Show us the garden, not the gate

Suppose you’ve spent a lot of time thinking and reading about philosophy. You’ve taken what you’ve learned together with your life experience, and come up with your own way of thinking about things. Eventually, you get the sense that you might have a sort of theory or system you could share with other people, which would allow them to have insights similar to what you’ve had.

So you dedicate all your time trying to get just the right framing that will help people “get it” like you do. In the spirit of “teaching a man to fish”, you want to pass on the keys to your perspective to others. I think there is a good intention here, but it’s not always the most effective approach. It seems kind of like growing an incredible garden with all sorts of things blooming inside it and then spending all your time taking pictures of the garden gate.

Many really bright people get stuck at this stage. It might be philosophy or some other realm of thought that benefits from perspective & insight, and can theoretically be taught (e.g. art, spirituality). People will realize they have something potentially valuable to share, and then they set about trying to find the right way to introduce their perspective to other people. This in itself is not a problem; if it’s a good perspective, then it’s a good thing to try to share. I think the problem comes when trying to teach your perspective gets in the way of sharing its fruits.

Photo credit: Pauline E

People will not necessarily understand or agree with a novel perspective, but if it’s valuable, the results will speak for themselves. Often those results speak far more eloquently than the individual might be capable of. Using the example of art, I would rather see the art someone makes than hear their ideas about art. If their art resonates with me, I will naturally want to understand where it comes from, and I’ll probably start working backwards from what I like about it towards my own ideas.

This is the value of “show, don’t tell” for ideas. If you simply try to reproduce your perspective in other people, you face all kinds of difficulties, because everyone is different. They will be drawing on different experiences and their own ideas. If you give people something tangible, something that resonates with them, something they can respond to, they’ll be able to use it to build on their own perspective.

When it comes to something more nebulous like philosophy, what does sharing the fruits of your perspective look like? Perhaps it’s applying your ideas to real-life situations, or even sharing how your perspective interacts with other people’s ideas. I think the key thing to avoid here is too much self-reference, and the key thing to seek is “nucleation sites”, or opportunities for your ideas to grow, interact with other ideas, and flourish.

Do you have a perspective you want to share with other people? Have you tried teaching it systematically? Have you tried sharing the fruits of your perspective? Let me know your thoughts at my Ctrl-C email: gome ​@ ​