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The Map Is Not The Territory

by Rex Steven Sikes

The map is not the territory.

The father of general semantics, Alford Korzybski stated, "A map is not the territory it represents, but if correct, it has a similar structure to the territory, which accounts for its usefulness". What this means is that our perception of reality is not reality itself but our own version of it, or our "map".

No two people can have exactly the same map. While we all have similar neurological structure, it functions differently in all of us. This is the basis for our problems in communication when we try to impose our map upon another person. Learning to recognize the structure of another person's map allows us to "see the world though their eyes" and therefor understand and relate to others respectfully and accurately.

Our maps are created through gathering data through the five senses. Our senses bring certain aspects of the world to our attention, which go through neurological processes or filters, forming our values, beliefs, criteria (rules), and capabilities. These are often expressed consciously, yet most of the time they operate outside of our awareness and we don't realize that they can be changed to serve us in better ways.

When we pour water through a filter not everything passes through. Likewise, as information "pours in" from the outside world, it is output (our language and behavior) according to what we delete (filtering out 'unneeded' information), distort (picture a giraffe with an elephant's head), and generalize (all redheads have fiery tempers).

Generalization is the basis for the formation of our beliefs. (Although, which came first, the chicken or the egg?) What we believe about the world is how we interact within it. Most often it is our beliefs that limit us. We have beliefs about spirituality, the world, our capabilities and our environment, right and wrong, what is just and unjust, and whether or not we can change.

Values are the things we invest our time, money and effort in trying to attain. Examples: Fun, freedom, money, love, honesty, integrity. They are what is important to us. And we have very definite criteria or rule structures about how we go about attaining them.

NLP offers us a means of understanding our own and other's maps of reality. This knowledge allows us to create change for ourselves and others. It also allows us to generate unbelievable trust, rapport, and influence in communication while preserving the integrity of the other person(s).

NLP can assist you to begin to create trust, warmth and understanding with another person, friend or stranger, by learning what is important to know when communicating. Learning what to pay attention to and how to become more skilled in interacting with others will prevent you from imposing your own map upon those around you.

I am saddened that our human evolution has not yet taught us how to effectively deal with the condition of being human. We've made great strides in inventing weapons, pollution and waste, as well as great worthwhile achievements - yet we still struggle with issues of fairness, respect, integrity, tolerance and acceptance.

It is am amazing that in this day and age, with such a marvelous technology as Neuro Linguistic Programming, that people aren't doing more to improve the most frequent and common behavior to humans: communication. We have a technology which emphasizes simple principles of integrity and respect for fellow human beings regardless of race, color or creed. Even some of those people involved in NLP training do not practice what they preach!

NLP is about creating rapport, a favorable communication climate, respect and influence. It is about resourcefulness and attitude change. NLP offers us a way to improve the human condition through the appreciation and understanding of others. The number one assumption of NLP is to appeal to others through their unique map rather than imposing ours upon them.

We need to educate people to the idea that there are better ways to communicate with each other. As "NLP'ers", we need to be a model for others. We need to make a difference and begin to ease tensions.

A great person once said "You can light a million candles off just one". As each of us begins to take responsibility for the way we communicate, we can discover what make us wonderful as a species is our differences. We can help young people grow up with self esteem. We can assist adults in finding jobs and being productive. We can ease tension between ethnic groups, parents and children, teachers and students and become proud that we took steps to make the world a better place. It all begins one on one, the way most communication occurs anyway. The thing about lighting a million candles is that your candle needs to be lit first!


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