April 11, 2011

I, Too, Live in the Real World

"This is all well and good, but can you give me some examples of how this would work in the real world?"

This was the approximate question a participant raised in a recent workshop I led, one which caused me to react a bit defensively even though it had been posed in a fairly neutral tone.

I don't find the intent behind the question inappropriate at all.  In fact, it's quite legitimate and worthwhile: help me understand how I can use this information.

It's the all-too-common phrasing I find unhelpful because of the hidden assertion it represents.  By asking someone else to give real world examples, it somehow implies that the other person doesn't also live in the real world.

I'm pretty sure the world in which I exist is real.  That does not in any way diminish the fact that your world is equally real for you.  And that others also live in worlds they consider equally real.  But our worlds are not all the same.

To successfully apply ideas and insight from others' worlds often asks us to translate or modify them so they can be most useful for our own efforts.  Wholesale adoption of what works for another person is probably not nearly as common as adaption of what others have found successful so that it will work well in our own context.

So the next time you experience a disconnect with someone else's perspective, resist the temptation to summarily dismiss it, and try this language instead:  "I'm having some difficulty seeing exactly how the ideas you are introducing might fit in my current situation.  Can you help me make a stronger connection or see how I might adapt them?"

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