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Look at the designs above. Assign “names” to these designs by selecting one of the following words: “Indians” “piggynose” “shy kitty” “woman” “sleeper” and “bathroom.”
Now that you’ve assigned names, ask yourself: “Why is this so easy to do?” For example, if you labeled AAA as Indians how does an Indian village fit with its ponies, tents, campfires, etc., so comfortably fit into three letters? These symbols have no meaning. We give them meaning by how we choose to interpret them. You have the freedom to select any meaning for any experience instead of being a victim who must assign one and only meaning to each experience.
We automatically interpret all of our experiences without realizing it. Are they good experiences, bad ones, what do they mean and so on. We do this without much thought, if any, to what the interpretations mean. For instance, if someone bumps into you, you wonder why. The event of her bumping into you is neutral in itself. It has no meaning. It’s your interpretation of the bumping that gives it meaning, and this meaning shapes your perception of the experience.
You may interpret the “bump” as rude behavior. You may interpret her as being deliberately aggressive, or you may feel you are of such little consequence that you’re deliberately unnoticed and bumped around by others. Or you may choose to use the experience as an example of feminist aggression, or you may interpret the bump as her way of flirting with you. Your interpretation of the experience determines your perception.
You can choose to interpret your experiences any way you wish. In the following illustration, you can choose to see the black arrows pointing outwards from the center, or you can choose to see the white arrows pointing to the center. The figure can still be seen in either of two ways.
The figure does not determine your perception, it’s your interpretation of the figure that determines your perception. Your interpretation is not determined by anything else since the figure can be seen either way, and which you control since you decide which way you want to see the arrows.
Experiences and events are neither good or bad. There are simply neutral experiences and events. Good, bad, aggression, right and wrong, sad, angry, lazy, cruel and so are interpretations that people make. It’s a matter of what perspective you choose to take or choose not to take. “Blackcloud,” my Lakota Sioux good friend told me the following Sioux legend.
An old Sioux warrior had eight magnificent horses. One night, during a great storm, they all escaped. The other warriors came to comfort him. They said, “How unlucky you are. You must be very angry to have lost your horses?”
“Why,” replied the warrior.
“Because you have lost all your wealth. Now you have nothing.” they responded.
“How do you know?” He said.
The next day the eight horses returned bringing with them twelve new stallions. The warriors returned and joyously announced that now the old warrior must be very happy.
“Why?”, was his response.
“Because now you are even richer than before.” They responded, “How do you know?” He again responded.
The following morning, the warrior’s young son got early to break in the new horses. He was thrown and broke both his legs. The warriors came, once more, and talked about angry he must be at his misfortune and how terrible it was for the boy to break both his legs.
“How do you know?” The warrior said once more.
Two weeks passed. Then the chief announced that all able-bodied men and boys
must join a war party to fight against a neighboring tribe. The Lakotas won
but at great cost as many men and young boys were killed. When the remaining
warriors returned, they told the old warrior that it was lucky his son had
two broken legs, otherwise he could have been killed or injured in the great
“How do you know?” He said again.
(Michael Michalko is the author of Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative Thinking Techniques; Cracking Creativity: The Thinking Strategies of Creative Geniuses; Thinkpak: A Brainstorming Card Deck, and Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work. http://www.creativethinking.net)