Thoughts on Thinking

"When somebody persuades me that I am wrong, I change my mind. What do you do?" John Maynard Keynes

"If you're unhappy with your life, change your thinking." Charles Fillmore

"The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it." Eckhart Tolle

"People are not disturbed by things, but by the view they take of them." Epictetus

"The unexamined life is not worth living." Socrates

"Consciousness is a terrible thing to waste." PunditGeorge

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Lady and the Glass

Imagine the scene, an upstairs study around the turn of the twentieth century. It was a great time of discovery - the new frontiers of flight and physics were budding in the visions of a remarkable collection of men and women. The inner mountains of the human experience were in the vanguard of the new novels, the operas, and the curious lens of pictures in motion.

But none of these were in the thoughts of the four educated, courteous, and thoughtful men gathered in the room. A cloud of tobacco smoke hovered near the high ceiling and a round of brandy was sniffed by the four who then made the wager.

“I shall prove,” said the Professor Doctor, “that she is at heart morose, seeking always the worst, the limited, the lesser in any event.” A younger man, acquainted with the lady in question, shook his head.

“She is not morose, Professor. I have found her to look upon any event and see contained therein opportunities hidden from the sight of others. Five pounds says that she will dazzle you with her positive vision.” Professor Doctor carefully laid five pounds on a small table near the window.

“We shall see. Who will wager with me,” said the Professor Doctor, “and teach this student a lesson in human nature?” The older gentleman, more interested in his brandy, produced five pounds.

“My money depends on the form of your proof. How can you prove what you claim of her?”

Professor Doctor smiled. “I shall ask her one question. A question which requires a simple answer, one that anyone is capable. I assure you, that her response will reveal what I predict.”

“A question? One question in search of a simple answer?” asked the older man.

“Only one,” was the reply. The older man placed his bet on top of the Professor Doctor’s. The fourth gentleman, a merchant, held his money and gazed at it
“On a good day I profit this in an hour. My profits come from what I know will be purchased. It is my business to know the goods and services of trade. You are selling her answer. You presume to know her answer. It is a safe bet.” He then placed his bet with that of the younger man. “Fortunes are not made in safety. Two of us will leave tonight richer than we arrived.”

“Then we are agreed,” said the Professor Doctor as he rang a bell. After a moment the door was opened by a housekeeper. Behind her stood a fashionably dressed lady, agreeing to divert her evening with a brief visit to the study. The housekeeper left, closing the door. The Professor Doctor eased back the upholstered chair at the circular table in the middle of the room.

“Thank you for waiting. Please, be seated.”

“Thank you,” she said as she sat, neither smiling nor scowling. The Professor Doctor then poured brandy into a glass, then placed the vessel in the middle of the table.

“I will ask you a simple question and you will be so kind as to answer it,” he said. The lady nodded. Without crowding her, the men circled the table.

I don't like the glass
“Is the glass half full? Or, is the glass half empty?” The lady leaned forward to make her observation. The room was absolutely silent. She held the glass and examined it closely. The room was bristling in the quiet anticipation of her response.

“I don’t like the glass.”

That was not the expected answer.

The stunned silence was finally broken with laughter from the four men. The lady was not sure what to make of their response and quickly rose. “I gave you my answer, why am I mocked?”

The older gentleman stepped towards her. “You answered honestly, as you were asked. Your remark is appreciated and respected.”

The Professor Doctor gathered the twenty pounds and looked at his colleagues. “Gentlemen, honesty has few rewards in this world. But in this house, honesty is a virtue.” The other men smiled as the Professor Doctor handed the sum to the lady. “Thank you for your time. Enjoy the remainder of your evening.” He rang the bell again and the housekeeper opened the door.

The flustered lady gasped at the small fortune in her hands. “What did I do? What will people say? Alone with four men and I leave with money?” The room was again silent. The younger man escorted the lady to the open door.

“Then don’t tell them.” The lady left the room as the housekeeper closed the door to the study of optimism and pessimism. The Professor Doctor poured another round of brandy for the men.

“Nothing is ever as simple as it appears,” he said. “I have tested my question repeatedly, and made note of all responses. They were always one or the other—but nothing like this!”

“Perhaps she did not understand the question,” said the older gentleman.

“Nonsense,” added the merchant. “A child would understand.” “So what went wrong?” asked the older man.

“She didn’t like the glass,” answered the younger man. “It is as she said. Perhaps, Professor Doctor, you asked the wrong question.”

The Professor Doctor sipped on his brandy, then smiled the broad smile, characteristic of him. “Yes, yes, that is it. Gentlemen, the student has taught the old professor a lesson in the science of human nature. Always, we ask the wrong questions. The trick, the formula, is to know what to ask!”

“And to whom the question is posed,” added the merchant.

The older gentleman then picked up the offending glass from the table and held it to the dim light. He swirled the golden liquid. “But to us, gentlemen, this glass is always half empty.” Laughter again signaled agreement. The evening’s work was done.

Not everyone perceives a situation in the same way. In this situation, the question could be repeated a hundred times without the expected answer. The amount of liquid didn’t matter—the lady didn’t like the glass. For her, it was a stupid question. Now, if asked about the nature of the offending vessel, then much might have been learned.

Perhaps the glass was similar to one she threw at her fiancĂ© upon learning of his infidelity. Or, perhaps the glass was similar to the one in which her mother force-fed her foul tasting medicine as a child. Who knows?  Certainly not the Professor Doctor. At least for that moment, her perception was affected by something else besides the amount of liquid.

In matters large and small, people make decisions and act according to their perception of any given moment or circumstance. Measuring the amount of liquid in the glass might be a science, but predicting a person’s response is an art.

It has been said that a person’s perception creates their reality. If that’s the case, and it seems to be, then it is important to be aware of how you perceive the people, situations and circumstances that make up those fleeting moments that you cannot reach back and correct, or hold forever, in a river of time. Perception is how anyone interprets what he or she senses—the five physical sensations as well as the intuitive.

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