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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Joe Bender Basics

My brother-in-law Jim Franz once said that the problem with Americans is that all of our social conversations are shallow.  We never get below conventional niceties.  Today I had a conversation that was an exception.  I was at the computer lab at Sunshine Center.  I was sitting at a desk working on a computer problem.  Sitting next to me at another computer was a man working on a project requiring the internet.  We began a conversation that still has me thinking some twelve hours later.  After a while we introduced ourselves.  His name was Joe Bender.  He began with an idea he said that he had gotten from a French psychologist, Émile Coué (February 26, 1857 – July 2, 1926).  Using one fist to represent imagination and another to represent will, Joe conveyed the gist of Coué thinking: “When the imagination and will power are in conflict, are antagonistic, it is always the imagination which wins, without any exception.” Source.

Joe said that this thought was powerful, and I have come to agree with him.  I have been taught from a young age that man has free will.  Our laws underscore this belief when it holds people accountable for their actions.  Our justice system holds people individually responsible based on the theory that they had a choice and willfully chose the wrong path.  We go further and assume that people will to work, will to get an education, will to get medical treatment, will to live in a certain location, will to be homeless, even will to have a good or bad attitude.  The visual of a moment of choice is typically a scene pristinely peaceful and replete with careful rational deliberation.  Next to this place the Coué idea:  “When the imagination and will power are in conflict, are antagonistic, it is always the imagination which wins, without any exception” (ibid).      

Wikipedia notes that Coué held that imagination operates through the subconscious: “Unlike a common held belief that a strong conscious will constitutes the best path to success, Coué maintained that curing some of our troubles requires a change in our unconscious thought, which can only be achieved by using our imagination. Source.

While I have great respect for the subconscious, I think the power of the imagination has significant direct force on our behavior.  For example, those who commit crimes often are inconsiderate of the law for their imagination is fixed on immediate exigencies often charged with great fear or desperation.  Legal consequences—even life sentences—can be absent from the active imagination and seem remote abstractions.  Health is another example.  Obesity is a problem in America and doctors who have ample first hand experiences—and can therefore mentally “see” the horrible consequences—find themselves counseling patients without these experiences with dying patients.  Treats to eat are easy to imagine.  Threats assumed to be in the distance and beyond one’s immediate experience have little imaginative power.  Therefore with diets that fail, it is not the lack of will power, but the lack graphic imagination that is operative.  For another example, it might be said that I will to obey speed limits in school zones.  That may be true, but what is certainly true is that I can imagine the pain of receiving a $300 speeding ticket from a policeman if I violate the law.  In these examples, I would argue that it is active imagination not will that has the primary influence on behavior.

The assumption that we all choose—based on will—which way to go is a common fiction.  We are moved instead by imagination and the graphics of the mind inducing terrific fears or fabulous incentives.  Our daily actions are driven more by the concrete and visceral than by abstract balancing acts.        

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