The brain loves to put “things” in categories. So, when we see something similar, our brain is wired to associate it with something it already recognizes. For the most part, that’s a great plan.
But there are two major downsides to this natural tendency of the brain. First, labeling people to be “things” is limiting in that it negates the possibility that another perspective is equally possible. Here are some examples:
So, why do we tend to go with the first, more negative perceptions of such people? Well, the brain also has a natural tendency to shine a spotlight on someone else, rather than on ourselves.
For example, it may be easier to view Tiffany as a liar than to reflect on how we respond to mistakes. It may be easier to view Luke as selfish or manipulative than to model and teach him how to respond in ways that consider everyone’s needs. It may be easier to view Evan as lazy or hyperactive or immature than to explore what parts of brain development are incomplete and learn how to facilitate such changes.
Second, we may be limiting our own creativity when we don’t challenge ourselves to see beyond the “thing” that our brain initially recognizes. Yet, the art of invention is based on envisioning something ordinary in a new and different way.
For example, my memory of a Cambodian refugee still rates as one of my favorite examples of doing just that. After hearing this gentleman play incredible music from an instrument I did not recognize, I asked where he had bought it. He smiled and explained that while it was a common instrument in Cambodia, once here, he couldn’t find the right kind of wood he needed to make it.
So what did he finally use? A baseball bat. Yes, he created that amazing sound from what was originally an old bat that likely spent much of its prior life lying in the dirt. To this day, I’m probably one of the very few people who think of beautiful Cambodian music when watching a ballgame.
But while the brain has a tendency to classify, we don’t have to just accept every first perception and every “thing” as absolute. We can sometimes challenge ourselves to think beyond the traditional viewpoint, the expected, the obvious.
And in doing so, who knows what kind of incredible changes we may then experience?