“Thought maps experience; fantasy colors it” (Mason Cooley).
THERE IS SOMETHING IN THE HUMAN MIND THAT MOVES US TO MAKE MAPS. We may not be interested in road maps, but even if we’re not, we still make “maps.” In one way or another, we feel compelled to describe the “territory” that we have traversed. “Thought maps experience,” as Cooley says, and “fantasy colors it.” Having experienced something, our minds “map” it, and then our fantasy “colors” it: showing what we wish our experience might have been and indicating hidden worlds that we hope to experience in the future.
If you’ve never been down a certain road, it often helps to have a detailed description of that road. The unknown is a bit fearful to us, and so before we leave home, many of us like to know exactly what’s ahead. But as helpful as certain kinds of maps may be, it’s not wise to become too dependent on them. “Even with the best of maps and instruments, we can never fully chart our territory” (Gail Pool). The most joyous people are those who are locked in on such a worthy destination that if the path takes an expected turn, they simply chalk it up to the “great adventure.” There is a sense in which if we have a good “compass” (a good goal based on sound principles), we don’t need a “map” (a description of what is going to happen to us along the way.)
Even so, maps are useful, and it’s only a fool who will disregard what someone else says who has “been there” before. If necessary, faith and courage will see us through uncharted territory, but if the territory has been charted, we are most unwise if we fail to profit from the maps that others have made. And if you’ve “been there,” you’d be foolish not to map that territory for your friends and loved ones.
Maps are wonderful motivators. The best maps make you want to explore the territory they describe; they invite you to experience what the mapmaker has experienced. So be careful which maps you consult. And more important, be careful which maps you make. When your mind maps your experience, make sure that it does so accurately, and when your fantasy colors the maps you’ve made, make sure that the fantasies are those that will encourage “adventure” in the best sense.
“Maps encourage boldness. They’re like cryptic love letters. They make anything seem possible” (Mark Jenkins).