Broaden Your Perspective
Have you noticed that many of the people who claim to be individuals dress, talk, and act exactly like other people? Is it possible that all the people who shave their heads, sport tattoos, or wear earrings in unusual places were not influenced by others?
In this chapter, we consider what it means to be an individual. We also discuss the habits that will help you reinforce genuine individuality and develop your capacities.
The Art of Thinking: A Guide to Critical and Creative Thought, Tenth Edition, by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. Published by Pearson. Copyright © 2012 by Pearson Education, Inc.
o you know the story of the six blind men and the elephant? Able to rely only on their sense of touch, they reached out and touched an elephant to learn about it. One touched its side and decided that an elephant was like a wall. The second touched its trunk and decided—a snake. The third touched its tail— a rope; the fourth, its ear—a fan; the fifth, its leg—a tree; the last, its tusk—a spear. Now each had a clear picture of the elephant in mind. But because all the pictures were based on a limited perspective, all were wrong.1 All too often we are like the six blind men in our perspective on the world. We see narrowly, and our thinking suffers as a result. The first and perhaps saddest way we are victimized by narrow perspectives is in our view of our own potential. Most of us never come to know ourselves fully. We see only what we are and never realize the larger part of us: what we have the capacity to be. We never appreciate just how much of what we are is the result of accident. Our development, for example, and our degree of success are strongly influenced by the way others regard us. In one experiment, researchers administered an intelligence test to an entire elementary school. The researchers told the faculty that the test would identify students who were ready to undergo a “learning spurt.” Actually, the test did no such thing: the testers merely selected some students at random and identified them as the ones whose learning would enjoy a spurt. Teachers were subsequently observed using the same materials and methods for these students as for others. Nevertheless, at the end of the year, when
Broaden Your Perspective
the researchers again tested the student body, they found that the students who had been singled out had gained twice as many IQ points as the other students. What was responsible for this gain? Obviously, the teachers had formed favorable attitudes toward these students and unconsciously transmitted their attitudes to the students. The students’ self-images, in turn, were ultimately changed.2
If that experiment seems surprising, the following one, similar in its design, will seem astounding. Laboratory assistants were assigned the task of teaching rats to run a maze. They were told the rats were in two groups: fast learners and slow learners. Actually, all the rats were identical. After the test period, the rats that had been designated fast learners were found to have learned the maze better than the other rats. Like the schoolteachers, the lab assistants had formed preconceived notions about the rats, and those notions had not only affected the degree of patience and the amount of attention and encouragement the assistants displayed with the rats but also influenced the rats’ performance.3 Studies show that confused, defeatist, helpless reactions are not inborn in us. They are learned. In one study, people were given problems they were told could be solved but that in fact could not be. As their efforts to solve the problems failed, the subjects experienced increasing frustration, until they finally accepted their helplessness and gave up. The real point of the study, though, came later. When the same people were given solvable problems, they continued to act helpless and to give up without really...