Building Sidewalks

Steve recaptures a nice example of how we shape our reality not just with words, but with our behaviors.  We create maps with words, and “kinesthetically” – in this example, by how we walk.   And then, our creations shape our behaviors!


Tom Dotz

Building Sidewalks, by Steve Andreas

445 Words, 2.5 minutes reading time

When a certain university was first built, all the grounds were planted with grass, without any sidewalks. After a few months, the well-worn trails clearly showed where people usually walked as they went from one building to another. Then they built sidewalks where the trails were, so that students didn’t have to walk in the mud.

I have always admired the simplicity and elegance of that solution, particularly when contrasted with the usual way of doing things: elaborate and expensive planners and plans–and then the inevitable ugly fences, signs, and barriers that try to force people to walk where the planners decided that they should.

There is a general principle here that bears examining, to find out how else we could make use of its simplicity and elegance. Every culture, every subculture, and every family acts like sidewalk planners–deciding ahead of time what people should do, and then attempting to enforce obedience when human nature finds that the “shoulds” don’t fit very well. (Lots of “shoulds” makes our lives “shouldy.”)

What would it be like if instead we “planted grass” everywhere, and then noticed where people naturally liked to walk, building our social structures to accommodate our natural inclinations? There are limits to this, of course; it’s appropriate to construct protective barriers at cliffs or other truly dangerous places.

If we examine a wide range of cultures, we find at least as wide a range of (often contradictory) assumptions about human nature. These assumptions are embodied in the rules, customs, and goals of each culture. The kindest thing we can say about this great variety of opinions is that they can’t all be right! Any culture is the accumulated wisdom of a group of people who managed to survive somehow; after all, history is written by those who survive it. Culture also includes the accumulated stupidity of the group, as well. Growing up as a small child in Hawaii, and then moving successively to Vermont, California, Arizona, and several other places made it blazingly obvious that what one group considered important or essential was often ignored or even condemned in another. As Alfred North Whitehead said, “Learning preserves the errors of the past as well as its wisdom.”

It is only in the past couple of hundred years that a brave minority have seriously questioned their cultural assumptions about human nature, and dared to ask, “What is humanity capable of if it is not limited by the harness and blinders of a particular culture?” I think we have only begun to discover the beauty and depth of what our humanity is capable of. Let’s get on with it.


Another nice example of how we build maps is in Charles Faulkner’s slide show here:

And… We still have about 20 sets left of the book most of these stories were excerpted from, “Is There Life Before Death?” at this special purchase.

“During 30 years of writing researching and teaching NLP Steve Andreas collected a series of stories and metaphors. Some he wrote himself, others came from sources all over the world, poets and authors, therapists and mystics.

He used them as examples of different patterns, of the power of metaphor, and sometimes just for an entertaining distraction for the conscious mind. A few years ago he gathered the entire collection between two covers titled “Is There Life Before Death?”

If you’d like your own collection of these “Steve stories” I have some hard cover copies of “Is There Life Before Death?” that I bought at a really great price. They were pushed to a back corner of the warehouse and I completely forgot about them until we started packing for the trainings.

Due to an odd packaging they were packed in twos and I got a really great “remainder” type price on them, which I’m sharing with you. Originally $19.95 in hardcover, you get two copies for just $9.95 plus postage. That’s like 75% off.

(What to do with the extra copy? Surely you know at least one person who likes stories. Even my Mom would like these 🙂

Click Here to find out more and get yours: “Is There Life Before Death?”

0 thoughts on “Building Sidewalks”

  1. do you know what particular university you are referring to?

    the one that decided to build sidewalks where people like to walk

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