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The map is not the Territory

"The map and territory is a metaphor used to illustrate the difference between the actual world and our understanding of the world as we perceive it to be". Do you ever have that, that you totally don't understand why the other person reacts so angry or irritated to something that is well-intentioned? Or that you get a reaction you completely didn't expect.

The phrase 'The map is not the territory' came up quite literally last holiday. What does it actually mean? It is one of the NLP concepts I often use during sessions where there is some form of disparity or misunderstanding for or from another person.

Uitzicht op de Golden Gate Bridge
San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge

We were recently travelling across America and we had planned and prepared most of the trip here in the Netherlands. We were going to travel partly by motorhome and partly by car. Beforehand, we looked at the map to see what would be a logical 1st stop for Yosemite National Park. We had also figured out how far we wanted to drive and what distance would be feasible for us.

We picked up the camper far outside San Francisco and then had to drive at least 2 hours to the campsite. We had found a nearby supermarket via Google and with a fully loaded motorhome we set off. At one point we had to turn left and what we could not have guessed at the time was that this was a road along a mountain up via hairpin bends.... It was already getting dark and driving a big camper along a precipice was quite exciting for us.... With our buttocks squeezed together and shoulders glued to our ears, we arrived at the campsite.

Highway 120 New Priest Grade Road

The next day, we had sought advice from the ladies at reception. If the road to Yosemite is just as exciting, it might not be wise to drive on. The ladies agreed, if we drove on, we could expect more roads like this.

On top of that, the weather forecast was bad, it was supposed to freeze every day and snow was expected... That combined with narrow hairpin bends and a large camper van that would have to be completely disconnected from the water supply (so no shower, toilet or water from the tap), we found it less romantic than we had imagined. So we changed our plans. Then let's not go to Yosemite. We headed south.

So here, literally the map was not the area. I could plot the road on Google Maps but you don't know if huge vultures are crossing the road, or if there has been an accident leaving you in a traffic jam, or if a road no longer exists or is closed, or if you are driving along a precipice without a guardrail...

Onze El Monte Camper van 22ft.
Yosemite Pines RV Resort

It is the same way in your brain. You have an idea, a map in your head of how it could be, how someone will react, and then in reality it turns out to be different. You can do it all with the best intention, but you don't know how the other person will receive it or how he will react. You don't know what he hears or thinks. Perhaps you have unwittingly walked into his or her 'prickly forest'. Or you unexpectedly bumped into a wall you didn't know was there. The map is not the area...

"The first step is to realize that you do not understand a model, map or reduction unless you understand and respect its limitations. We must always be vigilant by stepping back to understand the context in which a map is useful, and where the cliffs might lie. Until we do that, we are the turkey."

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