Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Possibility Thinking

Every day we find ourselves filled with thoughts that we “know” are true. These thoughts, or “truisms”, have the power to change our lives and even the lives of those around us. We assess the occurrences of our lives and view them in a way we think is the truth. But, is what we see and what we think of those occurrences really the truth or just how we have programmed ourselves to believe to be true? Are there other possibilities to consider?

English mathematician and philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead said: “There are no whole truths: all truths are half-truths. It is trying to treat them as whole truths that play the devil.” Why does he say that all truths are half truths?

When we are children we learn from parents, friends, teachers, and other community influences how to view the world. We are taught to see things in certain way. We learn and categorize things the way our parents or teachers taught us. You see something and you access your brain and ask yourself “In which category does this situation fit?” and you view it in a specific framework of your mind. If it fits somewhere, then why question otherwise?

Our viewpoints are shaped by culture, environment, family, friends, educational system, religion, etc. Over time we develop a rigid framework by which we view the world. By the time we are adults we have a strong framework. It is an orderly system to us, it withstands challenge and frankly it works.

Allow me to describe a situation where the framework of ones culture and environment is challenged and OUR understanding of the situation will also be challenged:

In a famous experiment, a tribe in Ethiopia was given a number of photographs with images of people and animals. This was the first time they were ever given pictures. They could not see the images on the glossy paper. They felt it and tore it and even nibbled on it, but they could not see the images. You and I would immediately look at a picture of an elephant and relate what we see as representing a real elephant. They saw nothing but shiny paper. We see an elephant because our culture and society teach us to see the image and know what it represents. [1]

By teaching ourselves to view the world in different ways and to consider other possibilities, we can dramatically affect our lives and maybe countless other lives. This type of thinking can produce endless possibilities. I challenge you to open your minds to “possibility thinking” and consider the many different ways we can view situations. When faced with a challenging situation with two apparent choices, stop and look for a third, fourth AND fifth option. Don’t just assume there are two choices.

Try to see the world in possibilities. Remember the life you create is the life that YOU create. YOU control what you experience. Situations may not be how they initially appear and may have many different ways to interpret them. We choose the possibilities, so we might as well choose those possibilities that make the greatest life that we can.

Be a “Possibility Thinker”.

[1] Deregowski J B, Muldrow E S, Muldrow W F, 1972, "Pictorial recognition in a remote Ethiopian population" Perception 1(4) 417 – 425