Want to create a better life in 2019?
In “Emily’s Five Things,” a Taiwanese television series, Emily finds a bottle at the beach. It contains a paper with an enigmatic message:
- Be Yourself
- Bid Farewell
- Go Home
The letter also warns that if she doesn’t do those things, she’ll die. After having a nightmare later that night, she starts to believe it.
Sure, it’s kind of a hokey setup, but it’s got a couple of good lessons to teach.
Emily starts to ponder the message. How is she not “being herself” — i.e., true to her own deepest convictions? With whom does she need to reconcile, and to what should she bid farewell? Where’s home? And how on earth should she “rewind?”
As she tries to discern the meaning, Emily starts to make connections and get insights. She realizes things about her life that, at some level, she already knew.
That’s one of the ways to be creative. If looking at things in the usual way isn’t getting you where you want to go, then look at them in a different way.
The messages in the bottle all seem meaningful. But that can mask how the trick really works.
You know many things without knowing that you know them. The philosopher Michael Polanyi called it “tacit knowledge.”
If you try to reach that tacit knowledge through your mind’s front door, you often can’t do it. Using the front door is the way you normally think. You need to find a side door.
Psychotherapists sometimes use a variation on the technique. If a patient doesn’t know how he or she feels about something, a therapist might ask, “Well, if you did know, what would you say?”
In Emily’s case, it’s not the specific messages that matter. What matters is that the messages make her think about her life in new ways. She finds the side door that leads to her tacit knowledge.
That’s one way that the Bible and other sacred documents work. Believers are sure that the text contains the answers to their questions. So they think about the text until they find the answers that they needed.
Sometimes, the answers are there in the text. But just as often, the answers are in the believers themselves — hidden in their tacit knowledge. The text just provided the side door to find it.
But as side doors go, Emily’s Five Things are a good place to start: Be yourself, reconcile, bid farewell, go home, and rewind.
How do those ideas apply to you? And how can you put them to work in 2019?
It’s your life, so you’re the only one who knows. Even if you don’t know you know.
Check out my new book Why Sane People Believe Crazy Things: How Belief Can Help or Hurt Social Peace. Kirkus Reviews called it an “impressively nuanced analysis.”