“If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.”
We all believe in stories. Stories shape how we understand reality. They guide our imagination as to what we see as realistic. What is viable. What is possible. Christopher Columbus was familiar with the story that the Earth was spherical, so he imagined if he sailed west from Europe, he would reach Asia and China. If he had imagined the world was flat, then it is unlikely he would have taken action to sail across the Atlantic. Stories also don’t always precede an action but often come along with or emerge retrospectively to explain or justify an action. Columbus did not know he was going to encounter a continent in between Europe and Asia full of diverse peoples. European settlers that followed didn’t know these peoples either. But as they proceeded to do so in some cases they engaged in making treaties. Only later did the story take wider hold that these peoples of these lands were stupid savages. A story to justify reneging on all the treaties that had thus far been made. Its easier to turn on your host, if you start believing they are less than you are.
Stories curate what we imagine is possible and how we imagine what we have done and are doing can make realistic sense. When you believe a story of any kind, whether religious, scientific or a fairytale, the ‘subject’ of that story looks a certain way. If you pick up another story it opens different possibilities for how you imagine reality. If you keep adding stories the possibilities start to multiply and diversify. By contrast if you keep trying to solve problems with the same story defining your imagination, it’s like trying to eat soup with a hammer.
Put the hammer down for a moment and look around, perhaps you will learn what a fork is, a spoon even, or simply chose to pour the soup straight down your throat. You might even imagine someone else feeding you or you see someone else looking hungry and pass them your bowl. Maybe you see a fridge and imagine putting some of the tasty but very filling soup on a shelf in the fridge so you can eat it in a day or two. Or maybe you want to save it longer and put it in a tin only for someone to paint those tins of soup.
What was possible, changed the moment you stopped imagining what was possible to do with this soup whilst hungry with hammer in hand. This doesn’t mean you will act on all those possibilities. Just because I use a sharp knife to chop onions to make some soup, does not mean I will simply stab myself with it because I can imagine the possibility. But precisely because I have the capacity to imagine many possibilities other than stabbing myself, I am not bound to having to stab myself. Having a gun does not mean you will shoot yourself, but it does open that possibility up as more realistic than if you did not have a gun. Accidents also happen. I might slip as I chop the onion and stab my finger.
Putting down the hammer and trying other ideas on for size will enable you to imagine what is realistic in different ways and you may even start experimenting. But this comes with a warning. When you do start imagining all the possibilities it hurts to see all the people trying to eat soup with hammers. In this absurdity, those who see the spoons can try to cultivate a new common sense, whereby many start seeing spoons. But perhaps realizing there’s so many possibilities for this bowl of soup is what we can really be imagining.