Escape, if you will, deep into your mind and prepare to paint this scene around you:
You stand alone in a simple grey room, with an open doorway and a subtle foggy window on the far wall. With the exception of yourself and a low wooden table before you, it is an empty space. Void of distraction. With nothing else to draw you, your eyes fall to the table.
Upon which, lies a classically styled chess set.
A simple, prototypical model.
At first glance, there is nothing significant about the display—it is much like any other chess set, patiently waiting to be the grounds for a bout of intellectual warfare.
As you look closer however, you see the pieces are not rigidly lined up in starting positions with opposing colors facing each other across the board. Rather, the knights and pawns and rooks and other players are all about the board.
As if you stumbled upon the scene mid-gameplay.
Just as you have fully analyzed and digested the set-up, a strange figure rushes passed you and hurls the board to the floor.
The battle ground is crudely felled to the ground of carpet.
The faceless warriors are strewn about the room.
The scene is lost.
In the midst of your profound confusion, the intrusive and destructive stranger turns to leave, having finished his perplexing business. Before he exits, however, he turns and leaves you with one deceptively simple request: “Set it all back as it was.”
Though thoroughly frustrated, you swiftly set about to fulfill your task. Soon, however, you will come to find that your chess replication capabilities will hinge upon two elements: whether you grasp the rules of the game, and whether he who set up the original board had adhered to them.
You may now ease your way back to conscious reality, leaving behind your small stale grey scene.
For there is a lesson now to be learned.
In the 1930’s and 1940’s, a psychologist named Adriaan de Groot used this very idea of chess display re-creation to illustrate an important cognitive principle.
Subjects of his tests were given a short amount of time to scour over a partially completed game of chess. Then, the board would be abruptly dissembled, and de Groot would instruct participants to set up the board just as they remembered it. When the results were assessed, de Groot found that those most proficient in the rules and possible maneuvers of chess were most successful in returning the pieces to the correct positions. Chess masters trumped novices every time, as they were not only able to visualize where each piece had been but also how each piece had arrived there.
Inspired by de Groot’s work, the Chase and Simon chess experiment was created in the 1970’s, implementing an important twist. Again, chess masters and amateurs were ask to briefly memorize the set-up of a chess board and then to re-create the scene. However, unlike de Groot, Chase and Simon did not play by the rules. The pieces were not arranged in compliance to regulations, but places around the board at random. This time, when the memorization of the participants was put to the test, no one had the advantage.
Chaos, it seemed, put everyone on an equal playing field.
Once again, I beckon you to retreat deep into your mind if it suits you.
Shortly, you will make your way back through the open doorway to the disarrayed chess game that awaits you. First, however, I ask you to indulge a few thoughts while we are yet in the dark of your mind.
Considering the scene you recently immersed yourself in, are we really talking about a simple game?
For you, is there more incentive to replicating our deconstructed scene than your compulsion to clean up an unnecessary mess or to follow cryptic orders?
If not—if a chess set is just a chess set—then you are free to go. You may let this whole venture fade away into your subconscious.
However, if you maintain even the slightest suspicion that our ominous stranger’s instructions rang with a mysterious and enticing urgency, I beseech you start on your way back the grey and desolate scene.
For now you have a sense that this seemingly innocent experiment is not so unfamiliar to you. And it is not impersonal. Yes, as you quicken your pace to fulfill your task, memory serves to affirm that this unassuming room has been idly tucked away in your thoughts long before today, leaving the doorway open for your arrival. Inside, the chess display has been like a silent and subtle beacon, to shine a light upon a distant shore—long unseen.
And, perhaps, now you have made sense of it. And, now, it is not just a game. Your whole life, the pieces have been moving. Vulnerable pawns, charging knights, and powerful queens shifted around the board to establish themselves firmly in place for the day you would find them. And find them you did—exactly how they were meant to be.
And here we are again, crossing through the threshold of this barren room. You come inside, and the doorway seals shut behind you. As you knew it would.
Now, you will have the rest of your life to set things straight.
You will move your pieces about the board, to re-create the arrangement that was set in place for you.
But the stakes are high.
So think before you play.
Do you know the rules?
Do they matter anyway?
Though I cannot think of the last time I saw a window whose dimensions actually conformed to the elementary default of four perfectly square panes, for all intents and purposes, this is a window:
A Johari Window, to be specific.
You see, in the 1950’s two psychologists named Harrington Ingham and Joseph Luft wanted to develop a visual tool for self-comprehension. Thus, the Johari Window was created. Here’s how it works.
