and much worse!), but after we vent our fury, we can sit down again and type an answer. Some seconds might have elapsed between the rise of our anger and the actual typing. What comes out may be much milder, and the other resident might not even have noticed how furious we are. As a matter of fact, we might come out sounding wiser, or even making sense.

Obviously this is not something observed frequently. For most residents, even a few seconds is not enough to placate their anger and answer in a more moderate way. But here is where you can practice! Since there is a detachment between your anger and the time you take to type something furiously insulting… you can take advantage of that detachment. The wonderful bit about SL is that nobody will notice. In real life, the old “count to ten before you shout” will leave your face flushed and contorted in a spasm of anger, so you won’t fool anyone with kind words. In SL, however, your avatar doesn’t reflect your expression. You can just type: “sorry, I’m just too angry to continue” and teleport away.

But wow, what a difference that makes! Instead of throwing everything back at the other resident, you have a choice to remain rational and just leave. How wonderful would RL be if you could do the same!

And all that because you have a few extra seconds to react to your emotions, and a Delete key.

Some acquaintances of mine actually dislike this (and that’s why they insist in voice chat, for instance). They say that in real life, people aren’t writing mild, calm, neutral messages (with perfect spelling!). They claim that strong emotions are so filtered down that you’re not experiencing someone else’s “true self”, which is supposed to be angry, furious, and irrational.

This actually baffles me. What these people are saying is that they like to be insulted, offended, and shouted at. I find it strange because I personally would prefer that people are kind to me. Surely nobody really likes to be insulted and offended. But I think that the point they’re trying to make is that in real life few people are so ‘controlled’ as they often appear in SL, and this makes them uneasy.

Well, it’s certainly true that most people are not in control of their emotions iRL, that’s a fact. However, I find that SL gives us a lovely environment to train to be in control of our emotions. And that’s just because of two things: your avatar doesn’t immediately reflect your body language, and you get a few more seconds to reply when your emotions “take over”.

According to the Buddhist tradition, we’re not supposed to be “slaves to emotions”. Don’t take me wrong on this: emotions are good. That’s what make us humans. We wouldn’t have inspiring art, for instance, if we hadn’t any emotions. We wouldn’t have developed fantastic technology that makes our lives so much more fascinating if we hadn’t a way to, well, get fascinated by things. We wouldn’t have chocolate brownies if we didn’t enjoy the taste explosion of chocolate 🙂 All these are fundamental to make us human beings, and “getting rid” of emotions is hardly functional — we’d be little more than animals, and quite low animals at that (all mammals have strong emotions — we can see that if we have pets 🙂 Cats and dogs do have a lot of fun when playing).

But one thing is feeling emotions, the other thing is being a slave to them. When we are conditioned by our emotions — not unlike Pavlov’s dogs — we hurt others, and hurt ourselves too in the process. Note that this is true both for positive emotions as well as for negative ones. Everybody sees “anger” as being a terribly bad emotion, but we quickly forget that being addicted to the pleasure of eating chocolate is not that good, either. Passion in a relationship (which is so often confused with love) is intense and good, but being a slave to passion means becoming possessive and jealous, or so totally dependent upon our partner that we can’t function properly unless they’re around all the time. We convince ourselves that this is “normal” because “everybody else” feels and does the same, but that doesn’t mean we have to enjoy being unhappy because we’re slaves to emotions.

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