When Katie was teaching art to elementary school students, she did a few lessons involving everyday objects. She hold up a fork, for example, and ask the kids what else it could be. A rocket, where the tines are flames shooting out the back. The arm of a snowman. A candelabra. It was Imagination 101. The idea was to engage creativity, and see things in a different perspective.
There were always kids, though, that when presented with a folk and asked what it could be would yell “a fork!”. Yes, but what else could it be? A fork! they’d yell again, pleased at their cleverness in being able to identify a common object. Note that these are my editorial comments, not Katie’s. She’s far more generous than I.
“A pile of rocks ceases to be a rock pile when somebody contemplates it with the idea of a cathedral in mind.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Pilote de Guerre (1942)
Over time, though, I’ve come to coin the term “fork people” based on that anecdote. They’re people that cannot see other possibilities. It never occurs to them that other things might be possible. The world around them is a certain way, and they assume that’s just how it is. They can’t fathom that life might be different in other places. That there could be other ways of doing things. A fork is a fork is a fork.
The Idea of a Cathedral in Mind
It’s particularly infuriating, having lived in Europe for the past six years, to hear Americans declare that things aren’t possible. Usually I look around at those very things have have been ongoing, successfully, for decades here. I encounter the same thing in my business, when people declare that something I’ve been doing for years would never work. They’re not invested in possibilities. They don’t have a cathedral in mind. A pile of rocks is a pile of rocks.
The paradox is that I have a hard time seeing fork people as anything other than fork people. I don’t know how to fix the problem of their literal-mindedness, or low openness to experience. I can see the possibilities, if they were willing and able to think a little bit differently, so I don’t think it’s forkist behavior on my part. It’s just frustrating knowing that some people will never change, to the detriment of themselves and others.