Saturday, July 26, 2008

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up." - Pablo Picasso

The mind is very good at using symbols to help us understand our world. Actually, the mind prefers symbols. Strongly. Let me give a few examples.

As children, we learned that the number two meant, well, two. We could then use that internal symbol as the mind's shorthand for two of anything. Two fingers, two cookies. Later we added the numeral 2 as an external representation of the mind's symbol. We learned words as symbols for a certain idea. We learned our letters and the speech sounds that were associated with each letter or letter group. Through use, written words became external symbols for a group of speech sounds, and for the internal symbol representing a concept. Later we could put words together in a sentence as a symbolic expression of a complete thought from the mind.

The mind constructs symbols from everything we experience. Think for a moment of the concept of a friend. Your mind has constructed a complex symbol within itself of what a friend is - what you expect from a friendship, what you expect of yourself in friendship - and has applied that symbol to some of the people in your life. The same goes for dog, school, father, mother, teacher, self.

Once they're formed, the mind clings jealously to its symbols. You never get a second chance to make a first impression. Once the mind has formed its symbol of something, it's hard to change that symbol. When confronted with something that conflicts with an existing symbol, the mind would rather put a square peg in a round hole than change its idea of what a hole can be. This has its advantages. We handle language wonderfully. We recognize objects in our world and interact with them appropriately in most cases. We see the face of a friend and smile.

But, the mind's preference for its existing symbols is also a weakness. When presented with a new challenge, we tend to handle it based the same way we've handled other challenges. We notice what we expect to notice in a situation, based on the symbols created from our previous experiences, and our new experiences tend to reinforce our existing symbols. We get into a rut.

Sometimes we get into trouble when we act according to our preconceived ideas. We misjudge the distance of our left big toe to the nearest object and stub it against a bedpost. We misjudge people and treat them inappropriately. We misjudge our abilities and limit ourselves.

Because of this weakness, there is a need to develop the ability to break our symbols. To do so, we need to purposfully look at things from fresh viewpoints to generate novel ideas - ideas that don't fit the mold.

What symbols do you have that might need to be broken? (For example: Am I a creative person? What is the job of a parent? Who is my child? What is my occupation? How do I get to the store?)

Think about the quote from Picasso in the title of this post. What first impressions, and lasting symbols, are you making in your child? Which internal symbols do you want your child to carry through to adulthood?