How We See

This blog contains references to ideas presented in earlier entries.  Please take a look back at those or at the downloadable white papers for context.

There is an implication in the previous blog entry, The Philosophical Divide, that is profound in terms of our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.  If we go with Idea B (as presented in The Philosophical Divide), that we know the world only by what comes to us through interpretation, then who or what is making that interpretation?  The simple answer, of course, is "me" or "you".  And here is where the conversation gets really interesting because that leads to the question of "who am I?" or "who are you?" as an interpreter.  That is, what are the key things about me that create the interpreter I am?  There are many ways to answer this including our "by default" which is that I am a rational being and thus I interpret the world around me through the lens of reason.  This has been the view for the past few hundred years, at least, as our understanding of ourselves in the West.  

What ontological learning and coaching says is that there is more to us than that and, although there might be thousands of factors, three stand out as predominant.  These three are language, body and emotion.  These are very useful fields or domains to take a look at for two reasons.  The first is that they are common to all humans.  They are not discretionary.  All humans use language, all humans experience emotions and all humans have bodies.  The second reason is that they are the simplest areas to tease out and take a look at individually even when they are never truly separate and we never are active in one without simultaneously being active in the other two.  

In ontological learning and coaching we refer to the who that is interpreting the world as the observer.  There are certainly other ways to name these areas together but this is the language that has been adopted in these disciplines.  

In this work, instead of trying to separate at the beginning what is nature and what is nurture, we choose to look at the human we are today and consider what we know or are blind to in these three areas.  Whatever we do or don't see is often the result of what we have learned or not learned linguistically, emotionally or somatically.  Thus we can take a look at any person's behaviors or beliefs and begin to understand the observer that person is.  And we can get curious about what experiences, what learning or lack of learning leads the person to see as they do.  This approach sets aside judgements of right or wrong, good or bad in favor of understanding what constitutes the human being we are witnessing.  

There are, of course, many aspects of each of us that are 'hard wired' or congenital and biological.  We learned to walk but the innate capacity was there prior to the learning.  The claim is that we learned what we needed in order to survive or navigate life as we found it but generally not much more.  Until we engage in practices designed to improve our walking we will not be able to separate out the parts that were learned and the parts that we were created with. In other words, what are the limits of our biology and what are the limits of our learning.  In coaching we are looking for those things we learned (or didn't) that can be altered if we so choose.  So coaching or learning ontologically is not a panacea but simply another way of understanding learning and what we find is that in most areas of our lives there is some amount of learning that can make a difference.  Can you think of even one area where a commitment to practice would not expand your range or increase your competence?  Sometimes the shift can be dramatic and transformational and sometimes it will be much more modest but there is in almost all cases room for improvement.  

Ontologically we can think of self-awareness as the ability to observe how we observe.  We react out of the observer we are but we respond out of the ability to see how we see.  

The work we do is based on a simple model of learning.  Awareness - Choice - Practice.  First, an awareness that there is something to learn, that we are ignorant in some way.  Second, a commitment to learn even when we are not sure of the outcome.  In many ways this is and act of trust in the learning process or of faith.  And third, practice.  Learning cognitively happens by insight and taking in a single idea does not require practice but putting that idea to use, making an habitual way of being does.  No embodied learning happens without practice.  Fortunately we are always practicing.  The question is whether what we are learning through our practice is something we've chosen or whether we are simply reinforcing indiscriminate learning?

Dan Newby