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Reverse Thinking – Person Objectification Synaesthesia vs. Object Personification Synaesthesia


“Thomas, I cannot believe how disrespectful you were in front of other parents!” My husband was furious. We just came out of Skye’s new school after dropping Skye off for his boarding transition camp last Saturday morning.

Thomas was stealing the whole show in front of other parents.

“What’s your name?” Asked a few parents.
“I am Skye’s elder brother Mr Opposite.” Thomas tried to be matter-of-fact.
“Oh, how old are you?”
“I am 13 turning 14. Skye is 12.”

“You are just as guilty.” My husband now turned the anger towards me. I was still trying hard to hold my amusement.
“But why didn’t you try to stop him yourself?” I shot back.
“Because I didn’t want to embarrass ourselves!”

Thomas has two nick names. One is “The Why Boy”. Since he was two, he has never stopped asking questions. He has been capped to 10 questions per day by his classroom teacher, and he usually reaches that number before the first class even starts each day.

His other nick name is “Mr Opposite” due to his reverse thinking. One of his most predominant synaesthesia types is reverse colour synaesthesia where he perceives the colour in the opposite to what is displayed, e.g., white or grey in black.

Thomas thinks many things in an opposite way, a thinking method he has naturally developed from a very young age. For example, if he hears us saying we will soon confiscate his iPad, he quickly ‘confiscates’ it himself before we are able to react. His logic is pretty simple, i.e., rather he himself not knowing where we will hide his iPad, it’s better for us not to know where the iPad is.

I always appreciate Thomas’ unique and advanced way of thinking as much as I appreciate Skye’s profound creativity. I have learnt a lot over the years from Thomas’ reverse thinking technique. I often apply this method to my work or problem solving which is very effective.

Now remaining in silence for the most of the trip to our farm house, I felt sorry for Thomas who sat behind me in the car. Every now and then, I turned around to look at his cute guilty face which was greeted by his whisper “my C-Girl”. C-Girl is what Thomas calls me these days. I rather like that name as it reminds me of a seagull.

Sunday afternoon, my husband left for Melbourne to pick Skye up from the camp. Thomas felt very relaxed to be left with me alone. He was busy putting away his dad’s pillows and moving his pillow from his bed to my bed.

We were lying in bed watching TV for a while. Thomas pointed to a white swan on the TV screen, “Mum, that’s you!” I had known Thomas perceiving me as a white swan for a long time.

“Yes, I know. What’s dad again?” I asked Thomas what his synaesthetic perception of his dad was.

“Black coffee.”

“Oh yes, I remember now. I think Skye has similar perceptions. He sees me as a swan on a green golf course, and your dad in a coffee shop.” I remembered what Skye said a couple of years ago.

My husband is fairer than me. Of course, there is no surprise that Thomas thinks I am white and his dad is black through his reverse thinking.

All of a sudden, the words “Person Objectification Synaesthesia” came to my mind. How come I did not think about this earlier? What Thomas had just described was opposite to “Object Personification Synaesthesia”.

I remember quite clearly that I had both of those synaesthesia types, i.e., seeing a person in object and seeing an object in person, when I was a child as well. I used to think my paternal grandfather, who died before I was born, was fruits as my grandmother had fresh fruits placed in front of my grandfather’s portrait to pay respect. My grandmother was dark brown smoked fish in my young eyes. Smoked fish was her signature dish, but she mainly prepared this dish during ceremonial periods for the deceased. My grandmother was a very strong, independent and intelligent person, coming from a lower middle class family, and married into a wealthy family. She fought hard to establish her status in the extended family. The family soon benefited from her genius like mind. My grandfather had hardly ever worked since the marriage as my grandmother ran the whole business for him and built up massive wealth until the communist took over their business. My grandmother was not a person who would easily give in. Upon losing their business, she was able to rent their mansion to the Chinese Communist Party as an army training base for the next 16 years so that the rental income was enough to feed the whole family.

Unfortunately, the Cultural Revolution started, and the mansion was confiscated by the government. My grandfather died from a heart attack prematurely. Some of his relatives in the same generation suffered much worse fate. One jumped off his apartment, one hung himself and a few others were imprisoned. My grandmother became the head of the house for the remaining of her life. She died at the age of 93 in 2012.

Smoked fish reminded me of my grandmother, a truly tough, powerful, intelligent and delicious lady.

Nowadays, I hardly associate any person with an object. My Object Personification Synaesthesia has also been weakening for many years. However, whenever I move to a new company or start a major project, it comes to help me and gives me those what I call “Professional Embarrassment” moments.

I am now on a program looking at a new operating model for the IT business. My company is paying millions of dollars to an external consulting firm to evaluate centralisation and decentralisation options for each business unit within the organisation.

A few years ago, my company eliminated multiple shadow IT departments as part of IT consolidation. Now with the power of business units becoming stronger, a question has been raised if the centralised model is still fit for the purpose.

Hearing the word “Centralised” makes me think of communism, and the word “Decentralised” makes me associate with the home of a Chinese emperor.

Whilst each emperor in history tried to rule the entire country using a centralised model, his own home, to me, was run by the owner of each house, i.e., the empress and concubines. If the empress had sufficient power and backup, she could control the internal palace by forcing other houses to comply. However, this model was unable to survive once the power was in the hand of other concubines. Empress Cixi was a typical example whose power surpassed that of the original Empress.

Running a company with multiple business units is perceived by me as having an empress (Corporate business unit) and concubines (other vertical business units). Consolidation and peace are all short lived. Once a concubine has the power, it goes back to the decentralised model. History repeats, so does a company’s operating model.

“So what is the architectural recommendation? Shall we centralise or decentralise?” My big boss will soon ask me this question.

“The architectural recommendation is to decentralise.” I may be pretty confident in answering this question.

“Could I please see your evaluation?” It will be reasonable for my boss to look at how the million dollars have been spent to come up this recommendation.

“Ohhh, the evaluation was based on my Object Personification Synaesthesia, so it did not cost a few million. My synaesthetic perception tells me that this model works better when a concubine has more power than the empress. The emperor’s focus should be on internal integration and external competitiveness. With the right integration strategy, all concubines can live in harmony. We will then devote our energy to compete externally in the marketplace.”

Thinking amusingly what I was going to say to my boss, my thoughts were interrupted by Thomas’ breathing. Thomas was fast asleep. Looking at my younger son’s beautiful childish face, visualising him seeing me as a white swan, I felt nothing, but love and blessing.

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