When I was in college, my friend Christine told me the story of some advice her grandmother gave her when she was complaining about a boyfriend. The boyfriend wasn’t doing what she’d wanted him to do, or treating her like she wanted to be treated (I don’t recall the details). In essence, he was not living up to her high expectations (likely un-communicated expectations) of the very important role of Christine’s Boyfriend.
Her grandmother told her this:
You have a specific photograph in your mind of what a boyfriend should be. So if you really like this guy and you want to keep him, you should either share with him your photo and see if you two can talk about it, or change your photo to fit the guy. And while you’re at it, you might ask him what his photo is for a girlfriend, too.
What she was really getting as was the concept of mental models: ideas we have that shape our expectations and assumptions about other people, organizations, situations. Sometimes we don’t even have awareness that these models exist; we have to surface them — SEE them — before we can change them.
Last week I watched this episode of Modern Family that addressed this idea quite well. Claire wanted a perfect photograph of her family, looking perfect. After several mishaps and arguments, she ended up getting a perfect photograph of her family as they are, not as she would have liked them to be. Funny sitcom adventure indeed, but it also revealed that happiness can exist in reality, not in a photographic image of what we think reality should be.
I am working on changing the photo in my mind of a Mother, because I cannot be the perfect, amazing mom to my kid that I would like to be. My revised photo does not include me making healthy and homemade cookies to take to school, or ensuring that all of his clothes are stain-free and organized in his dresser. It does include creating a safe and interesting environment for him, in which he can learn and feel loved (even though it may not be vacuumed every day). This has always been a part of my photograph; it has just taken center stage in the image over the cookies and laundry.
So let me ask: What photographs in your mind are you revising? What are your mental uses for Photoshop?