I was recently listening to an episode of Smart People Podcast where host Chris Stemp interviewed Jennifer Mueller to discuss creativity. One of the ideas that Mueller shared was that there is never truly a best way to do something, and that we can be creative to look beyond what has been tried in the past and find new ideas, approaches, and solutions. Her views align with thoughts from Colin Wright’s book, Come Back Frayed where he writes, “There’s no simple answer to the questions of bests, or even betters. Each and ever stand taken on this subject is loaded with context and subtext and pretext. If a firm position is taken there is also pretense, because deciding that one’s own point of view trumps anyone else’s is, well, pretentious.”
Wright focuses on the ways we adopt and become set in our perspectives of the world around us. When we decide that our vantage point is the only correct perspective for interpreting the world, we limit ourselves and what we see as possible. From our point of view something may be clear, but we may miss very important aspects of what is truly taking place. Our perspective will always be influenced by our experiences of both big and small life events. Anything as small as a smile from a stranger to events as large as promotions or marriage shape the background understanding we have of the world, influencing the perspectives we take. Recognizing that our experiences are unique allows us to understand ways in which others think of the world differently, and may see different realities and possibilities. The key is to avoid bunkering down in our own point of view and surrounding ourselves with people with similar views.
When we do make an effort to expand beyond our own point of view we allow ourselves to be creative in new ways. We expand our perspective and create new connections when we recognize that our best way may not be another person’s best way to approach a given situation. From our vantage point something may be clear, but taking a step beyond ourselves to view the world from new perspectives will help us see that our best way is just one option. The more this skill is cultivated the more we can develop creativity in our lives to find not just the single best way to live, to work, or to eat, and we can find interesting ways in which our reality interacts with others based on each choice that we make.
In his book Considerations, author Colin Wright addresses our conflicts over differing ideas and everyone’s struggle to make their life meaningful. In particular Wright considers the way we act towards others who do not share our same beliefs and fight for ideas that we think are wrong. “Every one of us is building the best life we possibly can for ourselves. We’re all just working from different sets of instructions.” The instructions Wright addresses are our varying experiences and backgrounds along with the education and training we have received.
What I like about this quote is that it addresses the fact that so many of us seem to act in ways or hold personal philosophies that don’t align and are unable to be merged with those of others. When we all start trying to force our viewpoints and ideas on the world without considering others, then the conflicts between our viewpoints become major conflicts between each other. What Wright would argue for is an increased effort to understand the views of others and the willingness to allow our views to change. When we become entrenched in our ideas and refuse to listen to the thoughts of others we risk alienating our fellow citizens by creating fractures in our communities and groups.
What I find challenging with this quote is relating it back to people around me who do not strive to deeply understand the world around them. Those without self awareness, who do not strive to think critically about the world and society, and who do not spend time learning and driving themselves to grow can really grate on me in their conversations. When I listen to people who have ideas and opinions that are fundamentally flawed by being one sided or simply a rehash of a major media story, I have trouble giving their arguments my full attention and respect. I believe that we are at a point where everyone feels entitled to an opinion and a political or social voice, but those privileges should be earned through study and self awareness, not through access to media and technology.
I believe that Wright would not discount the thoughts and ideas of others simply because their views were naive and not fully informed. For him, those individuals would be following and explaining their own truths and understanings about the world. He would probably encourage others to become more aware and thoughtful of the world by politely inviting them into a more considerate space.
While camping during her 50 state journey, Vesterfelt in her book Packing Light writes, “one sense, its depressing to come upon our own insignificance like this. In another sense, it’s exhilarating.” To me this quote shows how one can change their point of view and focus to see things in positive or negative ways. While she gazed out at the Rocky Mountains Vesterfelt was awed by the beautiful landscape that has lasted much longer than human civilizations and will continue to last beyond her existence. Her mixed emotions came from the beautiful peace that this thought created for her, while at the same time she was shaken by her small roll in the world.
I have been hearing about meditation a lot lately, and to me what is important about meditation is the way one can use it to change their thoughts. The practice is not designed to give you “a peaceful mind” but rather meditation is used to help build your focus, to build your awareness, and to help you then control your thoughts. Vesterfelt’s quote about her mixed emotions and thoughts shows how one can interpret the same event in multiple ways, and if that is possible, then meditation and learning how to control your thoughts, and ultimately reactions, can shape how you view the world.