Long, long ago - before Malta joined the EU and New York experienced power outage - I was on a mini tour of Asia, signing contracts with resellers for some software products.
Most disconcerting was Taiwan (where a measure of success was how few people fell asleep during my presentation); most exciting was Hong Kong and the view across the bay.
Media interviews were part of the trip, so I found myself in the Reception for a local radio station, waiting to go on air.
For a few minutes I lost myself in a circle of thought, running through the three key messages the PR had briefed me to convey.“Message 1, message 2, message 3.”
Sitting there, waiting for the producer to call me in, I had a vague feeling that something wasn’t quite right. Nerves?
“Is this the three? Do I have them in the wrong order? The right order? Was there any order at all?
“Maybe that weird fruit I had for breakfast was starting to fight back?”
Then Bingo! The map hanging on the Reception wall was wrong… Then “what is the second message I’m supposed to give?”
I flipped between those two thoughts twice more – evidence that multitasking is baloney.
“The map is wrong… the interview message number three is… the map is not right… the message isn’t right. Back to front! The map is back-to-front!”
Grow up and live in a culture long enough, and there’s so much that we take for granted. Ideas that we don’t even notice - that become embedded by unconscious consensus.
And agreed upon as truth.
And the map of the world is one of these unnoticeable truths. For me, the USA and Latin America are on the left page, Japan and Australia are on the right, the UK near the middle. Greenwich Mean Time at the centre.
It is what it is. It is the truth.
The two pages of the Singapore map had been exchanged - left to right, right to left. And as the penny dropped, I could feel neuroplastic re-wiring happening in real time:
“The Pacific is bloody huge!” It was the first time I’d seen it as a whole, the two halves from the usual map placed together.
“This reflects the coming of Asia”. Actually, even fifteen years ago it wasn’t ‘coming’ – it had already arrived. I doubt it was a political map to make a point (although all maps are political) but as a symbol, it said everything.
“Where the hell is home?” Scanning the map, with a vague sense of panic, I found it; the UK, top left, looking like it was about the slip off the corner of the paper.
It was a humbling moment. Bad enough that the map I’d learned at school, with its pink bits showing the Empire in pre-war textbooks, was long gone. The entire layout challenged something that was always the way it had been – at least in my lifetime.
Like walking into your kitchen and finding the ‘fridge is on the other side of the room.
Going to Asia for the first time was a huge learning. Finding that deeply embedded ‘truths’ are really just perceptions kept me awake for two days.
Like knowing the truth that bands touring to promote records (now, the economics is vice versa); and that the Premiership is always won by one of five extremely wealthy, dominant clubs (this year, Leicester City. Who?)
Change is usually forced upon us, and then we have to come to terms with it after the fact.
Imagine how powerful if we challenge our own assumptions before someone else beats us to it.
At least you could be first to turn your own world turned upside-down.
CJ Cregg sees the Gall-Peters Projection on 'The West Wing'
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