Listening to an interview this morning with Krista Tippett and Trabion Shorters, the subject they explored resonated deeply with me. Shorters describes his approach as viewing people, institutions, and society within what he calls “asset framing” instead of the usual “deficit frame” we draw on to think about and perceive people who may be in need or are in a challenging situation. It reminds me of the solution-focused psychotherapy approach where we are encouraged to see what’s going right rather than focusing on what’s going wrong. It also reminds me of the way that our brain’s default mode network. It’s the part of the brain that—when nothing else is going on—drifts into daydreams, thoughts, or questions about ourselves and our world. If our fundamental beliefs are negative, this is where our default mode networks hangs out. If they are positive, that’s where our awareness will go. Fortunately, if we find ourselves mired in negative or deficit thinking, we can talk to our default mode network and create shifts toward the positive or asset frame.
Listening to the interview, I could sense how important it is to actively promote an “asset frame” as part of our fundamental assumptions about the world and about the people around us. Instead of thinking of people in terms of their poverty or lack of opportunity, we can begin with focusing on what’s going right in their lives, on what they have accomplished, what their dreams are. For me, this also touches on connecting more realistically with the fact that we all—regardless of our culture, race, socialization, gender identity, or any of the other aspects that support our diversity—want much the same things in terms of quality of life. It reminds me of the Buddhist Lovingkingness meditation where we ask that all beings be free from suffering and be happy.
For this week’s practice, I invite you to first listen to this interview if you haven’t already heard it. Here’s the link from Tippett’s On Being website: https://onbeing.org/programs/trabian-shorters-a-cognitive-skill-to-magnify-humanity/
Then, this week, more consciously orient to an “asset frame” and notice how it affects how you experience not only your world but the people in it. As you listen to the news, if you were to reframe what you hear into an asset frame, notice how you would feel about the stories you hear about people and their challenges. Do the same with people you may be close to.
It seems to me that the “asset frame” allow us also to bump into our judgments and assumptions about people that may not be accurate and that may arise from a “deficit frame” about them—and perhaps about ourselves. Catching moments of perceiving yourself and the world through a “deficit frame” can allow you to have a conversation with your default mode network and notice what happens when you shift to an “asset frame”, or a solution-focused frame.
Be sure to allow whatever mixed feelings may arise as you do this practice because most of us will discover that we have judgments about people and ourselves that we may not yet have brought into conscious awareness. We are deeply conditioned by our culture’s focus on a “deficit” frame about people and societal challenges so please be gentle with any judgments and responses you may find that either surprise or displease you. The key with all these practices is to invite awareness where it may not have been present and that’s the great gift we offer ourselves when we dare to pay attention to what we believe and how we respond to ourselves and to the world around us.
As with all these practices, please bring curiosity as your constant companion and to pat gently on the head any judgments that arise along the way. The key here is to have compassion for yourself, treating each new awareness as another step toward greater freedom from old, and usually unconscious, conditioning.