Monday, June 21, 2010

The Mystery of the Left Turn—A true story (because I can’t make this stuff up!)

I consider myself a fairly intelligent person. Still, in some situations, my brain doesn’t work well. I struggle with simple math calculations. And I get lost. A lot. Yesterday I walked a mile in the wrong direction until I slowly understood my error. At first, I denied the possibility. I’ve always turned left at that intersection. I know I turn left. If the street looks different today, it’s because I’m walking instead of driving.

I plodded along looking for landmarks. Finally, I asked for help, but when the driver pointed in the opposite direction, I didn’t believe him! My brain couldn’t compute that I was going in the wrong direction. (Can we say cognitive dissonance?) I continued walking. But after several others confirmed my error, I stopped. I stood still, in the middle of the urban jungle, trying to comprehend how my sense of direction could be so wrong. I was only duplicating my previous travel to this site.

If only I could understand what happened. But even without understanding, I now had to face the truth. I had walked at least a mile in the hot sun. Now I was even further from my goal. I had given myself ample travel time but now I would be late. I couldn’t be late—I was the one with the key ! I am never late! That is why I gave myself 2 hours to reach this appointment.

I trudged along. I had just missed the bus (of course).

As I walked in dismay, I suddenly realized my simple error. It is the error I always make when I get lost and it is the error I never see or anticipate. I had made an assumption. My assumption was so rapid and unconscious I didn’t even know it was there. I had assumed that I was coming from the same direction but now I wondered--had the train left me off at the same spot as my car route? It had looked the same. The train ran along the same highway I had taken previously. I had scanned the intersection, confirming my route. I had exited at this spot many times. But there were no buildings as landmarks. And then I remembered! The “Blue Line” train moves in a “U” shape. My inaccurate assumption: visualizing myself coming from home (west), when in fact, I had been turned around downtown.

I have a bad habit of making these kind of assumptions when I travel in unfamiliar places. I always see myself as coming from the North or West and never think to question this.

Do I also make similar (unconscious) assumptions when I talk or listen to others?

One more realization emerged from this adventure. Although I was traveling to an unfamiliar place, I had chosen trains I had taken before. Later, I realized that other routes, using buses, would have been far easier and more direct. I had followed the most familiar path available, never questioning other options.

It was a strange, woozy feeling to suddenly see my assumptions—the “sea I swim in.” It was both embarrassing and exhilarating. The world suddenly opened up, past my pre-conceptions.

When the events in your life attempt to point you in another direction, are you willing to question your assumptions? © 2010 Laura Lewis-Barr all rights reserved

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