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Coaching to a Las Vegas State of Mind

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Living in the Case II: Observing Selective Shadows

We would suggest that the contemporary world is even more complicated than Plato suggested with regard to reality and fantasy. Part of the opening to the cave is selectively blocked out. As a result, the shadow is only part of what could appear on the wall. Our sense of reality is selective, both because we don’t want to see it all (or are unable to see it all in terms of our cognitive and affective capacity) and because other members of our society (who also live in the cave) have the capacity or authority to select what does and does not enter the cave from outside. For example, CNN news in the United States is quite different from the CNN news that appears elsewhere in the world. Al-Jazerra is disconcerting for many Americans in large part because information conveyed over this news station is quite different (and quite a bit more extensive) than what is presented on most American networks–particularly with regard to international news.

As coaches, are we ever to play the role of de-selector? Do we ever encourage alternative perspectives? Do we ever share information with our client that they usually do not receive (such as feedback from their co-workers)?  Do we link our clients with alternative sources of insight regarding the world (cave) in which we all live? Many years ago, the Nobel Prize winning scientist, Michael Polanyi (1969) wrote about the important of focusing on that from which we attend rather than that to which we attend. On the one hand, he was referring to our own internal state: we tend to be highly influenced as we take in information from the outside world by our own internal state. Recent studies in neurobiology tend to confirm Polanyi’s perspective. This shift in attention, however, also refers to our analysis of the outside information itself:  we should look not just at the content of the messages we receive from the outside world, but also at the sources of this content.  Who is selecting what images are allowed to enter the cave and be projected on the wall? Why are some images selected while others are blocked? As coaches, are we in the business of assisting our clients with Polanyi’s shift in attention?

Living in the Cave III: Listening to Interpretations of the Shadows

We wish to push Plato’s allegory of the cave even further. In the world of 21st Century epistemology, we are not actually observing the shadow on the cave wall. Rather we are listening to or watching someone else comment on the shadow and its meaning. Or we see a replay of specific shadow images and then hear or read the interpretation. It seems that most of us tend to prefer listening to the comments and observing replay of the shadow (or parts of the shadow) rather than observing the actual shadow (let alone leave the cave and observe the real world in operation). For example, most of us living in the United States do not have sufficient time available to watch the full congressional sessions and hearings of the US Senate or House of Representatives. Or, quite frankly, we probably are not sufficiently interested to set aside this time. Only the “news junkies” are inclined to observe the full shadow of congressional proceedings that are broadcasted in most instances on CSPAN.

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