Value Traps

The classic book “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” (ZMM) by Robert Persig has a subtitle – “An Inquiry into Values.”

In the blog on Double Loop Learning we discussed belief system. An inquiry into values is similar to feedback to our belief system. ZMM discusses gumption traps as a result of value traps. Such traps occur due to inflexible belief system caused by incorrect or lack of feedback to the belief system. ZMM discusses

  • “value traps” that block affective understanding,
  • “truth traps” that block cognitive understanding, and
  • “muscle traps” that block psychomotor behavior.

Of the value traps, the most widespread is value rigidity, causing inability to revalue what we see because of our prejudice, or commitment to previous values. We do not accept facts because they don’t match with what we believe.

“… the most striking example of value rigidity I can think of is the old South Indian Monkey Trap, which depends on value rigidity for its effectiveness. The trap consists of a hollowed-out coconut chained to a stake. The coconut has some rice inside which can be grabbed through a small hole. The hole is big enough so that the monkey’s hand can go in, but too small for his fist with rice in it to come out. The monkey reaches in and is suddenly trapped…by nothing more than his own value rigidity. He can’t revalue the rice. He cannot see that freedom without rice is more valuable than capture with it. The villagers are coming to get him and take him away. They’re coming closer — closer! — now! What general advice…not specific advice…but what general advice would you give the poor monkey in circumstances like this? Well, I think you might say exactly what I’ve been saying about value rigidity, with perhaps a little extra urgency. There is a fact this monkey should know: if he opens his hand he’s free. But how is he going to discover this fact? By removing the value rigidity that rates rice above freedom. How is he going to do that? Well, he should somehow try to slow down deliberately and go over ground that he has been over before and see if things he thought were important really were important and, well, stop yanking and just stare at the coconut for a while. Before long he should get a nibble from a little fact wondering if he is interested in it. He should try to understand this fact not so much in terms of his big problem as for its own sake. That problem may not be as big as he thinks it is. That fact may not be as small as he thinks it is either. That’s about all the general information you can give him.”

 

Other gumption traps ZMM discusses are ego, anxiety, and boredom.

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About pgbhat

A retired Naval Officer and an educationist. Has experience with software industry. A guest faculty at different institutes and a corporate trainer with software development companies.
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