Unlearn And Step

Helping Hands.

Helping Hands.

I revisited an old journal this morning. I’ve been thinking much about power these past few days and I have a mountain of writing about power. This blog began as an exploration of personal power, the creation of power (power-with), confusing control with power (power-over), grasping power (fulfilling potential) or vampiring (drinking power from others).

Lately, I’ve been thinking that the question “how?” is a form of learned powerlessness. Most people (adults) are reticent to do something until they know how to do it. That’s backwards; no one knows how to do anything until they actually do it. Doing is a prerequisite of knowing how. As a coach I often hear the fear beneath the phrase, “But, I don’t know how…” Needing to know “how” stops all motion.

Children do not have this problem. The firewall-from-life called “how” is learned. Or, more accurately, it is installed. For instance, the other day when Craig and I walked passed the batting cages, he said, “Those things make me shudder. I totally, I have PTSD from those.” He was joking in the way that means, “I’m not joking.”  Shame is a lousy teacher. So is bullying. The message: there is a right way to do it and you better know the right way before you swing. Or else. Shame is a powerful action inhibitor. It is the tool of the powerless teacher. It develops in the student the necessity of knowing “how” prior to taking action. No one willingly steps toward shame or a bully.

The question, “How?” often functions as a form of premature cognitive commitment. It is how elephants are held captive by the weakest of strings. As infants, a strong chain is attached to one of the elephant’s legs and the other end of the chain is secured to a strong tree or stake in the ground. The young elephants pull and pull until they learn that pulling does no good. They stop testing the chain. They make a premature cognitive commitment to their restraint. They will never pull again. A simple string is all that is required to contain the elephant once it believes it has no power. The question, “How?” works just like the elephant’s premature cognitive commitment. Needing to know “how” before taking the step is a commitment to non-action. It is a belief in powerlessness.

On the other hand, to step without needing to know “how” is the equivalent of pulling on the chain. Pull, and see what happens. Transcending “how” is an act of power reclamation. The ability to step without knowing how is central to all vital artistic and, as it turns out, scientific, processes. Discovery precedes the necessity of “How?”

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3 Responses

  1. Excellent post on the power of unknowing and will. Thank you. This is helping me.

  2. David,

    It’s uncanny how these come just when

    they are needed

    Thanks!

    Rebecca

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