Doing Life As A Journey Not A Test Requires Learning to Process Information Not Prove with It
© 2003 Michele Toomey, PhD

Re-orienting ourselves to being on a journey as opposed to being on trial, requires that we learn how to approach information for understanding, not for proof. This is hard to do, however, because proving is more common than understanding and arguing is much more prevalent than conversation.

Even the category of what constitutes "information" is controversial. For those who approach life as a test, information is primarily defined as literal data, because it can be quantified and documented and therefore used to prove a point. The focus is on "objective" information called "hard" data. "Subjective" information that includes our relationship to the information is called "soft" data. Soft data such as attitudes, feelings, intuitive knowledge, and imaginings, are given little or no credibility as information unless they can be translated somehow into numerical categories or scales. If information can't be documented, measured and proved and thereby categorized as objective data, the analytical science of communication discredits or rejects it.

For the journeyer, who is, by definition, intent on evolving over time, discovering its relationship to information is the primary goal of data gathering. Information exchange is then, a personal, subjective educational experience, not a detached acquiring of data. Any idea, fact, thought, feeling, memory or imagining that contributes to our ability to creatively make associations that add to our understanding of our relationship with ourselves, others, or the world, is considered valuable information. Evolution means becoming more complex. For that to happen, information must affect us and become part of us, then we must affect the information. Change occurs as an outgrowth of the exchange and the evolutionary process goes on.

It is, therefore, a major shift, to gather information for understanding not for proof. We must dare be open to learn things about the world, or others, or ourselves, not be closed or fearful or presume we already know it all. Journeying and evolving is about discovery. We learn as we go. We don't know everything ahead of time.

In contrast, the test mentality of argument and proof assumes that once a position has been taken, nothing should change it. We must prove that what we think is right, then close ranks, and defend our position. Rather than being open to change, we are committed to remaining the same and resisting change. If we are wrong, it is seen as defeat, so we cannot afford to listen. We must already be right.

The journeyer, therefore, must have a tool for dealing with the openness of discovery that calls forth a complex relationship to multi-dimensional information. We must be able to handle and sort and then reconcile the complexity and the quantity of the paradoxical data that comes from the past, the present and the anticipated future, from within ourselves, from others, and from the universe. Processing is that vehicle and that tool. Since processing information is not about being right, but about discovering and about understanding and being understood, it allows life to be an educational experience. It is broad in scope yet intimate in nature because it is known from our perspective.

Processing calls forth creativity both in the search and in the linking together what is discovered. To be oriented toward learning and evolving is to be dynamic and free to move. Change as growth is desired not feared. To be resisting and fighting, arguing and proving in order to be right, is to be stuck and static and resistant to change. Dynamic is, of course, preferable to static by any standard.

However, it takes a certain self-confidence to be willing to process information. Processing requires us to reveal what we already think and feel and then be open to gaining new insight and new ideas. There is a vulnerability in this exposure. Processing is not an impersonal fact-finding venture. We are involved in it and who we are and who we become is essential to the process. In the presence of hostile discreditors, a journeyer is in danger and under attack. Processors must be agile and courageous in this climate.

Contrary to resisting and arguing and proving, where the person assumes superiority and frequently speaks and behaves aggressively hostile, when we process we are not in a superior position and aggressive hostility gets in the way. To be journeying and processing information is to be equal to other journeyers and no one is in jeopardy of anything except becoming known.

Some people are quicker at times when they process information but that isn't a sign of superiority. Rather it is a sign of dexterity and a talent which both they and we can admire and make use of in a helpful way. We are not competitors. We are contemporaries and companions on life's journey. Movement is very important in processing. As we process data and ideas and our relationship to them, our mind is moving around in search of relevant ideas and data, because we are searching for clarity and understanding. Learning to discipline our mind so that it will be available to us as we search our memory and our imagination for clues is a necessary tool for processing. There must be an openness to look anywhere that seems relevant, and after a search we always know more than when we started -- even if it is that we are not easily going to understand what we are reflecting on.

Argument rarely allows us to learn more, because the whole point is to prove we're right. The information we gather is very selective and often includes exaggerations or even lies, because we want to prove that our position is superior and right.

Learning to process really means learning to search for data and ways to understand what's going on, what's being said, or what's being taught, and then making the new understanding our own. It must be an open search, therefore, we must be open to search. In the searching, we are engaged in an egalitarian process. Whatever we discover is note-worthy and deserving of respectful treatment. Everything has some relevance, if the search is undertaken with integrity, and for it to have integrity the person must be honestly looking for ideas that add to understanding.

Processing is not a search for cause and effect, to analyze and solve, or argue and prove. Therefore, it is not a linear logic but rather a psycho-logic of spirals and curves. It is a very complex search through time and memory that makes associations and links things together. Information is not feared or used as a weapon. It is desired and valued.

