“The ego is nothing other than the focus of conscious attention.”~ Alan Watts
There are fish. They swim in a fishbowl full of water. They swim back and forth while interacting with each other.
There is a person observing the fishes and wondering if the fishes consciously realizes they are in water and whether they understand the importance of water to their very survival.
That’s the framed scene in question that we are thinking about today. It is not important to determine if the fishes do realize that, only that we have now created this analogy in our minds.
Based on my understanding and reading, this analog appears to originate from a translation of a African proverb. Another origin is from the works of academics and writers, most famously written by the late David Foster Wallace.
While you may then argue that fish do not have the same cognitive capability, intellectual know-how and self-awareness to even ponder about their situation, it provides a suitable analogy for us to then channel towards people in turn.
Now, let’s bring our attention to people and frame it as such.
There is a crowd of people going about their day-to-day business. Most of which would lead ordinary lives and be ordinary people. Many of which would perhaps realize and acknowledge the situation, premise and reality of which they live in but will more likely than not, will never question it.
Here, people live their lives in invisible societal or cultural bubbles. In cross-cultural management studies and teachings, lecturers and academicians like to normally cite about cultural bubbles in which people of one society live in. This phenomena becomes very visible (at the very least, people become self-aware of it) when.. people from a different culture experience a different culture altogether. In that, cross-cultural managers are actually recommended to learn more about their own culture so they can understand what differentiates their own society’s culture from others. To put it metaphorically, get a fish to develop a taste for differentiating different waters. Even in the same general culture or society, there are different sub-cultures due to regional differences.
While there are no qualms with the good virtues that a society practices, it is the flaws and behaviours that we now draw our attention to. It is these things that require changing.
Interestingly, the behaviours of people can be quite ironic. Unlike the fishes, human beings possess the potential to develop intellectual acumen, self-consciousness and the reasoning required to understand the bubble they are in.
In fact, some people may sometimes be consciously aware of it. However, few people have the force of will, discipline, intellectual prowess and humility or even audacity to have the the self-awareness to realize and analyze themselves in this invisible bubble. As it stands, people would more likely submit themselves to societal and cultural norms because they believe the importance of the majority precedes the importance of the individual. If not that, they would be following their unconscious instinctive nature found in humanity’s ancestors.
“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”
~ Jiddu Krishnamurti
Now that we realize this, we would think that after knowing the said phenomena, we would be positioned to inform people about it so society would change for the better. Let’s not kid ourselves. It won’t happen.
In a perfect world where people have the intellectual self-awareness to reflect and understand themselves alongside the society they live in, this would be a piece of cake. However, we don’t live in that world and people can be horribly irrational, even me. Pointing that out would make people even more adamant to not change as it has been internalized by themselves. The best way to make people realize it is to indeed point it out but make them question it themselves, while pointing them in the right direction from time to time.
To end, all we can do is show them the way and its their decision whether or not they are willing to explore that open path. Most importantly, it is to we ourselves that we should realize this, be aware of it and consciously strive to change ourselves for the better, whether or not it aligns with the norms of our society. Lastly, become an exemplar that makes people want to follow you, thus inciting the very change we perhaps were hoping for.
Till the next time.
For further reading:
- “Fish Don’t Know They’re In Water” – http://lifehacker.com/5821126/fish-dont-know-theyre-in-water
- David Foster Wallace on Life and Work – https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB122178211966454607
- Mirror Image: Know Your Own Culture to Understand Others – https://www.monster.com/career-advice/article/know-your-own-culture