Don Paglia | Marriage and Family Counseling. Constellations Workshops


Tip # 41

“…of all the liars among mankind, the fisherman is the most trustworthy.”

                              William Sherwood Fox, Silken Lines and Silver Hooks, 1954

I love a great story. A good storyteller will often use what is called “poet license.” They may take certain liberties by “embellishing” the story. Details and actual events are elaborated and altered in an effort to make the story “work” better, and will take license with various facts and other aspects within the story all in the service of delighting the listener.

What is important to recognize is that storytellers are trying to convey a truth, and as such are not necessarily confined to specific details or in getting every fact spelled out correctly. News people, however, are supposedly interested in conveying the facts. Sometimes this can come at the expense of some deeper truth. Objective news is designed for readers/listeners to take in all the facts presented and draw his/her own conclusion.   

Today there is much commotion regarding real news and entertainment. Some accuse the news media of promoting “fake news.” Others take the news to be a source for providing entertainment. The controversy comes with each seeing different slants given to news stories and how they’re portrayed. There are arguments as to what constitutes reliable sources, what are second-hand sources, and so forth. It’s so much worse today with our 24 hour TV news coverage, plus all the internet media: Podcasts, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube and Vimeo accounts, among others.

Much of these newer media venues have become a technological form of gossip. And it is often highly irresponsible. It’s the modern version of an old party game called “telephone,” only where a story instantly gains massive readership as the story “goes viral.”

Before this Information Age we had daily newspapers, plus the Evening TV News. Period. In one 30 minute evening TV segment that included sports, the weather, plus all the news deemed important for the particular day. Walter Cronkite and his staff decided this for us. They would assemble all that transpired in the last 24 hours and determine what to include into the evening news segment.

At the end of the program Walter would sign off by saying, “And that’s the way it is.” And we, the viewers, would think, ‘Oh, that’s the way it is.’ What it really was turned out to be exclusively what Walter and his editors decided to present to us, as well as, what not to present to us.   

Today we are a far cry from that era. We are now bombarded with numerous news streams of every conceivable viewpoint and opinion out there 24/7! We find ourselves today overloaded, confused and conflicted with differing opinions and diverse stances about everything under the sun. We’ve become overwhelmed with this endless barrage of data and information, while at the same time we’ve become addicted to it. Trying to sort out what is essential, or accurate, or relevant, is exhausting and leaves many feeling skeptical, and even cynical.

Human beings are constantly looking for simple answers to complex questions. Thus we’ve created our world as though it operates in a nice neat linear package. It’s easier for us to see things in a cause-and-effect way. ‘Such-and-such happened because of this thing.’ The problem is that the world actually does not work this way. The world is non-linear; it’s systemic.

Systematic thinking goes against our desire for simple and our abhorrence of ambiguity. We want things to be black and white, either or, yes or no, simpler kinds of solutions. This results in us, too often, only treating symptoms. We’ll skip seeking long-term solutions; solutions that require more concerted effort and deal with greater complexity. Systemic solutions are not the quick-fix we prefer.

Years ago Malcolm Gladwell in his book, The Tipping Point, made the appeal for systemic approaches rather than for linear ones. He gave example after example of what it often takes before reaching longer-term change. It might take but one more, one additional and essential, action for the crossover to a threshold that causes a tipping point. It may mean we do some actions, plus something else, as well, before we can bring about a desired result.

Besides a systems approach and non-linear thinking, there is the way we perceive the world. When we have an Experience we immediately make up our own Concept about what we just experienced. Whatever just happened, happened. The experience doesn’t mean anything. But we make it mean something. This made up meaning, or Concept about what just happened, is not the same as the Experience. Our concept about what happened, however, is what will impact the way we feel.

You didn’t invite me to your birthday party. That’s What Happened (The Experience). But as soon as I make this mean something, say, that you don’t like me, or you think very little of me, I’ve created My Concept about what happened. My Concept will cause me to now feel upset, or hurt, or angry.

