Suppose a man starts out to reach a certain destination and comes to a place where the road branches into two. Not knowing the way, he takes the wrong road of the two and gets lost. He asks the way of someone he meets and is told to go straight back to the crossroads and take the other road, which will lead him directly to the place he wants to reach. What should we say if we heard that the man had gone back to the crossroads as directed, but had there concluded that he knew better after all than his adviser, had taken again his old road, and again got lost, and had done this thing not once or twice, but over and over again? Still more, what should we say if we heard that he was worrying dreadfully because he kept getting lost, and seemed no nearer to getting to his destination?
One could easily imagine a minister including this little story in a sermon about why smart people make foolish decisions. It almost sounds like one of Jesus’ parables.
But in fact it was written in 1923 by F. Matthias Alexander, the developer of the Alexander Technique in a chapter titled “Incorrect Conception” in his second book, Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual
Alexander was certainly not a man of the cloth, but by the time he wrote this, he had a lot of experience with students of his who behaved exactly like the man at the crossroads. As he writes a few sentences later, the crossroads story …is more or less what happens in the case of every pupil, even…those who are accounted the most intelligent, the most highly educated, the most scientifically trained…
And it’s precisely what Alexander Technique teachers come up against over and over again today.
Why is this?
Alexander’s view of the matter is that almost everybody carries around incorrect conceptions of the usefulness of his or her way of doing things – that, in Alexander’s words, …what he thinks of as a “difficulty” is not a difficulty in itself, but simply the result of “his way” of going to work.
Or, to put it another way – again in Alexander’s words – a student typically …subconsciously believes he knows more than his teacher about the things he can or cannot do.
Even, I might add, when intellectually he or she is in full agreement with the teacher.
Needless to say, this is one of the greatest challenges that Alexander Technique teachers face in helping their students change the way they do things, even simple things like standing, sitting a walking.
As Alexander famously remarked, Everyone wants to be right but no one stops to consider if their idea of right is right.
Have you had experiences with others’ incorrect perceptions and how their lives were affected?
Have you ever realized you had incorrect perceptions of your own? What was it that brought you to that realization – and what advice can you give based on your own experiences?
I would love to hear from you about your experiences with preconceived notions about what is right, and what is not.
Off topic, but I can’t resist including this quote from Yogi Berra: When You Come to a Fork in the Road, Take It!
And of course there is a Bluegrass song about a crucial crossroad:
(An earlier version was published as The Fork in the Road)