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Show; don’t tell

“Picture yourself in a boat on a river, With tangerine trees and marmalade skies.Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly, A girl with kaleidoscope eyes.” (The Beatles)
Walt Disney was a radical. Sure he wore a suit and tie and had difficult dealings with “lefty” labor unions during the Depression but his chimerical vision was so fantastic and absurd that it bordered on megalomania. It’s easy to imagine Lewis Carol freaking out as his teacup spins around in the otherworldliness of the Magic Kingdom. Midnight showings of Fantasia became synonymous in the college counterculture for dropping acid and taking the wild ride inside. Biographers still quibble over the numerous paradoxes in Disney’s life but generally agree that his singular ability to combine and showcase the imaginary with the innovative is only rivaled by Leonardo da Vinci or PT Barnum or Steve Jobs. Disney constantly put himself in hock to underwrite the next cool thing – film colorization, television, animatronics, Imagineering and neo-amusement parks. A showman to the end, Disney was always giving us previews of coming attractions. The future promised in Tomorrowland has come and gone while we currently adjust to our EPCOTian present. Only Disney could have imagined that the wetlands of humid central Florida could become the top tourist destination in the world.
The next and the new where our growth will happen are hard to see because they don’t follow our script. We need a prototype or proof of concept to get it. Numbers and rational statements alone won’t due. Neurobiologists tell us that most of our brain is used to create images and symbolic language systems. We make sense of where we are going through the use of images, stories and metaphors. Uncle Walt frequently talked about his vision for Disney World but when his engineers constructed Cinderella’s Castle it suddenly became clear what we were really getting into.
Similarly, the late Reverend Martin Luther King shared his dream with all Americans – “…little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.” His colorful and analogical imagery helped connect individuals divided to a group united by taking them to the mountaintop together. His allusion to the plight of Moses provided a Cliff Notes understanding of his charge and authority to lead his people out of bondage. Dr. King spoke directly to his followers and critics alike as both a character in bigger story and a witness to its interpretation – freedom and the inalienable rights of Man. Sigmund Freud calls this the illusion of central position. As infants we are the center of attention and though we learn this to not be true when we start dating or other traumatic life experiences we still carry this desire within us as we mature. To share our vision we must first understand how it personally relates or doesn’t to those we wish to engage.
Vision also works in reverse to help us interpret what can be readily seen. It provides a way of finding and explanations for the invisible. As part of the Catholic Mass the Nicene Creed is recited by the congregation in their native tongue or ecclesiastical Latin. The opening phrase of this profession of faith affirms God the Father Almighty as the maker “of all that is seen and unseen.” This suggests a limit to our ability to perceive and an explanation to that which resides mysteriously just beyond our faculties. Like Pythagoras describing the music of the spheres or Johannes Kepler the secret plans of the cosmos these are cognate descriptions that render an interior representation that transforms perception into a reality. In essence this inside paint reproduces the unknowable as the familiar. Economists have long understood that perception is in fact reality as sociometric tests of consumer confidence are highly accurate indicators of future business conditions.
Years ago, a talk show host asked astrophysicist Carl Sagan if there was any evidence of extraterrestrial life visiting the earth. He replied that if there was he wasn’t aware of it. Then the scientist followed that the fact that there wasn’t any data raised a much more interesting question about why thousands of people saw UFOs when there weren’t any.  The point being that it is highly unlikely that they could have a similar vision without the aid of a common external stimulus. The role of vision, both literal and figurative, in sense making may be so great that we are compelled to create it in the absence of something substantial.

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Jeff DeGraff
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