“I firmly believe you never should spend your time being the former anything.”Condoleezza Rice
I read this quote yesterday evening, and I feel it’s the perfect follow-up for yesterday post.
When I introduce myself, I usually speak about what I’m doing or about the things I’ve done, my past works or achievements. I define myself by everything that took me where I am now.
Like most of the people I know does. I can’t remember anyone introducing themselves as the next something.
And rarely in conversations among adults, we ask “who do you want to be?”
That’s a question for children. As if, once we grow up, we should be already arrived or defined.
As I wrote yesterday, we define our present through the lenses of our past. Imagination is something for kids.
However, as the study of Professor Gary McPherson showed, our actions are an expression of how we see ourselves. If we see ourselves as former something, we will keep repeating what we have done. If we see ourselves as the next something, then we are setting ourselves on the path to get there.
That’s why I like to call myself an author even if I haven’t really published anything yet.
Who we are today, our present, is informed by both our past stories and our future stories. The first being told by my memories, the last being created by my imagination.
Unfortunately, we tend to overvalue our past story and to undervalue our future one. An attitude that makes us perceive our present more as a point of arrival than a starting point.
This is what psychologist Dan Gilbert calls the “end of history illusion”.
It’s somehow understandable.
For our self-preservation brain, trained over hundreds of thousands of years, the ability to predict the immediate future is vital. That means favouring answers more than questions, and we can only connect the dots looking backwards. But that would make us no different from any other living beings in the world.
What set human beings apart is the ability to imagine. To see what doesn’t exist and create it.
It takes courage because imagination sparks more questions than answers. But it also allows us to grow, learn and invent ourselves and our world.
When we are trapped in the self-preservation attitude, our present self is mostly informed by our past. We keep repeating ourselves.
When we step into self-realization, we unlock the power of imagination and the choices and actions of our present self are driven but who we can and want to be.
“[…]imagination. It’s the most extraordinary set of powers that we take for granted: the ability to bring into mind the things that aren’t present. It’s why we are so different from the rest of life on earth. That’s why we’re sitting in a beautiful building, drinking from these cups. Because human beings make things. We create things. We don’t live in the world directly; we live in a world of ideas and of concepts and theories and ideologies.”Sir Ken Robinson (source)
You never know where inspiration is hiding.
You never know where the next idea is.
You never know from where that life-changing insight will come.
It can be in that compelling book about personal development that you’re reading right now. Or it can hide within a joke in the last episode of the funny series you watch every day.
It can hit you in the stomach while you’re immersed in a meaningful conversation with a dear friend. Or it can shout at you while you’re skimming through the ads in your local newspaper.
You never know.
That’s why it’s essential to keep our senses open, to stay curious and to pay attention.
Almost every day, I check the plants and vegetables in my garden to see how they’re doing. I mostly look for changes.
A tomato getting slightly reddish or the aubergine getting a bit bigger, things like those.
If a plan doesn’t show signs of change, I begin to worry.
Obviously, changes can also communicate that something is not working. However, until there are changes, I know there is life.
I realised this while I was walking around the garden and talking with a friend at the same time.
We were discussing the need for organisations to have a form or shape of some sort. And my resistance in defining things, in giving a shape to something like a collaboration between people.
At that moment, among my tomatoes, my fennels and my cabbages, I realised that I was conditioned to think of shapes as something fixed. I’ve been taught to look for stability only to learn later in life that when I’m not changing, I don’t feel alive. So I began to resist forms, structures and shapes.
But if I look at form as something that says just who I am today and not who I will be tomorrow, then many of those fears just dissolve.
Any form should continuously evolve and change like everything else in nature. If the form of everything stays the same for a while, then it may be time to check if that form is still alive.
Because, until there are changes, you know there is life.
I know people who are loving parents, kind colleagues, supportive friends, helpful community members and yet, they can quickly turn into violence and hate towards other human beings like immigrants, politicians or just people with a different perspective of the world.
How is it possible? I know for sure they would never use the same language or even have the same thoughts towards people they know. But, they can quickly attack someone on social media, or spit harsh words against people they’ve never seen or met.
Then I read this article, and I discover that we all have this program wired in our brain that gives us the ability to see fellow men and women as less than human. It’s a process called dehumanization.
Most of us would never say or do such terrible things to another human being. But what if we don’t see others are human beings?
What if we see them as something else, something less then human?
Anytime we dehumanize others, we loosen our ethical values and principles. So we don’t feel bad for what we say or do. It’s a lie we tell ourselves so we can still feel good people even while we say hateful things.
And we all do that very often. Anytime we look at people, and we see only the surface; the job they do, the role they have, the place where they are from, the group they belong and so on. If we can’t see the human being, we are permitting ourselves to relax our ethical principles.
We are all human beings.