Wednesday, May 9, 2018

No More of the Same

Reading a recent post for writers about the power of storytelling to motivate change, I was reminded of the most influential week of training in my career, at Palo Alto's Mental Research Institute. MRI affiliates study and apply interactional concepts with families, schools, communities, and businesses, their goal to understand and resolve human problems at all levels of social organization.

That was the first time I'd heard the famous Einstein quote:
Problems cannot be solved by thinking within the framework in which the problems were created.
The extended meaning of this quote has grown clear over my thirty years of coaching. Change occurs when we:
  1. come to see a frame of reference (worldview) within which we have been operating,
  2. learn to observe without judgment the nature of our thoughts and behavior from within that worldview,
  3. experiment with ways to interrupt those previously unconscious and automatic responses.
When we don't step out to a fresh perspective, but continue thinking and acting from within the framework in which a problem arises, we create "more of the same."

This true World War II story from MRI pioneers Paul Watzlawick, John Weakland, and Richard Fisch shows how more of the same works: May 1940, two double agents code-named Snow and Biscuit were aboard a British trawler on its way south in the English Channel to a secret meeting with a German intelligence officer, Major Ritter... Snow had done excellent work for British intelligence in the past and the Germans considered him one of their star agents in Britain. Biscuit, with a long criminal record, had turned into a reliable police informer. He was now to be introduced to Major Ritter as Snow's sub-agent, who would accompany Ritter to Germany for training, then return to England.
British intelligence wanted neither agent to know the other was also working for the British side, but both Biscuit and Snow eventually guessed it. This led to a nightmarish impasse: Biscuit decided Snow was acting genuinely in the interest of the Germans and would reveal  him as a double agent when he met Ritter. Snow came to the same conclusion about Biscuit, that he was in fact loyal to Germany and would reveal Snow 's ambiguous position in their meeting with Ritter. 
Snow sniffed out his partner's lack of trust in him, and did everything in his power to convince Biscuit he was acting on behalf of England. Still operating from within his untested assumptions, Biscuit perceived these efforts as more evidence of Snow's duplicity. The harder Snow tried to convince Biscuit, the less Biscuit was convinced, and he finally locked Snow in his cabin and returned the trawler to Grimsby without meeting Ritter. His sincere attempts to prevent a disaster for British intelligence ultimately produced it.
More of the same  continues to create similar disasters in our own increasingly troubled world. This dynamic also operates in your own life, every time you and someone else act from within your own worldviews without discussing your assumptions openly and developing a larger perspective.

For example:
A wife and husband agree in marriage counseling to show each other appreciation every day for a week. In the next week's session the wife says "You never once brought me flowers!"
The husband says, "You said you wanted me to do something different, so I thought you would see flowers as not really doing anything. Instead, I took out the garbage every day this week. And you didn't even notice!"
In the four novels of The Alexandria Quartet (Justine, Balthazar, Mountolive, Clea), author Lawrence Durrell brilliantly illustrated how our limited perspectives create completely different interpretations of the world. The Quartet's first three novels describe the same sequence of events through the eyes of three different people, showing three different perspectives of a single set of events.

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