First, I just today discovered that the domain name for this website is wrong. “possibilitiy” – a simple misspelling gone unnoticed; maybe there’s something about stepping off the beaten path.
Now then – one of the most influential books in my recent life has been Benjamin and Rosamund Zander’s The Art of Possibility. I think I mentioned before that I’ll be reviewing the book chapter by chapter as I go along. I read the book once, and it already had a tremendous impact on me. Now, I’m re-reading it, and I got the audiobook, because I want to make sure I really understand the concepts. I’m generally very skeptical when it comes to new ideas, but the concepts of this book are so clearly laid out and so applicable, it has tremendously impacted the way I see the world. I am posting my summary and commentary for two reasons: one is because I want to make sure I fully understand the concepts the Zanders are presenting, and two: because it may be useful to someone down the road with a book report, or looking for a review. I think it goes without saying that this is no way a product placement (who am I placing it to?)
The book is organized by the concepts and practices it presents. Each chapter describes a way of looking at the world and our actions, and a practice to integrate the concept into our daily lives. Appropriately, I begin with Chapter 1.
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Chapter 1: It’s All Invented.
The concept of this chapter is as simple as it is groundbreaking: we live in a world of assumptions we have created for ourselves, or have been influenced by society to create. “We see a map of the world, not the world itself.” And the way this map is drawn is by our most basic instinct – to survive. Moreover, our mind is programmed to weave events into story-lines, “whether or not there is any connection between the parts.” The catchphrase for the chapter is, of course, “it’s all invented,” meaning that no matter how objective we may try to be, we are still perceiving the world through the structure of the brain – so we might as well invent a better world for ourselves!
The authors make a simple point with the puzzle to the right – one you have probably seen in the past. The picture comes from this article, which I invite you to explore – as soon as you finish reading this one, of course! If you haven’t already seen this, take a minute and try to solve it.
The hidden assumption that almost everyone makes is that the lines have to fit inside of the box. This is, of course, not true; in fact, the solution (found in the article above) involves percisely drawing outside of the box. Hence – think outside the box.
Similarly, our minds create frames “that define – and confine what we perceive to be possible.” An issue only appears a dead-end from a particular point of view. If we consider shifting the framework to shake it of the underlying assumptions, possibilities start to appear.
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Now then, how does this all apply to me? “A simple way to practice it’s all invented,” writes Zander, “is to ask yourself this question:
What assumption am I making,
That I’m not aware I’m making
That gives me what I see?”
Good question! Where to begin?
1. I am assuming that love is based on qualities we show and possess – that is, people will love me if I do them well.
2. Because Dan’s last relationship was 5 years and he’s a kind, generous, rightful guy, he and Ayelet are going to be together for a long time.
3. Ayelet is the girl that’s gonna make me happy. She has led me to learn so much, and we are meant to be, supposed to be, gonna be, any of that – we have a tremendous amount in common.
4. Attention from girls is a big goal and the ultimate sign of approval.
That’s a start, right? Nobody says these assumptions are wrong or right, but they do define my thinking at the moment. Let’s see. Zander then continues:
“What might I now invent,
That I haven’t yet invented,
That would give me other choices?”
I guess in order to answer that, I have to define what I think my choices are now. My choices are, as I have been seeing them – (i) to stay her friend through thick and thin until she is her own person again and I am a better man – (ii) to become bitter and resigned, to go out and party and do other dangerous things, blame the world for being unfair, and hate myself for the decisions I did and didn’t make.
Seems kind of loaded, when I think of it that way, but I’ve been doing (ii) for a long time now. I think the biggest assumption that I’ve been making, however, is this:
I can influence the future by the decisions I make today.
That’s kind of hard to argue. Let me examine it more in-depth. “I can influence the future” – as in, what? I can influence the person I’ll be tomorrow, yes. Or a year from now. That’s simple cause and effect: if I play lots of piano, I’ll be a better piano player. If I works out lots, I’ll have a more shaped body. All true. Can I influence how others will act? In a way, perhaps, but only by the person that I am. Not the “manipulation” or pushing, or begging, or convincing, but by being the best person I want to be. I think this is really important. Ultimately, I am responsible only for my decisions, and my decisions are made as a direct result of my character and how I feel about what’s around me. Trying to preempt mistakes has proven to be futile.
As I write, I consider other possible assumptions. How about the present directly influences the future? That may very well not be true. Things change. Ayelet may realize different that things are now. Dan may not be happy with her – though, that would surprise me. On a bigger picture, Ayelet may need to rebuild with him now and then seek something else. Or completely not. But only the future will tell that, not the present. The only thing I can do in the present is be the best person I can be, everyday. I mean, in the end – it’s all invented. I’m weaving them, and myself, a story that isn’t really there.
That doesn’t mean I can’t have hope, right?