March 11, 2009

Creating reality

While down under with the flu, I read Amy Tan's "Saving Fish from Drowning". It is not a book with any pretensions of deep meaning, but I thoroughly enjoyed the bumbling adventures of a group of American tourists in Burma / Myanmar.

At one point they are kidnapped by a group of rebels -- although they don't know that they have been kidnapped -- and brought to a camp hidden in the jungle. They believe instead that they have been taken somewhere very special to experience real local people and traditions for a "Christmas surprise" (it is December 25th). Then they believe that the rope bridge has fallen down and that is why they are stuck in the jungle.

They have no idea what is happening, can't understand the language except through the rebel leader's confused translations into English, and have to somehow figure something out.

So, they create their reality -- just like we all do every day -- they gleen clues from the environment and construct their story. They choose which clues to observe, while ignoring some other important ones, and build a story that is so fanciful to be farcical.

They are tourist in a strange land, they are are open to new experiences, want to learn about these people and have suspended all their usual radar that would have been useful to sort out a better version of what was happening.

They no longer have a recognizable frame of reference on which to build their stories, so they also build a frame -- who these people are, how their society works, what they are saying.

It gets quite funny.

The tribe also has built a story -- that the young boy in the group is the savior they have been waiting for who will make them invisible to their enemies. The clues are there, he makes things disappear (by performing card tricks) and carries a black book with the title "Misery" and with the word "King" (actually the novel by Stephen King).

But somehow their stories come true!
The group focused on the positive aspects of their stay and, in the end, they come to no harm and return home.

The tribe twists their story to be saved by becoming visible -- through TV coverage -- so that the boy really was their savior.

We get what we focus on, what we believe will happen. The stories we tell about ourselves often come true. If we believe we can't do it, we won't. If we believe we can, then we will.

We can become the stories we tell -- and even save a rebel tribe in the jungle!

a domani,

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