The Art of Possibility: escaping the world of measurement and entering the universe of possibility

This is one of the most uplifting and inspirational books I have ever read, with golden nuggets of possibility gleaming from every page.

The Art of Possibility, by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander, was published over twenty years ago, but I only just discovered it this year. True to the unexpected nature of possibility, I stumbled upon it in a Little Free Library book exchange, liked the bright cover, and picked it up. I had no idea what I would discover inside.

So, what exactly is the art of possibility?

The book outlines different steps to take, to enter into the universe of possibility.

One of the key messages in the book is that of addressing the opposing forces of the world of measurement vs. the universe of possibility.

So, what is the world of measurement?

This is the world that we live in. We are controlled by measurements: exam grades, salaries, our clothing sizes, speed limits, distance, calories, prices, ages, anniversaries, temperatures, tests, taxes, stock markets, the time, months and years. All of these are measurements that we use to compare ourselves to each other, and to navigate our capitalist society. It has all been invented, like a giant matrix.

The fact is, that all of these invented measurements are inescapable. They are embedded: they rule our world, and we are trapped in it.

However, if you peer through the keyhole of our measurement prison, or take a look over the fence, you can see another universe out there, full of possibility. Getting, there, however, is not so easy.

For example, even the question “How are you?” is bound in measurement: we compare ourselves to how others might feel; to how we felt yesterday; to how we actually feel as opposed to how we want other people to view us; always measuring our feelings on a scale from misery to ecstasy.

Stone Zander and Zander suggest that, actually, the only possible answer to “How are you?” is: “I’m perfect”. By this, they don’t mean “perfectly well” or “perfectly happy”; rather, they mean that everyone is perfect just they way they are. You are perfectly you, just as I am perfectly me. We are perfect.

I particularly love this quote from the book:

In the measurement world, you set a goal and strive for it. In the universe of possibility, you set the context and let life unfold.

In my workplace, I am torn between these two worlds.

On one hand, it is my job to help my students achieve a grade 4 in their GCSE English exams (which is very much in the measurement world), so we are bound by setting targets (you need this many marks to pass the exam) and by a formal, structured approach to help get those marks (exam practice, analysing questions and example answers). This doesn’t sound very joyful or inspiring, because it isn’t. The only possibility here is pass or fail.

But on the other hand, I actively create contexts for exploring language by devising and implementing a variety of activities in the classroom, to create the possibility of learning (although I accept that these are still grounded in the measurement world of meeting criteria, scoring marks, and answering specific questions).

This past year, I have embraced the universe of possibility by living out some of the practices suggested by this book.

Stone Zander and Zander devote a chapter to “Being A Contribution” as one way to enter into the universe of possibility. They explain the steps to this process as follows:

  1. Declare yourself to be a contribution.
  2. Throw yourself into life as someone who makes a difference, accepting that you may not understand how or why.

I have tried to embrace this way of working in a variety of ways.

For example, I regularly contribute ideas to an online forum at work, where teaching staff are invited to share inspiring, challenging and engaging teaching and learning resources. My reason for being a contributor to that forum is to inspire other teachers to do the same, and to share resources that other teachers might find useful; there is no other agenda. I have no idea if other teachers use those materials or not, but they are there if needed, ripe with possibility.

Similarly, I contribute articles to education publications, completely unaware of the differences that they may or may not make to readers. I contribute pieces of writing either in response to a request, or from my own initiative. They go out into the world, and perhaps make a difference, but I do not pretend to know how or why; my aims are to contribute to inspire others to do the same, and to share my own experiences.

Lately, the ripples of these acts of contribution have come back to me, like gentle waves lapping a beach. Colleagues have shared with me their appreciation for what I do, and exciting opportunities have been offered to me, that otherwise would never have happened.

New connections have been forged, whether that’s through my contributions on social media, forums at work, and in further education communities. Connections spread like the roots of a tree, creating ever more possibilities.

I feel that I have set a context (being a contributor) and have let life unfold, not knowing what or how new possibilities will present themselves. There is no way to measure this, which makes it all the more joyful and rewarding when the ripples come back to you.

In other words, I am feeling the effects of entering into a universe of possibility, and it is beautiful.

The Art of Possibility really can transform your life.


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