Imagine a picture puzzle.... It comes in a box filled with hundreds of pieces. When assembled, it may depict a landscape, perhaps, with large swatches of blue sea and blue sky. Imagine my mind is like one of those picture puzzles, and so is yours. I take one of those blue puzzle pieces, give it to you, and declare, “Here's a bit of the picture in my mind. I give it to you so you can see the picture I see.”

Escaping the pinch of a finger trap

Have you ever felt the pinch of a finger trap puzzle?

A finger trap looks harmless. It's just a small tube made of paper. Perhaps a jokester friend handed one to you and said, “Here...stick your fingers in this thing, then pull them out.” How hard can that be?

So you play along, stick your fingers into the tube, pull, and find your fingers stuck. Trapped. Pinched.

Also puzzled, and probably frustrated, most of us react by pulling harder. Getting our fingers out must involve pulling, right? So we pull harder. And the finger trap pinches tighter.

The secret of the finger trap is our belief that pulling harder ought to work. But pulling harder doesn't work; that's what makes it a trap. The solution to escape the finger trap is to push gently first. Pushing into the tube releases its pinch. Only then can we carefully remove one finger at a time.

Escaping a finger trap isn't just a matter of pushing, though. It's also a matter of understanding first how the trap works. First we need insight into its mechanism. When we discover our initial belief works badly, that pulling harder pinches tighter, then we adjust our belief to accommodate a method that works.


Reading the news, hearing the news, watching the news, how many of those stories are about pulling harder on traps that are pinching tighter? Why does it seem so difficult to accept that pulling harder pinches tighter? If it didn't work yesterday, and it's not working today, why believe that pulling harder might suddenly work tomorrow?

A finger trap is just a toy, and its mechanism seems simple. So it's no big deal to adjust our belief about how it works.

If we believe that life is hard, that life is complicated, that there are no easy answers, that a lifetime of effort to pull harder must be rewarded, then a simple solution like, “Push gently,” can seem disappointing. Judging by the news, apparently we believe that difficult problems deserve difficult solutions.

There are plenty of times when we claim we seek easy answers. When offered simple solutions, however, how often do we reject them by saying, “Well, that can't be right!” ?

The secret to escape a finger trap is to understand it first. Insight into the mechanisms that trap us leads to solutions that actually work. What we believe about the mechanisms of our world make a huge difference in our ability to live freely—or to feel pinched tightly in a giant finger trap.

Peter Senge's book, The Fifth Discipline, offers a remarkable source of insight into difficult situations and insight into beliefs that can trap us.

The Sustainability Institute is one organization that applies the same thinking to encourage solutions to global challenges.

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Warning sign

Suppose we're driving, and we approach a large barricade with a sign that says,


What is our standard of evidence to make a decision?

What if we've already driven past a ROAD CLOSED AHEAD warning sign every mile for the last 30 miles?

Driving off a cliff, pedal to the metal, just to confirm that the bridge really is gone and that 30 miles of warning signs really were there for a reason, that strikes me as unwise and unimpressive decision-making behavior.

That's not wisdom.

Every mile, for the past 30 miles.

Every year, for at least 30 years.

What would you do?

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Information, knowledge, wisdom

How do these three puzzle pieces fit together?

  • Information
  • Knowledge
  • Wisdom

How do we tell them apart? How do we acquire them? How do we apply them?

and we all begin happily ever after

How would we live if beginnings justify means?

How would we live if the phrase, "And we all live happily ever after," begins a new story?

We're accustomed to seeing a similar sentence at the end of stories. It seems to function there as a perfunctory wrap-up, tacked on mostly as a story-telling ritual.

It seems to me there's always another story unfolding, however, or a new one that's about to begin. Instead of perfunctory endings, what if we focus on setting the precedent for the quality of our lives from the beginning?

How would we live if beginnings justify means?

Well, what's your answer?

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