If you can ease back the throttle on your life and ask “How well do I handle change?,” how fast do you come to an answer?
If we twist that question around to another direction, it could be “How much do I resist change when it is forced upon me?” I’m hoping that version helps you reflect a little more before you answer.
There is a saying which comes from philosopher/ scientist Alfred Korzybski, ”The map is not the territory.” Our perception of something is not the same as the real thing. It’s a statement which is densely packed with meaning, so much so that once you really get it, it keeps spinning through your life at unexpected but appropriate moments and helps you be a little more aware of your own actions. Asking yourself “Am I living on a map or in the territory?” can really help you learn to be aware of your own reactions to disorder and thereby lower your level of stress.
You can’t drive on a map and you can’t stay at a campground marked by a little green tepee. You can only use a map to help you get somewhere, but we often make the mistake of believing, without being conscious of it, that if something appears on our internal, mental map of reality, it’s the same thing as the real world. And if we do that, we may defend it with rabid energy, believing we are right and not being very open to anyone else’s map of reality. Author Bill Harris puts it this way: “While the ego is a useful (though limited) Map of Reality, confusing the map for the actual territory is one of the most limiting things a human being can do.”
So say you really get this idea, and you’re watching two people argue. Can you tell who’s right and who’s wrong about the issue in question? Of course you can: you know that they are both wrong, because they are both arguing from the map and not from the territory, or they wouldn’t bother arguing at all. Unless someone is already open and searching for a wider view of the world (because they have a sense that there is much more to know), talk doesn’t usually change their view of reality. We say “It’s like talking to a wall.” Or to a map.
We all share a long tradition as cartographers, and while we all know that only a few hundred years back, the official maps showed that the world was flat, we really don’t get how flawed our own internal maps can be. The word “liberal” comes from the Latin “liberalis, ” of the free and “liberari,” the free men. Pushing aside the original meaning, many of today’s maps paint the word with a near-criminal desire to place everything under government control. The liberari were once the free thinkers who expanded all our maps of reality.
Our western maps of time place the past on the left and the future on the right, but our political maps place liberals on the left and conservatives on the right, as if the liberals were a relic of the past and the conservatives were the visionaries who welcomed and fostered a human need to grow and evolve on the cutting edge of the future. I do not know how this strange flipping occurred, but I believe that it ties into our cultural sense of time and our association of the word “right” with “correct” and the word “left” with something less known and “left-handed” with “sinistral,” from the Latin “sinistra” for “left.” Maybe political wars are won and lost on the basis of such subtle associations, unconscious though they may be. But then we are mostly unaware of most of what we do, in the sense that it is automatic behavior which we are not able to reflect upon or impose any order upon. And if we are not aware of it, it comes off a map that we may never have examined or can’t even see. Are the Democrats aware that they have chosen a donkey as a mascot and that they have apparently claimed the left side as their proper position? Do the Republicans consciously continue to choose, as their symbol, a huge animal capable of stomping down all new ideas? Why do they want to use animals as symbols at all?
Which makes me think about a brain-based concept called laterality. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about laterality:
Human cultures are predominantly right-handed, and so the right-sided trend may be socially as well as biologically enforced. This is quite apparent from a quick survey of languages. The English word "left" comes from the Anglo-Saxon word lyft which means "weak" or "useless". Similarly, the French word for left, gauche, is also used to mean "awkward" or "tactless", and sinistra, the Latin word from which the English word "sinister" was derived, means "left". Similarly, in many cultures the word for "right" also means "correct". The English word "right" comes from the Anglo-Saxon word riht which also means "straight" or "correct."
It turns out that there is a school of thought which says that the degree of laterality a person has affects how well they are able to switch back and forth between the two hemispheres of the brain in order to do linear, algorithmic functions or complex, global processes. Malcolm Gladwell has written that the new world of business is looking more for Master of Fine Arts than MBAs because they are able to think more globally, in terms of systems. They are more likely to be whole-brain thinkers who have the ability to either switch seamlessly between the two hemispheres, or ideally, use both at the same time because they have developed the connections between the two, while those with more laterality have to physically shift back and forth from left to right. I don’t know if anyone has dared to study the relationship of laterality to conservatism or liberalism, but you just never know when Gather might synch the right person for that job.
I’m now going to engage in wild, unproven speculation: the more argumentative a person is, the more she or he suffers from laterality. In other words, they have difficulty switching from one side of their brain to the other; they are uncomfortable doing so. Find a place for that on your map—I dare you!
In the end, we all live through our brains and our internal maps or reality. Once we really know this, the concepts of being truly right or wrong, left or right, seem to dissolve. This expanding universe seems to drive us to constantly expand and adapt our maps of what is possible.
And as for this series, your map might be challenged by going back to read the first (“Earthing”) or second pieces (“Got Physics?”) if you missed them. It may be that the only thing we can all agree on here is that something I’ve said above will turn out to be wrong, because after all, my map is not the territory.