Episteme

Mike's random thoughts and ramblings

The Invisible Frame

"When you look at a picture, do you ever stop to think about how it would change the picture if the frame was different?"

That's a question that Linda asked me once when we were walking through an art gallery. And we sat as I imagined the pictures in front of me in different frames to see the differences.

And sometimes, we can realize that our lives are in psychological frames - I know that the same question applies. I was reminded of this when I was reading Kegan and Lahey (who I have mentioned here and here), who talk about "Big Assumptions". These assumptions are often those that go unquestioned in our lives.

They illustrate the point by telling the story of a woman who has moved from the UK to the USA, and is learning to drive here. From the book:

""...One time, my mind was on six other things. I got into the front right side, took out my keys, and looked up. 'My God', I said to myself. 'here in the United
States, things have gotten so bad, they are even stealing steering wheels!'"

Of course, the countervailing evidence was just an arm's length away to her left,
but -- and here is the main point -- why should one even look? If we are
certain we know how the world works -- and this is how a Big Assumption operates; it
creates certainty -- why would we ever think to look for a different reality?
"
(emphasis in the original)

This is the way that most of us live our lives - we live with frames that surround our concept of the world that go unquestioned and unexamined for much of the time. And this is as it should be. If, for example, we had to question constantly whether or not we lived in The Truman Show (and a million other things we are certain of each day), life would be nearly unlivable.

Unfortunately, it is when the invisible frames work to impoverish our lives that they need to be examined. Many of us, for example, carry around the "if I'm not [some idealized trait here], people won't like me" frame - and, regardless of evidence to the contrary (or even conscious/rational acknowledgment of its untruth), we live by that frame.

While all of our frames serve some purpose, one of the most important exercises you can perform is to examine your frames. Much like that day in the art gallery, bring the frames to the center of your attention as part of the picture of your life... and notice, just for a few minutes, what your life would look like if the picture had a different frame.

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Michael Murray

Michael Murray