The Best Way to (Possibly) Be Wrong: The Art of Prognostication
by Jennifer Paros
Do what you feel in your heart to be right . . .
-- Eleanor Roosevelt
Several years ago, a friend of mine had lost a substantial amount of weight and a mutual friend asked if I thought she would be able to keep it off. I said, “ Oh yeah – sure!”
I remembered this exchange recently and realized I’d been wrong. That person had gone on to regain the weight. But although I was clearly wrong, there wasn’t any other answer I would have preferred giving, and certainly not the one that would have made me right. I had been asked to give my prognosis, but a prognosis is ultimately just a guess. So I guessed in favor of the best change.
Diagnosis is when we’re told What We Have, basically another way of saying Where We Are Right Now. Prognosis is when we’re told What Might Happen – basically another way of saying Where We Might Go Next. People tend to be enamored with prognosis; it grows from our discomfort with the unknown. But it’s easy to see the weakness in prognosticating, for there are more variations of possibilities than there are people on the planet. To feel empowered, it’s necessary to get grounded in where we want to go rather than fixated on an idea of where we could end up.
In the process of writing, some time is always spent aware of the unknown - the as-of-yet un-figured-out content as well as the unknowns of publication, sales, and reviews. But projections about these unknowns can displace our energies and disconnect us from creating what is meaningful to us now. In a sense, a prognosis asks us to live backwards, with conjecture about what might happen serving as a dysfunctional guide for the present moment. But living forwards (or writing forwards) - facing the unknown, not a projected outcome - is actually the way new vision and possibilities come to us.
A projection is another type of prognosis. It has two meanings: a forecast or estimate of what might happen, and the presentation of an image on a surface.
There are surface ways of being right. These depend upon subscribing more to popular perception of a situation, using evidence of current conditions to imagine the future. This approach means greater investment in perceived limitations than in possibility.
Don’t believe what your eyes are telling you. All they show is limitation. Look with your understanding, find out what you already know, and you’ll see the way . . .
-- Richard Bach
In the book, Kids Beyond Limits, Anat Baniel, a psychologist with a unique approach to working with special needs children, tells of her work with Elizabeth, who was thirteen months old when they first met. Elizabeth was diagnosed with Global Brain Damage and had dramatic challenges. Baniel describes some of their work together and how Elizabeth grew up to earn two master’s degrees and to marry. In reflecting upon the seeming miraculous way Elizabeth’s development unfolded, the author posits:
“The willingness to entertain the impossible becoming possible may very well be where remarkable changes begin.” Before Baniel’s work with Elizabeth, the doctors‘ prognoses were distressing, with one suggesting she be institutionalized. To the best of their ability, the medical community strove to see the situation clearly, but what they saw was only the decision they had already made about Elizabeth’s perceived deficits. They could only see the projection of their own thinking. The doctors wished to get the prognosis right but were subscribing to the conditions of current surface reality. Baniel connected to the intelligent presence in the baby beyond present moment limits, allowing that to open her own mind and be her guide.
At its best, prognosticating is an art. With awareness, one can feel what is possible beyond perceived limitations, regardless of the challenge being faced (physical, emotional, creative), and know we can always grow, change and get better. At its’ worst, it rivals fortune telling with predictions tending to elicit fear – either of achieving or not achieving a projected outcome, failing us as a true guide.
We give ourselves prognoses often; we make decisions and projections about our projects, our futures, and who we will be. Sometimes our personal prognosis lacks hope as we strive to be realistic. But it is in the highest service to us and others to risk being wrong in the best way by seeing our creative power beyond the limitations of our current conditions, living our lives, and writing our stories forward toward the unknown –opening to new possibilities and new thinking.