By Emily Keller, Ph.D., LPC, RPT

From Wonder To Knowing

The moment a little boy is concerned with which is a jay and which is a sparrow, he can no longer see the birds or hear them sing.

Eric Berne

The above quote describes the shift from being in wonder to knowing. In wonder we are open to experiencing, exploring and discovering. Through knowing, we categorize. Once we categorize, we often close the door on discovery. In the quote above, Berne was referring to birds. Let’s talk about people.

Once we think we know people, we stop experiencing and discovering them in the moment. We start relating to them based on what we “know” and believe. We do this to ourselves as well. Then, our brains filter in and distort information to support our beliefs. This process is called confirmation bias.

The antidote to our brain, that prefers knowing to not-knowing, is wonder. Wonder is a willingness to experience the here-and-now moment and discover new information. Wonder is key to opening our minds.

Rachel Carson deemed wonder of such value, she wrote, “If I had influence with the good fairy … I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life … ” (A Sense of Wonder, 1965). 

With wonder, we are open to new information and evolving beliefs about ourselves and others. With wonder, we ask ourselves “Who is this person before me?” and “Who am I in this moment?”

The Truth about Ourselves and Others

The heart of our work at Southeast Institute is to promote, not just the idea, but the experience, that all people have basic worth, value, and dignity. We adhere to the tenet that despite our faults, our essence is “OK.” Our beliefs about the worth, value, and dignity, in ourselves and others form our existential position and yield four variations. The one true existential position is “I am OK, you are OK.” The three false positions are: “I am OK, you are not OK” (one-up position); “I am not OK, you are OK” (one-down); and “I am not OK, you are not OK” (position of futility and despair). Again, the only true position is I am OK and you are OK. In this position, we acknowledge the worth, value, and dignity within ourselves and the worth, value, and dignity within others.

If it is true that despite our actions our essence has worth, value, and dignity, then why don’t we treat ourselves and others that way? Why do we feel the pain related to obscuring and rejecting it internally and the necessary isolation and loneliness in not seeing it others?

The Power of Early Decisions

We decide our existential position based on our early experiences with our parents and the world around us. Then, we spend a lifetime discounting facts and accepting lies to hold in place this belief. Holding on to beliefs is the brain’s default. This default stifles our growth as individuals and as a society. Research implies that we filter in and distort information to hold in place our beliefs. Research also suggests that we believe statements coming from our in-group and reject the same statements if they come from an out-group. In truth, factual data has little to do with our beliefs. 

Early decisions are difficult to change. We make them at a time when we intuitively know that we would perish without our parents. These early decisions feel like life-or-death decisions. Therefore, anything that counters them feels threatening. That’s why change can be so difficult. Often, the very changes we are wanting to make feel vulnerable. Seeing people for who they are in the moment and not through our distorted lenses requires vulnerability.

The “Gold” Standard

Most people can recite and hold as a standard their particular religion’s Golden Rule. All religions have a version of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” All religions (and nonreligious people) also have their own version of intergroup bias, which is marked by the presence of both in-group favoritism and outgroup derogation. So, how do we move forward as individuals, families, groups, and a society, toward this Golden Rule and toward the existential truth that I am OK and you are OK, despite our differences? And how do we do this in a time when the dominating narrative of our national society is I am OK, and you are not OK?

In fact, the dominate narrative is eroding to “I am OK, and you don’t matter.” This is the narcissist’s existential position. A person who adopts this position does not value feeling, does not tolerate dissent in thought, and rages at actions perceived as against him or her. 

Not only is this one-up narrative becoming more toxic, it is fueling further division. The dominate in-groups and out-groups in the United States are based on religion, race, class, gender, and politics. 

How do we rise above the default brain settings that bias our minds? How do we see and validate all information and not just the information that makes it through the filters that distort reality to fit our beliefs? How do we do all of this when the changes we want and need to make require vulnerability?

A Balance of Knowing and Not-Knowing

Know: Be sure that if your conclusion is that you or your group is somehow less-than or greater-than others, that conclusion is not true. If you have a false conclusion, gather more information.

Not-know:

    • Be unsure.
    • Ask questions.
    • Explore.
    • Be open to experiencing yourself.
    • Be open to experiencing others.
    • Be open to wonder.

Re-awaken the wonder within you, and help preserve it in others. If you are a therapist, it is the gift you offer your clients, be they children or the “children within” adults. If you are a parent, it is the gift of parenting–of seeing the world through the eyes of a child:

“If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in.” – Rachel Carson

When we stop categorizing people (self and others) and start listening, we open ourselves to “rediscovering” the truth that we all matter. We start to belong to each other–all of us. Let this truth–I am OK, you are OK, be your golden standard and a guiding light through these dark times of dissent. The only thing holding in place this dissent is what we think we know. Think for yourself. Ask yourself, “Is the essence of this message, ‘I am okay, you are okay?'” If not, keep searching.

Once you get to what is true find the courage to voice it. Messages repeated are messages believed, even when they are false. They spread like viruses. Let’s spread truth. Let’s repeat it until we believe it.

Discover Your Truth

Whether you are wanting to improve your personal life, professional life, or relationship, we have a personal growth workshop just for you.

About Us

The Southeast Institute for Group and Family Therapy is committed to making the world a better place for all by connecting people to their worth, value, and dignity and the worth, value, and dignity in others.  We offer to our clients excellence in clinical therapy and psychotherapy training.

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