Here’s the problem: I don’t realize that what happened (The Experience) isn’t the same as my Concept. I made up this Concept up about The Experience thinking these two are one in the same. Eventually we blur all our Experiences into our Concepts without ever distinguishing the two as separate and different. We then bring our Concepts into the next Experience (or the next similar Experience). When we do this we diminish the next Experience with: “Our already always way of thinking.”

Let’s say I want to go see a certain movie with you but I think because you declined my last invitation to see “this kind of movie” you’ll do so again. So maybe I’ll not even bother to ask you this time. I’ll just assume you won’t go. I’ll even be annoyed with you for not wanting to go. Or maybe I’ll ask in such a way that it’s hardly a genuine invitation. I might say, “You probably don’t want to go see this movie with me, do you?”

So how do I know that you won’t go? From the PAST. We diminish the next Experience without even realizing it. We even diminish love this way. After all ‘I already know what you’ll say/do.’ 

A more powerful way to live is to separate – to distinguish – our Experiences from our Concepts. This takes some inner work. It requires us to do more than think thoughts. We need to also think about our thinking thoughts.

A practical skill:  Whenever you feel upset realize you’re operating from your Concept. The meaning or interpretation you made up about the Experience is what’s upsetting you, and not the Experience itself. Therefore go back to the Experience.                                                                                                                                                                              Ask yourself: What happened? I said this; you said that. You did this. I did that. That’s all that happened.

Recognize that the Concept is the result of all the meanings and interpretations you made up: ‘they’re being unreasonable’, ‘she is out to take advantage,’ ‘he doesn’t care enough….’                                                                        Concept, concept, concept.                                                                                                                                                                          Such Concepts would undoubtedly make anyone feel upset. But you do not have to remain stuck with your Concepts. Why not make up better Concepts? Make new ones that move, touch and inspire you! You’re free to make up better Concepts. After all you’re the one making them all up to begin with.

The fishing quote above assumes we all lie. Lying is a relative term. Sometimes we withhold information. It’s more of an omission. We hardly ever own up to actually lying. Instead we’ll confuse what happened with our story – our concept – about what happened. This is so problematic since we end up seeing our world in a biased perspective, often making for large scale feelings of helplessness and unhappiness. Some would say we invent our own living hell.

When we do lie we often justify ourselves. We’ll have our reasons and explanations. In the book, Mistakes Were Made, But Not By Me, the authors use a theory postulated by psychologist Leon Festinger to explain such justification. The theory is called Cognitive Dissonance. The gist of Festinger’s theory is that we have great difficulty holding two conflicting ideas at the same time.

For instance I might think, ‘I am an intelligent person and I just did a stupid thing.’ These two thoughts are hard to wrap one’s brain around and hold each as true. Therefore I’ll modify one of these two disparate thoughts. I might qualify or negate ‘I did a stupid thing.’ Or I’ll tell myself this stupid thing wasn’t so stupid, or that there were extenuating circumstances that required me to fib a bit.

One could make the case that we all lie – to ourselves and to others.  I’m saying we do so not necessarily consciously. Granted, sometimes we’ll lie fully aware we are lying. We may want to avoid upsetting someone or embarrassing ourselves, or both. But most of the time we “lie” out of delusional thinking, and from non-reflective reactions. You could argue we have become lazy thinkers.

Perhaps fisher persons are not any more trustworthy than the rest of us. Maybe, instead, these fisher persons have developed a greater capacity for reflection and therefore, see things from a broader perspective. Just maybe they’re better equipped to see the good, or the beauty surrounding us, or can bring a kinder and more generous perspective into situations. It could be they are conveying some truth they hold regarding our world. With an enhanced level of contemplation perhaps they have a higher capacity for appreciation and wonderment.

This might account for why that rainbow trout just caught, seems a tad larger than an actual yardstick may indicate; or why they view their newly captured fish as being slightly more beautiful than others seem to recognize; or why they hold the catching of said fish as a more dramatic and spectacular event. This may be so because, when all is said and done, they are simply great storytellers.