STAYING ALIVE: PART FOUR
Here are a few stories about the practicality of Big Picture thinking
Many years ago, a cargo ship with a consignment of toilet seats was washed ashore on the Pacific nation of Tonga. Western toilets were unknown on the island at that time. But these were put to good use. For many years, through the eighteen hundreds and into the early part of the twentieth century, photographs of the Tongan king could be found in houses across the islands, neatly mounted in an oval wooden frames. If you’re resourceful enough you can make good use for just about anything.
The Japanese poet Nanao Sakaki came to stay with friends in California. While Nanao was sitting in a corner of the room translating his poems into English his friends were busy planning a local action to protest the proliferation of nuclear arms. Nanao looked up and said, “Hey guys, you know we don’t have to survive!” He wasn’t questioning the value of what they were doing. He was suggesting that big picture thinking could empower any plan, and usually allows for more choices and more options.
Once at a retreat at Manzanita Village, someone working in the kitchen threw out a bag of avocados. She explained by saying that there were no lemons for her to make guacamole. It was a breathtakingly clear example of how easy it is get stuck in self-imposed limitations. How many ways can you use avocados? She was so focused on guacamole that she forgot to ask?
A traveler walking through the Amazon forest realized that he was being stalked by a large panther. The huge cat was about to leap. The traveler began meowing like a kitten. The panther turned and darted back into the forest, as though chased by an invisible force. Was it the surprise of hearing a meowing primate? Was it the absence of fear in the eyes of its intended prey? Was the panther wondering how enormous the mother cat must be if the kitten was six feet tall?
If we get into trouble in life it’s often because we lose perspective. We can often get out of trouble best by changing how we think, changing what we think we know. Asking “Why?” and “How?” finding new answers, and removing some of the imagined limitations and beliefs that had been holding us back.
Just look at any political discussion on Sunday television in the U.S. and it soon becomes clear that most of the arguments are based on unexamined assumptions. It’s like three people arguing about the shape of an elephant, one looking at it head-on, one from the side, and one from the rear. They are all looking at the same animal, but they assume that theirs is the only possible position on which to stand.
I was speaking to someone today about Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP), and saying how people get confused by the many brilliant techniques it is known for, and think that’s what NLP is. All those amazing techniques are simply the products of NLP. They come out of NLP. The essence of NLP is much simpler. Part of it has to do with looking for the big picture, looking at what works, how it works, and then finding ways to change your own actions based on that, in order to get more effective results for yourself. For example, a person standing in front of a charging elephant needs to know how to get out of the way. NLP is concerned first with how to move from A to B, how to get out of the way of that charging elephant, and how to stay out of the way. Knowing why the elephant is charging may be useful information, even though it’s not the first question to ask.
One of the key principles of NLP is flexibility, knowing what question to ask and when, being willing and able to change your perspective and acting accordingly. Like using a zoom lens, to zoom in or out. It’s essential to be able to do both and it’s essential to know when to do so. Seeing the big picture is important, and so is filling in the details. The key is to know when to apply what. Confronted with a charging elephant the issue is one of survival. At another time you can ask a question other than the one your body answers automatically when confronted with that charging elephant,
Once you’ve saved yourself from being trampled by the elephant, a good question to ask in order to see a bigger big picture is “For what purpose?”
For what purpose ..
.. do I unconsciously put myself in the path of charging elephants?
.. am I getting into a dysfunctional situation just like others I’ve been in?
.. is that person spending time doing something they detest?
When we take a less than perfect course of action, in any situation, it’s often because we have not yet uncovered some of our hidden motivations and agendas. “For what purpose am I doing what I’m doing?”
We tell our clients that they are doing the best they can according to what they know, or according to what they think is possible. And that our work with them is to help them to know more .. not just knowing intellectually, but tapping into a deeper knowing and trusting. It means learning to look at a bigger picture so that they have more options and choices. Asking the question, “For what purpose?” is a great place to start.
For more information about learning the tools of Neurolinguistics (NLP) follow this link.
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