Blog / 2019 / You Repeat Others More Than You Think, So Please Repeat Thoughtfully.
July 11, 2019
We are all repeaters. We hear an expression that we think is funny, so we use it. We hear an idea that we find appealing, so we share it.
Some of this has to do with our consumer culture. When we need a new pair of shoes, for example, we don’t make them. Instead, we buy them. In that way, we end up repeating a brand or style so that more people see it, buy it, and repeat it.
But our repeatomania has deeper roots. It comes from the way our brains evolved. When you observe someone else’s activity, your brain imitates their behavior with what are called “mirror neurons.” These neurons help us navigate the world around us, and, though we don’t fully understand their function, the fact is that they make us into repeaters. Even when we think we’re just looking at someone, we are actually imitating them.
Repeating is our superpower, and, like any superpower, it can be used for good or for evil.
The evil often seems innocuous, like when you call someone a “big fat jerk” for example. Your irritation probably has nothing to do with that someone’s appearance, but you say “fat” anyway because you’ve heard others use the word that way. You are reinforcing the false idea that fat is bad even though, in reality, it’s a vital part of all of our bodies. You are repeating like a mindless robot.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. You might see art you enjoy and share it with others in order to pass on the joy. Or there’s a cause that you believe in so you tell everybody about it. When you repeat in a thoughtful way—focusing on the positive expressions, useful ideas, fun shoes, important causes, and fascinating art—you amplify the good.
You repeat the world around you whether you mean to or not, so please repeat thoughtfully.
This painting is from Empathetic Magic, a series of paintings that’s all about getting you to repeat thoughtfully by showing you the complexity of every individual’s identity.
And this whole article is an exercise in repeating myself, which is more useful than you might think. It is a remake of this video from 2016, and it builds on ideas that I learned from Susan Blackmore’s book The Meme Machine around the time when I published this blog post.
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