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How being wrong can be a liberating experience.

“The map is not the territory”

Alfred Korzybski

I was in mexico recently without a map.  At least, I had a map.  I had several.  They told me where the roads were and where the hotels and the attractions were.  But they didn’t show me the footpaths and the streams, the gradients and the waterfalls.

A map is a filter. It represents key features of the landscape and ignores others.  If you want to go hiking you need a different kind of map than if you’re going by bus.

A map is a lie. It is not the territory  that it represents.  It distorts, deletes and generalises what it represents to highlight the differences that make a difference to the person reading it.

We make maps all the time.

Think right now of the last journey you made.

Where did you start.  Where did you finish?  How long did it take you?

Close your eyes for a second and wiggle your toes.

Where are your toes?  How do you know?

Picture the face of some one you love.

Now turn the picture upside down.

Every thought, every feeling that we have is a kind of map.  A best guess about the world fashioned through the senses and the imagination.

It is an illusion. You could even call it a lie.

We make our own maps, and  we learn how to make maps as we’re growing up. We learn from using our eyes and ears and our mouth and skin, we learn from movement and right away from the word go there are people holding our hand pointing at this or that, helping us to build our maps and filters.

The people who took care of us, who taught us; the things we learn from our peers, from television;  the society and culture we grow up in; the very language we learn: all give us maps, ways of seeing hearing and feeling in response to the world.

The fantastic thing is we can get it wrong. Our maps can be wrong, because we filter the world, we highlight certain things and ignore others, based on what we expect.

If we get the map wrong then we can go back and change it!

Maybe my boss doesn’t hate me,

maybe getting divorced from his wife is making him cranky.

My father did love me,

he just wasn’t from a generation that was comfortable expressing that.

That idiot who ruined my last contract was under a lot of pressure himself.

Best of all, We get to be wrong about our own limitations, about what we can and can not do. We get to be wrong about the best that we can expect for ourselves and those we love.  What if you were wrong about something really cool…  ?

I remember Charlie, a student at Sussex University who said to me “I don’t think I’m going to pass my exams” and I said to her “You don’t seem very sure about that.  Could you be wrong?”

She thought about it for a couple of seconds and you know what.  She was.

I’m off to think of some things it would be fun to be wrong about.

Til next time


“The Map is not the territory” is a core premise of General Semantics and Neurolinguistic Programming

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