Eric Berne: A Little Boy Sees And Hears Birds With Delight

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Rules of Thumb, skmurphy

In Chapter 16 (“Autonomy”) of “Games People Play” author Eric Berne offers a story about awareness that I think is a cautionary tale for entrepreneurs and those seeking to contribute to their “education” (bold added):

A little boy sees and hears birds with delight.

Then his “good father” comes along and feels he should “share” the experience and help his son “develop.” He says: “That’s a jay, and this is a sparrow.”

The moment the little boy is concerned with which is a jay and which is a sparrow, he can no longer see the birds or hear them sing. He has to see and hear them the way that his father wants him to.

Father has good reasons on his side, since few people can afford to go through life listening to the birds sing, and the sooner the little boy starts his “education” the better. Maybe he will be an ornithologist when he grows up.

A few people, however, can still see and hear in the old way. But most of the members of the human race have lost the capacity to be painters, poets, or musicians, and are not left the option of seeing and hearing directly even if they can afford to; they must get it secondhand.

The recovery of this ability is called “awareness.”

It’s hard to appreciate a thing directly at the same time you are trying to classify or categorize it. At the same time naming something allows you to write and speak about it, and terminology or domain specific vocabulary can allow you to communicate more exactly. But premature labeling and categorizing can inhibit your direct understanding of it.

Worse, using the labels doesn’t guarantee you really know what they mean. Until you have had “chills run down your spine” or felt the “brass taste of fear in your mouth” they are just expressions.

Entrepreneurs need to cultivate the habit of direct observation and thoughtful reflection, a desire to characterize a situation prematurely can get in the way of a fundamental understanding and ultimately awareness.

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