This Key is about what I learned from an embarrassing moment. It is about a trap we may fall into when strategizing, communicating and making investment decisions. In fact it is a trap you may fall into daily in any aspect of your life. It’s called the trap of confabulation.
Confabulation is the ability, or even the tendency of the brain to make up stories, to fill in the gaps by connecting the few dots that are there and making up other dots that are not there to complete the story. It is the confusion of imagination with memory. Here is the American Heritage Dictionary definition: “To fill in gaps in one’s memory with fabrications that one believes to be facts.”
In early March we stayed in a condominium in Fort Pierce, Florida. We went there to soak up the sun, to get some rest and to do some writing. It was a lake-front condominium and when we walked into our temporary home, I was delighted to see three ducks floating on the lake directly in front of our porch. There were other water birds in the area and on one occasion a loon swooped down out of the sky to rest on one of the ducks. See photo here. We were both amazed at how peaceful the ducks seemed. They moved and slightly buoyed with the ripples of the water and were peacefully resting near the pipe outlet to the lake. “They probably enjoy the little outflow of water,” we thought, “That may be the attraction of our area and why they stay so dedicated to this spot.”
In our seminars we often speak about balancing doing with being and about taking time for Reflection to balance the Action. These two weeks of reflective vacation are me walking my talk about the practice of reflection. The ducks in the lake are quickly becoming a great being metaphor for me. I watch them and photograph them, thinking that I can learn about being from these ducks. A few hours later when the owner of the condominium arrived to fix a door that needed repair I complemented him on attracting these peaceful ducks to the front of his house. He artfully explained, absolving me from the embarrassment of feeling completely stupid that these floating plastic ducks hold the irrigation system in place for the lake.
“Of course,” I thought. “Now that I know it, they do look like plastic ducks.” Like looking at the famous drawing that is both a goblet and two faces gazing at each other, depending on the way you look at it, or the line drawing of a woman who can become either old or young, when you change your line of perception. I took another look out at my real / fake ducks, alternating between these two perceptions. Next my mind produced excuses. The mind has its pride, its ego (mine) to defend; after all, how demented would one have to be to think that these are real ducks. My excuses:
First, they are nicely decorated – they really do look like ducks.
Second, the wind and the water ripples produce a constant movement which makes them look alive.
Third, they are 30 feet away and I’m not wearing my glasses.
And well, fourth, I am not from here, how could I have known, yada, yada, yada, excuse after excuse because I feel stupid to have thought that these were real ducks.
Now the teacher, learner, coach is kicking in. It says, this is a metaphor for the human condition. Can you harvest the learning here? So I sat down and put together this KEY about confabulation. Here are my thoughts as I reflect on my plastic duck epiphany:
1. If it looks like a duck but doesn’t act like a duck, it probably ain’t a duck.
2. Fake may look like the real thing but it ain’t.
3. There are many “plastic ducks” around. The risk is in preferring to believe they are real, especially since it is more rare to come across the real thing.
4. In a world full of fakery, the real thing, the truly authentic is all the more precious.
5. When we converse with each other, do we exchange “plastic ducks” or real ones?
6. The brain is a great confabulator. It loves to complete the picture to fit the paradigm you hold.
7. Most importantly, beware of becoming a “plastic duck” yourself. It’s better to stay real. To do real.
Great. I have turned my embarrassment about my urban lack of perception of ducks into a meaningful lesson. The philosopher in me is pacified and I feel better. Never waste an opportunity for a lesson, so here is my question to you:
What is your plastic duck? What are the things you confabulate stories about that are actually not true, and why? What opportunities are you missing by holding on to your plastic duck?
Now it’s your turn. Turn the key. Discover where you make up stories that prevent you from seeing things as they are and hold you back from realizing your opportunities. Please share your confabulation story.
PS. Thanks to Dr. Larry E. Webb, who pointed out that the bird isn’t a loon, it’s an anhingus, or water turkey, a common fish eating bird. And that the decoy “ducks” are not ducks but decoys of Canadian Geese. Let’s call this a confabulated confabulation.
© Aviv Shahar