You are moving teams within your company today. Today is the first day you meet your new colleagues, and they greet you warmly. You meet your new boss, and he asks about your well-being and informs you about the team and the wonderful work they do. He gives you space to settle in, provide all the help and support you need to do your job.
When you do settle in, you find that you onboard quickly and are productive very soon. In fact, you feel much more comfortable in your body, much more open in your emotions, and much more productive in your work compared to your previous team. The nature of work has not changed, and your skill has not changed, so what allowed you to do much better work?
If your answer is the culture of the new team, you are right but that is only one half of the story. The new environment allowed you to observe the world around you differently, which opened up a new set of actions that weren’t available to you earlier.
“We see the world not as it is, but as we are” Albert Einstein
What Albert Einstein means by “as we are” here is our way of being in the world. Our body and associated physiology, our thoughts and language, and the emotions we are in currently define our “being” in any given moment. And it is from this way of being, which is unique for everyone, we observe one way or the other. This is the reason the same world (events) is seen differently by different people, allowing them a different set of actions.
But have you ever stopped yourself to ask the below questions :-
- Why do I observe the world that I observe?
- Is the way I am interpreting this event grounded in facts and proper reasoning, or am I choosing this interpretation only because it is convenient to my ego and my identity?
- Is there another way of observing the same event? Is there a different perspective that would serve my needs and goals, instead of just serving my ego and primitive identity which is constantly seeking safety and comfort?
Wearing Colored Glasses And Not Realising We Are Wearing Them
What will happen if you are wearing dark glasses but forget that you are wearing them? The whole world would appear darker, wouldn’t it?
What if you are wearing pink glasses instead? The whole world would appear pink, right?
And what will happen if the person wearing dark glasses and the one wearing pink ones start arguing about the color of things they see? They will argue endlessly about things being “their way” because they are both being different observers. They both would be right, and they both would be wrong at another level. If you can imagine this situation, it might look funny from the outside, but let me tell you that there is nothing funny about being trapped in such a situation.
Who are the people wearing the pink and the dark glasses?
They are not the people in your family, or your colleagues, or your friends. They are you, and they are me. I and you (all of us) are wearing our own versions of colored glasses, and we have no idea that we are wearing them. No wonder we are endlessly arguing about things. Now does it sound funny?
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality.
To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
― Buckminster Fuller
The O-A-R Model From Ontology
What I have described above is called the Observer – Action – Results model, which I have learned in my Ontological studies. It is a very simple but powerful way to understand how we act in this world, in the pursuit of whatever results we want. As Chalmer Brothers write in his book “Language and the Pursuit of Happiness” –
First Order Learning has to do with changing our actions (which of course include changing our speaking) for the purpose of producing new results. In some ways, First Order Learning represents our traditional approach to problem-solving. It implies that there is an objective problem “out there,” and in order to solve it we must take actions which are effective in producing some desired result. It has everything to do with cause and effect.
Let’s explore the Observer portion of the model now. Many of us have been in situations similar to this: You find yourself struggling with a problem, trying to figure out what to do, and it appears you’ve run out of options. You’ve tried several alternatives, none of which seemed to work, and you just don’t see any more good possibilities left. At some point another person comes into the room, and in 5 minutes of conversation with you they offer a fresh new alternative, and you say “Oh, I didn’t see it that way!”
Many of us have had this experience. We say that this occurs precisely because a new observer has appeared – someone with a different view, a different perspective, a different way of looking at something. Notice how all the metaphors here are visual metaphors – they have a great deal to do with the observer. They all point to a central claim of this model: Our results have a great deal to do with our actions or lack of actions. This is well-known. What’s less clear is that our actions themselves have a great deal to do with the observer that we are, with how we “see things”.
Human perception is strange and unpredictable. We like to believe that the way we see the world is the way it is. But in fact, there is no reality, only perspectives. We are deeply affected by forces we don’t see or feel. Our parents, our language, our culture, and our beliefs all influence and create the world around us.
For example – We (people who speak English) often refer to the future as forward and our past as backward. We use phrases such as “what’s coming ahead?” “next year”. We right things from left to right when we have to indicate a sequence of things.
However, in Chinese Mandarin, time is denoted along a vertical time axis. The word xià (down) is used to talk about future events, so when referring to “next week” a Mandarin Chinese speaker would literally say “down week”. The word shàng (up) is used to talk about the past – so “last week” becomes “up one week”. Watch the video at the end of this article for more on how language shapes our reality.
Others have seen what is and asked why. I have seen what could be and asked why not. – Pablo Picasso
You Can’t Change What You Can’t See
In first-order learning, we take our observations for granted and do not question the world we see. However, as we have seen, language, culture, emotions, our moods, and our bodily sensations are important factors that determine the world we see. We have rarely questioned these factors which determine the way we see the world, which in turn determines every action we take or do not take.
Second-order learning does not focus directly on the actions we take, but on the observer that we are when we take those actions. In this way, second-order goes one level deeper and operates at a more abstract level than first-order learning. This opens new possibilities of action which weren’t available to us before as we a new world, or a different reality than before.
The ontological interpretation of the observer that we are, or in other words, our being, is constituted by three inter-related areas of our existence – language, emotions, and body. Observing what is happening in our language, emotions, and body gives us a window into how we are “being“? And making changes in our language, emotions, and body are the tools we need to enable a new way of “being”.
Our language, emotions, and body are the colored glasses we all wear and through which we view the world. We already read about the impact of language on our world above. Let’s consider emotions now. We are always in some emotional state or mood. And every time we interact with the world, new emotions are triggered based on our unique listening filters.
And if we reflect a bit, we will realize that we all see very different worlds depending on whether we are in a good mood or a bad one. If we can learn to observe our emotions as they arise instead of getting sucked into their temptation, we can use second-order learning and become a more powerful observer of our being.
If you are only seeing problems and not possibilities, maybe you are unaware that you are wearing “problem” glasses, and you need to replace them with “possibility” glasses. When we can change our glasses, or shift the observer that we are being, we can see a totally different world and a new set of actions to go along with it.
I believe changing the way we look at things is a superpower that can produce transformational results. This ability to shift the way we see things is all the more important in the ever-changing and chaotic world we live in today. I will end this article with what Don Miguel Ruiz says in his book The Four Agreements.
“We make the assumption that everyone sees life the way that we do. We assume that others think the way we think, feel the way we feel, judge the way we judge. This is the biggest assumption that humans make.”