The top-left pane is Open. In this section are details about yourself that are known to everyone. Information that you understand about yourself, and also is apparent to other people. Anything from your physical appearance, to whether you’re introverted or extroverted, to your general work ethic is Open. Everyone knows. Everyone can see.
The bottom-left pane, conversely, is Closed. Here resides your secrets, and insecurities, and the traits that only you can recognize in yourself. If you ever get the feeling that no one understands you or if you fear that no one else thinks the way that you do, perhaps you are isolating much of yourself to this Closed arena.
In the top-right we have the Blind quadrant. As the title might suggest, this section refers to your blind-spots— qualities about yourself that you cannot see, but are easily recognized by those around you. If you are open to having your blind-spots revealed to you by others, you may discover gifts you never knew you had or failings you never would have known to address.
Still, as far as I am concerned, the last region is by far the most intriguing, but I suppose that is the inevitable reaction to its mystery. We have already set a place for all that you see in yourself, all that others see in you, and the elements of your makeup about which everyone is aware. So, all that can be left in the bottom-right is the Unknown. This region accounts for everything else. This region represents all of the fibers of your being that are invisible to everyone. Everyone. Now, that can be a confusing and frightening concept, particularly when you consider that everything within this pane is equally as integral to your composition as the knowledge stored within the other three regions. This invisible blueprint is as fundamental a construct as any; it will contribute to your identity throughout your life… and you will not even know it.
If I were to speculate as to the contents of this subdivision, I could propose only one possibility: Destiny.
Perhaps, just perhaps, in this secretive chamber, lies the outline of our fate. Why we were born into a certain family, into a certain culture. Where our lives are heading, when they will come to a halt. What significance our meager lives could possibly hold in the overwhelming universe.
If we are truly blessed, we may encounter someone in life whose Johari Window falls parallel to our own. In such an overlap, we may reveal our Closed pane to them, and they may show us everything they notice in our Blind arena.
This, I imagine, is how a couple is meant to truly become one in marriage. In fact, the original word for sex in the Bible is “yada,” which is the same word denoting, “to know, to be known, and to be accepted.” To match up the “window” of your identity with someone else’s, you get to know everything about that person that they know, and they get to discover every blind-spot about them that only you can reveal.
Even still, in this most intimate of relationships, there remains that mysterious last quadrant.
No matter how close you may be with your love, your best friend, your other half… that will not shine a light into this dark arena. For either of you.
And yet, there is hope.
Though no knowledge acquired through intimate human relationships will ever be able to perfectly complete the square of one’s Johari Window, there is One who can clearly perceive this Unknown.
If we let allow for it, there is One who can fulfill the ultimate shortcoming of even our most sacred relationships. There is a Light that can beam unobstructed through our every pane, like the morning sun through flawless glass.
The only One to complete our picture.
The only One to truly see.
For roughly a year now, I have traversed my life in a sort of fog. Surrounding me is a thick and filmy air that I have discovered to be inescapable, for the cloud has been moving right along with me. I move within it like a hamster in a wheel, and all attempts to escape are to no avail.
Clinically, you might term it “depression” but I have a particular disenchantment with this diagnosis. As I have witnessed, this sort of pain will find a time and a place in everyone’s life, so why strap on a label that deems the sufferer diseased? Doctors and drugs are introduced to the situation, to cure this sickness, but are merely tools of momentary relief. They want to rapidly stamp it out, to cover it up, to send it into remission… but it is not a cancer.
It is a broken bone.
Simply by living, you are vulnerable to an eventual break. The only protection would come in an isolated, immobile existence. Curled up and alone in an empty closed-off room, you may fend off a fracture but your stagnant bones will consequentially be weak and useless, and you will soon die by means of starvation, dehydration, suffocation, or any number of pains more dismal than one shattered bone. To have any semblance of a meaningful life, you must expose yourself to the world, despite human fragility.
Then comes the break.
You cry and you ache and cannot think through the pain. Much like a physical fracture, if you focus on nothing but the hurting sensation, you can turn to painkillers or other distractions for temporary comfort, but they can do nothing to heal you.
You must identify the source, set the bone, stabilize it, and then wait patiently for your body to heal itself.
However, the break is often more complicated below the surface than first realized, and you must explore beneath the skin to understand the entirety of the damage.
In the case of depression, you may be able to easily identify some catastrophic heartbreak in your life that finally resulted in the fracture, but there is always more to the picture. The arduous and exhausting demise of my last romantic relationship was the final blow in my situation, but as I recognize the superficiality of that cause and examine everything more carefully, I can see now that I had inner pressure eating away at me long before that particular hit. My susceptibility to being broken resulted from cracks that had long been forming, unbeknownst to me. Spiritually, I had undetected weaknesses that were revealed to me when I finally fell apart, and I found myself blindsided by my own doubts and questions about God and life and the universe.
