Perception Controls Possibility – Rory Miller

What you see controls how you think. And how you think controls what you can see. Lots of people are shopping for the holidays right now and I can bet that someplace in the world a busy executive, a teenager and a retired cop are all walking through the same mall… but they aren’t walking in the same world.

What you see completely controls what you can do. You can’t solve a problem you can’t see. You can’t implement a solution you can’t imagine. And it’s not just what you see, it’s how you see it.

A chair is for sitting in. If all you see is a chair, the only affordance in that chair is sitting (and lounging and snuggling… but all chair stuff). If you see it as a shape, you have the additional affordances of all the things you can do with flat surfaces. See it another way and it is a flotation device; or a ladder; or a collection of fabric, wood and metal that can be deconstructed…

The more you perceive, the bigger the world and your possibilities increase. The more you look for things, the less you see. Narrowing your focus narrows your mind. We all know the one-trick-pony-professional-victim who can construe any statement as proof of oppression. Looked at one way, they’re annoying as hell. They are just as or even more into oppressing others as the people they rail against. Looked at a little different, they are sad little people looking so hard for ugly–creating it if they can’t find it– that they will never see beauty.

The first drill I ever learned for this was from a survival class in ’81 or ’82. The drill was to come up with twenty uses for a spoon that had nothing to do with scooping or eating. It was hard at first. I think it took most of the hour for most of us to make or lists. Now I sometimes pick random items and it’s rare for it to take more than five minutes to come up with twenty things.

This even applies to abstract things and to people. Being able to come up with a hundred different answers to a question is cool. Coming up with a hundred different ways to interpret or alter the question is an order of magnitude more powerful. Want to be rich? I live in a house that’s warm and dry; I can get cold drinks from the fridge and hot water falling from the sky (a shower) on demand. My food today came from at least two continents and originated in at least three. No Roman emperor had this luxury. I am typing this on a machine that no government in the world could have obtained 35 years ago. I am richer in material things than the the entire US government was a century ago. My life is awash in things unobtainable.

That’s just material riches. At what point in history did it become possible to read both Lao Tzu and Marcus Aurelius?

That was abstractions. What about people? How you label a person controls what you perceive and controls your affordances, your possibilities. If K was my wife it creates a relationship that comes with roles and scripts. She is undoubtedly my wife. She is also the best thing the universe has ever created and somehow I am allowed to be in her presence. ‘Wife’ means certain comforts and annoyances. ‘The best thing in the universe’ makes it easy to be madly in love for a quarter of a century.

Is someone your enemy? Or a human being who believes you are part of his wealth of problems? Is that your student? Or a companion on this journey?

And yourself. What labels do you put on yourself that artificially control your behavior? Are they necessary? Do you have to be you? (The answer is ‘no’ by the way, but people get very uncomfortable with the fact that they are constantly changing.)

In the interaction, sometimes conflict comes up because of incompatible labels. I see most protesters as whiny, entitled punks. They see themselves as champions of the underdog du jour. If you are having trouble with your significant other, quit seeing her as your wife or girlfriend for awhile and find out how she labels herself. Try working from there.

The ideal is to just see, without the labeling. That’s hard. But it maximizes possibility.

One Comment

  1. Andy Fisher

    A fantastic article that focuses on art of conflict resolution for me – awareness of how we label and are labelled is critical to remaining open and adaptable to solutions. Thanks

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