Sue and I were discussing how people’s expectations and experience of Canada differ so much. We were wondering why that was and what we could do to help.
As we have both trained in NLP, we were reminded of Alfred Korzybski‘s phrase “The map is not the territory”. This phrase was adopted as an NLP presupposition because it is a useful reminder that we all look at the world through our own maps.
The map is not the territory is a quick way of saying that reality (e.g. life in Canada) is not the same as our expectations or experience of it. Our maps are built up from our own personal histories, our experience, values, beliefs and decisions. The map is like a lens through which we see the world. Because everyone’s experience is different, their maps are different.
Your map of what to expect when moving to Canada will be built up on the basis of your own life. It will, I hope, include real visits to Canada. It will also include things you’ve heard, read or seen about Canada. These experiences are the basis of judgements you’ve then made and ultimately helped you make the decision to move.
At some level the map can never be the territory. That would be like expecting the restaurant menu to taste like the food it describes.
So if your map can never be the territory, what might you expect to come from that?
When you get to Canada, my guess is that you will be in a honeymoon period at first. This is when your brain is running around congratulating itself on making such a good decision. Whenever you see, do or hear something that fits with your map of what Canada would be like, you put a big tick in the box and a big smile on your face. The process is natural. A bit like when you’ve bought a new car and suddenly notice how many other people were smart enough to buy the same model! You want to find validation for your decision.
After a while though, you will probably begin to notice things that differ from your map. These can be small things or big ones.
I am really hoping that you don’t find any really big differences. Chances are that you’ve done a research trip and seen Canada for yourself. This is a good way to confirm that your map is at least close enough to reality! Vacations are not always so useful. You are not there deliberately testing your map against reality – on a vacation you are there to enjoy yourself.
Smaller differences will inevitably show up. And this is where the subtle differences in people’s maps comes into play.
For instance, many people have maps that say Canadians are friendly. When you visited it is likely that you got talking to a few Canadians, perhaps in the coffee bar or at the checkout. But does that mean Canadians are friendly?
It depends on your map. For you friendliness might be just getting the occasional smile from a passerby. For others, whose experience is of neighbours dropping in unannounced at all hours of the day, the occasional smile might be darn right unfriendly. So whether or not you find Canadians friendly may well depend on where your past experience (your map) sits on this friendliness scale.
The longer you are in Canada, the more your maps can change. Your experience of life in Canada will serve to update the map. If it does, and you still enjoy that life, then your move is going to work out. If not, then you might want to review your maps and see if your expectations were unrealistic.
As any explorer will tell you, it is better to set out with the best maps you can get – or make for yourself!