This is where setting the bone comes into play. This is the stage I find myself up against, and I am afraid to move forward.
You see, setting a bone is agonizingly painful. While the broken bone may leave you wincing and immobile, the setting stage evokes screaming and writhing and potentially blacking out. I know that admitting and addressing and seeking answers to my big questions will be frightening and painful. My heart might scream and writhe and feel separated from God by a great blackness– leading me through the thick of a fiery despair.
But for an instant of my life.
Once the bone is repositioned, you can breathe again and the fleeting silent cries for death fade away, and everything begins to get better. I know it is best pursue some degree of closure concerning my inner confusion and misgivings, but confessing doubt is terrifying and embarrassing… and it hurts worse than any pain I have ever known. However, it is necessary to begin the healing, and I will endure it. But not alone.
I shall wait upon a hand to hold— one of my loved ones that I trust is aptly-braced to endure my clutch until the trial is over. When we are both prepared, I can allow God to begin His handiwork— setting things straight.
And, when you allow for that, you are flooded with sharp and unreserved pain.
Blackness— so deep, you don’t know if you can see God.
It’s a little Hell on Earth.
Then, it’s over. You’ve made it out.
And you can move on to seeking stability.
To keep the adjustments in place and protected against further damage, you case it within plaster.
To shield your emotional and spiritual reconstruction, allowing for optimum healing, you must establish stability in your life. Despite what you may believe, there truly are people that love you enough to be your cast, seeing to it that no accidental stumblings or unexpected hits will penetrate too deeply in your fragile state. None of us are ever met with hardships or heartaches too severe for us to recover from, as is our design, but we are deceived to believe that this means we should be strong enough to handle everything on our own. There are roughly seven billion people on the planet for a reason— everybody needs somebody.
God’s greatest gift to any of us is the rest of us. Allow yourself to rely upon someone.
But, even still, be wary.
The only way you will ever know that you have healed will be to eventually cut off your plaster, to set down your crutches, to stand up from your wheelchair and walk. You may cling to this sort of attention and protection even after the bones have recovered in hopes to fend off any future damage, but using people that care about you in this way is unfair to them and is debilitating to yourself. Depression is not a permanent handicap… unless you allow it to be. If you forever believe your leg is broken, refusing take off your cast, it will remain asleep and hang like dead weight. If you forever believe that you are broken, refusing to expose yourself to life, you become dead weight, asleep until the day you die.
So, you must regain your strength through practice. You must try to walk on your own, but this does not mean you must walk alone. The friends and family that were once holding you up are now holding your hands, as you try to walk in the light together.
And you look at where your break was, and you smile as it adjusts to fresh air and sunshine and the sensation of movement again.
And you have made it out, and you are wiser for it. You have walked a dangerous path and can better protect yourself and others when the road becomes rocky. If you slip, you can brace yourself before you strike upon the stone, and you know how to mend your broken bones.
Nothing is our fault.
Over and over, we feed ourselves this misconception.
We fancy ourselves pure and priceless china, perfect in solitude, but defenseless against fracture and obliteration the moment we are knocked to the earth by powers beyond our control. By the reckless and clumsy mistakes of others.
Under this flawed way of thinking, we adopt “self-serving biases,” as they are recognized in the line of scholars. Biases such as these operate much like get-out-of-jail-free cards. Our failures can be attributed to the shortcomings of other parties involved in our lives, but our successes are exclusively ours to claim.
Imagine a student has recently aced a difficult examination. More likely than not, he or she shall beam with pride, understanding that they genuinely earned the victory through individual hard work and natural intellect. Only he or she is worthy to revel in the glory of the accomplishment.
Down the road, however, the student’s grades may not be consistently pristine. When the result of a test is less than satisfactory, who then is to blame? Perhaps the professor, for not adequately preparing her students or for designing an unjustifiably difficult examination. Perhaps the student’s peers and loved ones, for creating pressure to focus on areas outside of academics. Perhaps God, for not instilling within the student enough intelligence. Perhaps the compilation of the distracting sights, sounds, and smells of the examination room.
Any of the above. Anything else. Anything but personal fault.
I suppose I can scour for an honest answer to that question by addressing a particular self-serving bias that I have examined from many angles. You see, there is a rising stereotype today that I fear may have disastrous consequences for our society, growing more irreversible with each passing generation. It is a claim that echoes daily from a chorus of jaded women and girls. You see, when a relationship with a man does not meet their expectations and heartache sets in, three words are often thrown up to shield off any blame that might be passed their way: “Guys are jerks.”
