Yesterday I was in Border Books buying a book for my son. As I was standing in line there was a mother with 2 young daughters under the age of 5 in front of me. The younger of the two girls appeared to be around 3 years old. She was running and jumping while her mother was paying for her books. Then the little girl sat down on a pile of magazines that was sitting on the floor. She spotted this one magazine with a caricature of a woman with straw looking hair and an ashen, sunken in face that had cracks in the skull. It looked like a character from one of the many horror films available.
The little girl looked down at the picture and very matter of factly said, “She has cracks in her face.” There was no frightened response, just a recitation of what she was viewing. She repeated what she said. I was amused by her antics before she sat down on the magazines, and then I was grateful for the lesson I had just been taught by a 3 year old.
She didn’t add any meaning to what she was viewing. She just stated the reality of her moment. There were no computations of “this means that” and she didn’t have any reference material in her mental files to be taken aback by what she saw.
The picture garnered the attention of a 3 year old and her response reminded me how adding meaning to a situation roils the waters and makes everything cloudy. She was making what Jerry Stocking calls a “grounded assessment” – something that 12 jurors could agree on. She didn’t say, “Look at this weird, scary woman who is obviously on drugs and ready for the grim reaper.” She simply stated the reality – “She has cracks in her face.”
This is a very valuable thing to do with your thinking. It grounds you in reality and dispels illusions that adding meaning will always produce.
Take a peek or a listen to your own thinking and notice how full of ungrounded assessments it is. “Look at my disgusting fat body. It’s covered with unsightly globs of repulsive flab” is filled with “meaning” that keeps you focused on the illusion and separated from the solution. Let’s translate that sentence into one with grounded assessments and notice how different it feels. “I notice that my body contains fat and I have fat deposits in several places.”
That is something that is easier to go to work on because you are just stating reality, not adding to it. When you are working with a set of facts, a solution becomes more clear cut. When you add the emotional judgements to the mix, you now have another layer to cut through in order to get to a solution. That’s why a mediator is often helpful in getting to a solution. They plow through both sides of the dispute extracting all the emotional side roads so they can map out at a direct route to a solution.
Think of a dispute or grievance you are currently involved with. Write it out to the best of your ability. Now extract all the ungrounded assessments from the mix. My experience is that this practice turns down the thermostat on the red hot emotional factors and provides an air-conditioned environment more conducive to reaching a solution.
When I find myself caught up in ungrounded assessments, I now have a new phrase to bring me back to earth – “She has cracks in her face.”
All the best,
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