People who journey through life processing information, learn not to live out of fear or inequality. Therefore, they are not hostile and do not make enemies out of themselves or others. As a result, they are not prompted to defend or attack when communicating. Instead, exchanging information leads to equal and intimate relationships. In the absence of fear and hostility, creativity has the potential to flourish. Processing information has such positive effects, one would think it would be the orientation of choice. But it isn't. It goes against our version of superiority and strength, and our investment in them. To process and journey we must dare to be vulnerable and exposed, intimate and equal, open and respectful, creative and disciplined. The shift from proving ourselves is scary because we fear we'll lose our stature or our control. However, once the shift is made, we are in a position to journey and process without being at war or on trial.

f we choose to journey through life and process information we must be oriented in the following way:

  1. Value learning and discovering our relationship to information.
  2. Be guided by integrity, honesty and wholeness, in our search.
  3. Desire clarity and understanding.
  4. Dare to be open and vulnerable to discover information that has integrity.
  5. Demand and give fairness and respect to information and our relationship to it.
  6. Be accountable for whatever we discover.
  7. Become psychologically disciplined in order to be able to participate in a guided search.
  8. Cultivate creative thinking.
  9. Reject hostility and the making of enemy camps.
  10. Dare to confront our fears and work with and through them.
  11. Seek to discover and understand complexity, including the complexity of being paradoxical.
  12. Use our imagination to gather data and make associations that increase our creative understanding.
  13. Dare to choose equality in any exchange of information.
  14. Have as our goal intimacy, clarity, and understanding.

Given this orientation, we are in a position to process. How do we do it? We must participate in a guided search within ourselves and outside ourselves for relevant information that will provide us with clarity and understanding leading to intimacy with ourselves, with our relationship to the information, and with each other. An added complication to this process is the fact that we are paradoxical by nature and our information within and our relationship to information without is often contradictory. To learn to process information we must also learn to reconcile paradox.

Processing Information

Our first response to a message is always a reaction. A reaction is an automatic, unedited response that provides us with our first clue to our relationship to the information. Once a reaction is triggered, the process begins.

If we just react, the process is aborted, because we have not processed anything. Reacting is the first stage and is automatic. It alerts us to the need for processing.

From birth we are capable of reacting. Only as we develop the sophistication to think and be self-reflective can we go beyond reacting. However, without self-discipline and an understanding of how to process our reactions to messages, we may remain at this very elementary stage and become a reactor. This leaves us stunted and a reactionary with little depth or stability. Yet, this is an all too common phenomenon.

Today the reaction is increasingly one of anger that explodes into violence. Reacting to reactions and not processing has led to very high stakes.

The aborted process of reacting to reactions:

Processing Information and Communicating It

  Message is received  
  triggers a reaction  
Questions Asked Primary Question: Why am I reacting this way? Information Discovered
Universal for the process Unique to each individual  
Phase 1: The search begins   Individual Responses
the context    
  • What mood am I in? How is it affecting the way I'm receiving this message?
  • What is my relationship to the messenger? How is it affecting the way I receive this message?
  • If the messenger is myself or another, past, present or anticipated future relationship?
  • What is my relationship to the information? Its content and my history with it or anything related to it?
    Phase 2: Integrating
  • How do these responses add to my understanding of why I reacted the way I did?
    Putting clues together
  • What is the context of my reactions?
  • Do I understand the message?
  • How do I organize what I've discovered into a sequential understanding of my reactions and therefore of my relationship to this information and this messenger?
    Phase 3: Arriving at a position of integrity and drawing fair conclusions from what I've discovered
  • What insights have I gained from this search?
  • What conclusions have I drawn?
  • What position have I arrived at?
  • Is it fair? To me? to the message? to the messenger? to my relationship to each?
  • Of everything I've discovered, what do I want to express?
    Phase 4: Formulating a response. Making a decision on what to express to others and how to express it.
  • How intimate is this exchange?
  • What is relevant to this exchange with this messenger?
  • How much of the context for my response will I give?
  • How will I connect it with what the messenger communicated?
    Questions Asked Universal for the process   Information Discovered Unique to each individual
  • What, if any, new information do I want from the messenger?
  • What questions do I need to ask? How will I ask them?
  • How will I sequence and organize my response to best capture the truth and complexity of it?
  • How will I express it so that it and my relationship to it are clear and have the best chance of being understood?
  • Send my message and maintain my understanding of it that I have just discovered. Have it available to retrieve if called for to provide clarity.
  • Listen attentively and process begins again when next message is received.

    The process is complete and then begins again when another message is received and triggers a reaction and then the process starts over. For one exchange, the process stops when there is nothing new to discover at the time.

    If this process is routinely done by us, we eventually become skilled and comfortable at it. We learn to process with ease. It becomes a welcome vehicle for dealing with the exchanges of information in our life that make up our relationship with ourselves, each other, and the world. We learn we do not need to fear interactions or confrontations. We know we are capable of engaging in them with integrity and arriving at an understanding of what's going on with ourselves, and with our relationship to the information and with our relationship to others. We are available to know and be known and therefore, we are capable of being intimate with ourselves and others. We are on a discovery journey and are not on trial. That is a wonderful feeling and a great relief.

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