What happened once upon a time happens all the time

What happened once upon a time happens all the time.

Buried in a story linked by @beingtweets recently, I stumbled upon this quote and immediately liked it because its use of "once upon a time" speaks to a children's tales, to faith of every kind and to what we've recently come to know about human frailty.

Most religious traditions, including mine, describe how we'll pass by trouble, or an obvious need, without taking the time to investigate - or help. If you travel, you're are familiar with the homeless who wander urban centers. I'm guilty of pushing past them too.

But these days, our frailty has been located in our biology, not just our ethics. Daniel Simons, who has spoken at the IdeaFestival by the way, is well known for a series of "invisible gorilla" videos that illustrate just how "inattentional blindness" can cut us off from the obvious. We humans can look past what's in front of our noses with remarkable ease. The philosopher of psychology, Eric Schwitzgebel, has written extensively about how opaque we are to ourselves - even when volunteer subjects, for example, have been instructed to report certain events in environments favorable for extended reflection. He has concluded that "we are not simply fallible at the margins but broadly inept."

But an inability to fully know ourselves also serves us well. Who, otherwise, would mentally step outside old (and ancient) habits of mind that prioritize threats instead of opportunities, or question received wisdom and "common sense" that can hide better solutions, or press on in spite of the latest hurt? "Once upon a time" is associated with a fairy tales, but it's our unknown, and unplumbed, depths that leave room for the happily ever after.

Stay curious.


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