One fish asks another, “How is the water?”. To which the other fish replies, “What is water?”.
Like most stories involving talking animals, this parable illustrates human behaviour. It refers to our inability to extricate ourselves from the circumstances that we have come to believe as normal – our inability to take the outside view.
Unless we live abroad, we assume that everything that happens in our culture ought to be the norm. Almost nobody believes that they speak with an accent in their native tongue – accents are for foreigners. We are unable to discern the influence of the things we consume everyday in our lives, unless we stop using them for a prolonged period. The best way to understand what your smartphone does to your state of mind is to go without a smartphone for a month. The best way to find out how your rice based diet makes you feel is to go low-carb for a month.
Taking the outside view helps us understand the world more objectively. We are able to see solutions to our friend’s obvious problems because we are able to step outside their personal situation. That is also why companies hire external consultants. Long breaks and vacations lead to epiphanies because they help us step outside of our daily routines.
All the world is a stage, and all its men are merely players, said William Shakespeare. We play several roles in our lives – of a child, a student, a teenager, an intern, a professional, a boss, an executive, a life partner, a parent, a grandparent and so on. And yet, to perceive the world for what it is, we need to take the outside view – one that helps us realize how we are merely actors and that those are merely the roles we play.