Monday, July 18, 2011

The truth, as I see it

One of my professors told us in class once about some philosopher who came up with this phrase: The map is not the territory. It means that your map (or blueprint, or understanding) of a thing or situation isn't actually the thing or situation itself. Its simply a representation of that thing or situation in your own head. As such, it is only as accurate as our understanding of that thing. The problem is, people's understanding of most things is surprisingly inaccurate.

Imagine having a map of a new city. You look at the map. You are lost. You go to the guy on the street and say, "Where am I?" He says, "The corner of Chestnut and Main." So, with that knowledge, you go to your map and you follow it to where you wanted to go. You go right where the map said go right. You go left where the map said go left. But then, when you arrive at what should have been Locust ave, you find yourself on LeMoyne. So you show someone on Lemoyne your map and you show them what you did. They ask you what was around you when you started. "Did you see the old theater? Did you see Shorty's Hot Dogs? No? Well there's your problem. Everything you did makes perfect sense, if you start at Chestnut and Main. The problem is, you weren't on the corner of Chestnut and Main. You were on Hallam ave."

Self help guys might call that a paradigm shift. In psychology and education, they might call it insight or cognitive restructuring. The sudden realization that your current knowledge is inaccurate or incomplete is a powerful and disturbing thing. But, its also the key to real understanding. Just because a thing appears to be true does not make it true. Your view of the truth is just that. We see the world through our lens and from our own particular viewpoint. The key to true understanding is knowing that our lens is never 100% accurate. That knowledge leads one to seek out other viewpoints from which to see any and every situation in an attempt to gain more of the picture. Its sort of like those 3D cameras they use in football. They attempt to capture the game from every possible angle so that they can render a 360 degree picture of any moment in time that might be in question. If people could, by some miracle, stop time and see their lives from the view point of the guy standing directly across from them, they would undoubtedly act differently in just about every situation.

I say all that to say this. When you see someone acting in a way that doesn't make sense to you, realize that it likely makes perfect sense to HIM. Understanding why it makes sense to him would give you far more insight than attempting to tell or show him what would make sense to you. More than likely, the TRUTH is somewhere in between. If you try hard enough, you might just find it.

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