Reader’s Forum — Al Bell


I have been waiting a long time for this book.

When I was at UCLA a few years ago (circa 1953), I took an elective class from Professor Frederic P. Woellner about education and it changed my life. I still have the two-page paper I wrote for him that revealed me to myself. The question posed by him was: Would you rather be an animal of the the land or the sea? My answer had two parts; 1) this is not a legitimate choice and 2) in any case, I would rather be an amphibian. In addition to an “A” grade, it launched me on a lifelong realization that my world view revolves around “both/and” rather than “either/or”. It has gotten me in a lot of trouble, for which I am forever grateful.

So, comes along this book by Lois Holzman entitled The Overweight Brain. I cruised along with some uncertainty until she said, on page 22,

Thinking outside the box isn’t enough. We need to think without a box.”

Well. I turned to my trusty list of favorite quotations (now a Pages table of 37 pages and 11,000 words) to find one from about three years ago:

If someone tells you to think outside the box, the first thing to recognize is that there is no box. Mental or conceptual boxes are artificial, and often, arbitrary limits imposed by people or institutions that seek to control others, have little imagination, and fear those who do.”

Stopping on page 22 was not an option.

I read the Kindle version to save money (my first experience with it; one I disliked immensely); now I’ll have to buy the real thing anyway. My brain is clearly underweight; it will take a second reading to capture what is there. At this point, though, I urge attention to three mind-focusing ideas Lois takes us through with a marvelous sense of humor and biting logic:

  • Knowing is fluid, not static; we are knowing and becoming at the same time;
  • Authoritarian institutions and processes get in the way of real learning and becoming; and
  • The ZYX method offers a way out of this dilemma.

You’ll have to read Chapter 8 to get a clear idea about the ZYX collaboration (Zones of Proximal Development, Yes, and…, and X is for Unknown). I have total confidence that any attempt by me to summarize these in a review would do them a total injustice.

What I will say is this. They resonate with me because they engage three mentalities that I have come to believe are essential if we are to grow as humans: active curiosity, continuous learning, and profound humility. These, in turn, can connect us with others in ways that absolutes of almost any kind will surely forestall.

My second reading (once I get a real book) will focus on resolving this challenge: group problem solving, as with governments, for example, do depend on a careful definition of the “problem” to be addressed. In my experience, failure to do that results in resources devoted to a problem that doesn’t exist, different interpretations that make it impossible to determine progress, irresponsible decision-making, gross waste of other people’s money and time, endless confusion and public conflict, creation of new problems larger than the first, or all of the above. So how does this painfully common syndrome relate to the ZYX strategy? I don’t know. Yet.

This is not just an inspiring book; it is also courageous. It offers a strategy for escaping the straitjackets imposed by societies, cultures, belief systems, political parties, governments, religious doctrines, professional echo chambers, institutions, organizations, long-standing practices, and other sources of group-think derived expectations and, instead, promoting and practicing a means for continuous development as individuals AND constructive members of those entities with which we choose to affiliate at the same time.

As Lois would say,

In my book, I would call that development.”

Yes.

Al Bell lives in Peoria, AZ and is an activist with Independent Voters for Arizona. Al is a member of Independent Voting’s Eyes on 2020 National Cabinet, working to get the 2020 presidential primaries open to independents across the country.

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Politics for the People

Conference Call With Author

Dr. Lois Holzman

Sunday, December 8th

7pm EST

Call in number: 605-313-5156

Passcode: 767775#

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The Overweight Brain

How our obsession with knowing keeps us from getting smart enough to make a better world


Founder of the Politics for the People free educational series and book club for independent voters. Chair of the New York County Independence Party.

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