Horizontal and Vertical Thinking

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When interacting with others it is useful to keep these two variations in mind. 

Nature has endowed humankind with an infinite variety of potential abilities and it is up to us to develop our individual share as we make our way in the world. 

In time, if cultivated, those differences become more marked.

How we view and manage such differences is an important challenge to all.

Enter horizontal versus vertical thinking. 

In vertical thinking we picture ourselves as part of a hierarchy. Those with more of C or D or E, will place higher up on the vertical axis. Say that we call C money, D natural gifts and E physical appearance. Consciously or not, we will tend to rank ourselves as better or worse when seeing where we place along the axis.

A person may say they have more C than Pete but less than Eileen and thus grade themselves accordingly. Same for measurements of D or E.

For some, this perception may be an impetus to try harder to move up the vertical. For others it may be seen as oppressive. As if those on top get to dominate those below them.

Enter horizontal thinking.

In this approach, we say to ourselves that all of us have a place along the continuum. Some may have more or less of C or D or E, but what is stressed is our uniqueness. 

All of us have a set of capabilities that if developed are likely to bring us much satisfaction. 

Say that Raven and I both play the guitar but she makes lovelier sounds with it than I do. One approach is to say, so be it. I can still enjoy the sounds I make, let her have hers. 

But other people may handle the matter another way.

Years ago, I read of a musician who was a trumpet player. He had worked hard at his craft and clearly enjoyed it. Then one day he heard another trumpeter perform and he was blown away by the magic that person made with the same instrument. The musician got angry at himself. How was it that he could he not play as well, after all the work he’d put into it? He could not accept it. 

On his way back home, as he walked over a bridge, he threw his trumpet into the river. Don’t know if he ever played again or not. In a fit of rage at the perception of difference, he denied himself the pleasure of what music he could make. 

He could’ve used a little horizontal thinking. 

There will always be someone who does something better than anyone of us, but that is no reason to give up on working at it if it brings us satisfaction. 

Furthermore, the sounds of one trumpet player may be excellent on one scale, and yet the sounds of another, less skilled, may take us on a unique and still rewarding path.

The horizontal axis allows for the expansion of any given ability. And as such it may help discover roads to unexpected places.

Thinking and doing along the horizontal continuum allows for greater variety. 

Nature has wanted that for us.

The vertical axis, while useful and essential in certain settings, stresses dominance.

And much may be lost if we adhere solely to that view.


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