The Map is Not the Territory

18 Mar 2020

My daughter passed her driving test just a few weeks ago. She is keen to get more driving practise, but understandably a bit anxious too.

Last Thursday we drove up to Edinburgh, a journey of six hours, plus breaks, so she could attend an offers day at the University. It's a straight-forward journey; just find the A1 and keep going.

We shared the driving – or that was the plan. She took over at the Ferrybridge services, where the M62 crosses the A1. It was a miserable evening, with strong winds making the high-sided vehicles wobble erratically, and that nasty drizzle which is just too much for the intermittent setting on the wipers, but not enough for the regular setting; so the annoying squeak of rubber on glass was added to her stress.

She's a competent and careful driver, but – even so – the conditions and her inexperience meant she made a couple of mistakes. No harm was done; she wasn't even flashed by other drivers, or hooted at, but she was very upset.

"Mummy, what must they think of me?" she wailed. "They're probably all swearing at me and calling me names!"

She drove for an hour and then, very thankfully, returned the wheel to me.

"What other people will think," is something that concerns many of us. We don't want to offend, or to behave in a way which will make people think less of us. We want to keep in good standing with our neighbours, colleagues and friendship groups.

But we don't know what they're thinking at all. Very often, they are so busy thinking of their own concerns, they have no space to think about us.

Our "map" of what we think they are thinking is based on our own experiences. My daughter imagines other drivers will be calling her unpleasant names because her father is impatient with any kind of bad driving. Not everyone is like that.

We are so often surprised by what others think – because they don't think like us.

We build a map of how we think the world works, based on our own experiences but that map is frequently inaccurate – and never more so than when it predicts the thoughts and reactions of others.

We are not mind readers; we cannot know what is in another's mind. Even if we are lovers, longing to explore the deepest hopes and dreams of our loved ones, we can't.

Philip Larkin wrote:

If my darling were once to decide

Not to stop at my eyes,

But to jump, like Alice, with floating skirt, into my head...

He goes on to describe how his head is not filled with what she would expect, but with something far less pleasant.

I hope our minds are nicer places than his "Monkey-brown, fish grey, string of infected circles," but our minds are a mystery to others, and theirs a mystery to us.

We think we know what they're thinking, but we never do.


A Moodscope member.

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