The Fly

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I have an object in my office, nailed to the wall, it looks like this:


“What is this object?” I ask.

Most people would say it’s a fly.

“OK, why do I have a fly nailed to my wall?”

“It must be a joke,” most say. “Fly on the Wall, get it?”

“Is it really a fly?”

“Of course; well, it might be some other kind of bug.”

If I take the object down, put it on a table, and let people examine it, they still say it’s a fly. This is funny because of all the things it could be, it is definitely not a fly. It’s actually a brass object, made to look like something.

If they open it up, it looks like this:


“Now, what is this object?”

It becomes evident that it could be an ashtray. But most people struggle with this awareness because they had already categorized the object as a fly.

“Why would a person have an ashtray?”

“They’d need an ashtray if they smoked, but I guess you don’t, or you used to, so now you don’t need an ashtray, so you put it up on the wall as a joke.”

They’re right, it is a joke. It’s also an object lesson I use sometimes to point out the difference between the thing in itself and the labels and stories we attach to them. Often, the label is so persuasive that we totally forget what it is in itself, just as people will persist in calling it a fly even after I point out that it’s only a piece of brass made to look like one.

We are very quick to attach labels and stories, not only to brass objects, but to everything else, including people, including ourselves. But, because we are so quick, we are often wrong, or incomplete.

There are many powerful myths and psychological processes that get in the way of seeing things the way they are. It pays to not be so attached to labels and stories. It’s important to always go back to the thing in itself and to be open to seeing it in a new way.

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