Naturally, if the entire male population is comprised of malicious creeps, a girl has no chance of coming away unscathed, no matter how faultless and pure and “better” that girl certainly must be compared to her boyfriend, the very spawn of Satan. Sure, you can speculate about all of the possible ways the party of the fairer sex may have fumbled throughout the relationship, but they are hardly relevant.
Perhaps she gave little-to-no thought about whether she or her beaux were mature enough to pursue love.
Perhaps she jumped into a relationship with someone she hardly knew, mistaking attraction for a deep, lasting connection.
Perhaps she shared every facet of her being emotionally, spiritually, and physically with him, without reservation or interest in whether he was ready for the same commitment.
Perhaps she set such impossibly high expectations, he lived under constant pressure to be perfect.
Perhaps she did not trust him enough, due to her own low self-confidence.
Perhaps she trusted him too much, and made herself an easy target.
Perhaps she grew to identify herself by the relationship— so much so that the girl he fell for ceased to exist.
Perhaps, just perhaps, she herself had her own brief, miniscule, not-worth-mentioning instances of exhibiting characteristics mildly reminiscent of what we call a… jerk. (I said it. So sue me.)
Still, none of these lapses in judgment matter in the end. After all, if guys are jerks, the relationship was destined for destruction.
You see, I think the reason we are so keen on writing off men as deplorable, filthy, selfish, cheating, lying, stone-hearted jerks is this: If we accept that our actions are equally responsible for our heartache, that means that all of the pain was preventable. That means we could have changed things, but failed to do so. That means we have to reprimand ourselves instead of someone else that we have no control over.
That means we might have to change.
This is why the self-serving bias exists. This is why we cast blame upon others. This is why we grow depressed and cynical about life and about humanity.
We fear change.
If we are convinced that, by its nature, life just sucks, we never need to change because it would do no good. However, if we recognize that our failure and our unhappiness actually has something to do with our choices, we know that we can do something about it. And that scares us. Because that means a change to our identity, which is the individual way that everyone experiences life. Changing ourselves changes that identity, and changes that experience.
To put it simply,
People are exactly like trees.
When a tree is still a sapling, it has obvious vulnerabilities. Few layers have developed to form the trunk, so the immature plant might be easily trampled or snapped cleanly in half. Young people, or people with little life experience rather, run a higher risk of being irreversibly damaged, both physically and emotionally. Early on, our barriers are flimsy and, like a sapling could be killed by a heavy hiking book, newcomers into the world can be destroyed by powers outside themselves. At this stage, the tree’s roots have had no time to grow and cannot absorb much water, allowing the danger that the sapling might drown in the very rain providing it with life-sustaining nutrients. Children have not yet gotten their bearings or established their own identities. Parents, guardians, and role models that shower youths with too much of their own ideals, opinions, assistance, and decisions might squelch the growth of an independent spirit.
As a tree matures, it builds resilience. A protective outer bark develops and a new layer grows beneath this shield with each passing year. In the transition from a child to an adult, we are generally compelled to build up defensive walls against the dangers of life. We strengthen ourselves below the surface to prepare for the long haul. In the center, the heartwood is the strong rising pillar of the tree’s body. Longings of the heart are at the core of individual identities, and provide direction for one’s future. The sapwood of a tree is the next layer and channels sap from roots out to the leaves. Empowered by our core being, we let experiences of our past work within us and become a part of our actions. Cambium is the wood that works on a molecular level, and the inner bark brings nutrients into the cambium. Our souls have moving pieces that cannot be seen or reached by anyone, even ourselves. Any pain or any joy entering our lives begins to intertwine with these hidden realms The Creator has instilled in each of us. Then, the branches begin to reach out from the trunk, eventually producing leaves and possibly fruit. As we grow as individuals, we grow more able to reach out into the world. We can spread our wings and we can make our marks. We choose the actions and the directions we take, and the fruits of our labor are direct results of that. We can produce nothing of value if we have not been giving our lives the proper care. The tree is dependent on oxygen taken in by the leaves, and water absorbed up through the roots. By our nature, our thriving is reliant upon what we learn from our actions and ventures beyond ourselves, and what we have taken in from our past and the roots of our identities. Tree roots generally stretch out below the surface three times their branch-width. People are influenced and defined significantly more by what they have founded and imbedded themselves in, than any actions they themselves commit.
In full grandeur and health, trees are miraculous. When deeply rooted below the surface and branching out towards the sun, trees are brilliant. When their leaves are rustling in a summer breeze and their fruit displays patches of color across an orchard, trees are beautiful.
People are exactly like trees.