It is so hard to see that a cherished concept is an inaccurate depiction of reality. It has such power! It’s so convincing! It’s gotta be true! All my friends agree that it’s accurate! [All racism stems from this almost universal human trait.]
I am embarrassed to tell you this story.
I grew up in a tiny East Texas dairy town. Not one, single Asian person lived in my town.
Standing in line to register for classes at the University of Texas in Austin, my buddy and I were surrounded by students from all over the world; close to us were a number of Asian students. I mumbled to him, “They all look alike.” It was nice to hear him agree.
Soon I formed a friendship with a beautiful lady from Japan. Miraculously, Cambodians, Vietnamese, Japanese, Chinese all differentiated: no one looked alike! They were as varied as white folks. Amazing. My map of “Asian person” became much more complex. Eventually, the map almost disappeared.
The Tale Wagged
It’s so easy to spot other people’s inaccurate maps: you may have had a parent who said, “All Jews are out to cheat you,” or “White folks never say what they mean.” You couldn’t believe how prejudiced they were.
Faults in our own maps, however, are never so obvious. Maybe you wonder if men really are from Mars or if women do come from Venus. Too easy? Other delusions are more subtle, as in “My boss always makes the bottomline more important than people,” or “My kids won’t be happy unless they go to college,” or “I always get depressed if I don’t get enough sleep.”
Granted, some maps/stories may help us function (for example, maybe I should get a good night’s sleep ‑ most of the time), but every single map will get me into trouble when (not “if”) I mistake it for the real world. I know an intelligent lady who actually shivers when she hears the word, “scorpion.” She does not distinguish the word from the presence of the actual, poisonous insect.
Different maps can, interestingly, point equally well to one reality. On a hot summer’s day, you can find a cool lake for a swim thanks to a black-and-white map, a color map, directions from a friend, your GPS, a map that’s fifty years old, even a map in a foreign language. A harmless example, but what if you’re opened to racism by hearing a black friend condemn a girl because of her skin color?!
Letting go of a poor map is the first step back to reality. And when a map has become so powerful for you that it usurps important realities (like how my son needs to be loved, or who God is), that map has become a big, big problem.
Yeah, but how do we put it into practice?
The next time one of your most cherished notions is challenged (they’re easy to spot: they’re squawking behind every moment you’re “upset”), try this experiment.
Consider whether the notion might be fallible. Take a closer look at reality (on the other side of your upset) and see if you can completely rely on the map. Sometimes you may value the upset and want to keep it. But other times, it may simply be less interesting than reality. There’s always something you don’t know.
Hey, you may not even need a map to get where you want to go!