Other Than -
The Essence Of "Human Potential"
by Silvia Hartmann
People often mistake me for a teacher, or a healer, or a
I'm none of these things.
My investment is absolutely and ONLY in pure personal development as a human
I want to know how far we can go as a human being.
I want to know how far *I*
When I was four years old, I had a very formative experience.
I was straying about the countryside, entirely unsupervised as usual, and I came
a few gardens down from my parent's house upon a cousin of mine, and she was
This cousin was ten years older than me, and she had Down's syndrome. She was
attending a mainstream school still, in those days there was little provision
for people of her kind and me being as small as I was, I thought of her as an
I'd never seen an adult cry like that.
I asked her what was wrong, and she showed me a school book which contained work
for her to do. She told me that she couldn't do it and was afraid of what her
father would do and say, of her teachers.
She could read and write a bit, and I could read and write; I could do quite a
bit of maths although I wasn't at school yet. Adults who came across me often
found it amusing to teach me various things, and reading, writing, adding,
subtracting and so forth were amongst those.
I looked at the exercise.
There was a simple line drawn picture of 4 bags of hay, and another two bags of
hay, with a plus sign in between them, and a question mark after the equation
I was astonished that she couldn't do that and so I set about trying to teach
She didn't get it at all, even though she tried ever so hard.
I don't remember the details because it is a long time ago, but I remember that
I made her count the addition on her fingers like a thousand times, and she
totally wasn't getting it. She could count it on her fingers, could count it out
in real stones on the ground, but she couldn't handle the diagram.
As I was small and didn't know anything about learning disorders, I obviously
thought that it was my teaching that was at fault, and so I persevered.
I do remember very clearly having at some point during this long, long afternoon
an enlightenment moment.
I understood that she couldn't make the connection between the flat line
drawings on the flat piece of paper with reality somehow.
So I came up with the idea of making a bridge.
We went and got six pillow cases from her house and stuffed them with grass.
Then I laid the lesson book on the ground and the pillow cases which were the
sacks in front and made the plus sign and equation signs out of sticks.
I kept drawing with my hand a line between the real pillow case and the sack
drawing on the page, over and over and over again and then the magic moment
happened and she got it.
She kept staring at the exercise book and the sacks and kept saying, "They're
the same, they're the same!"
And then we just screamed and danced around the garden, rolled around and threw
grass at each other.
And what's even better still, she could do the other exercises involving
tomatoes, buses and little flowers as well.
She really did get it.
Later on at school, my best friend was a girl who nowadays would have been
diagnosed as dyslexic. I never questioned that she was just as smart as I was,
and I would read her homework books for her and give her a managerial version of
their contents in speech, which she'd remember beautifully and that got her
There were lots of other people who thought they were stupid too along the way,
and I always just thought that the way they were taught was the problem, and
that if you spend enough time and effort, they'll "get it", just as my cousin
had done that day in the garden.
This had a double effect.
The first effect was that I never took people for what they thought they were,
or could do - because you don't know just what they can do when they "get it".
There was more to be had. More intelligence, more reading skills, more math
skills, more of EVERYTHING, really - you just had to try and dig for it,
encourage it, help it to come out.
The second effect was on myself.
If my cousin could "get it", and it was just a question of teaching her so she
could understand, then I, too, could "get stuff" - of course.
We're both people, right?
So since that day in my cousin's garden, I have never questioned the ability of
humans to learn things that they might think they can never understand - and
I've never blamed the people since, but ONLY their teachers.
As I got older and mellowed out a bit, I replaced that with the thought that the
teachers themselves probably weren't taught all they need to know, and that the
problem lies not with them, but with the methods and techniques that were being
used and perpetuated.
Teachers are people as well, after all.
So in my world, there are all these people and we haven't a clue yet what they
can actually learn to do if they were given a chance.
And after many, many experiences that always supported this underlying theory to
the point that I have come to accept this as an undeniable truth, I started to
look at the available role models for humanity, and began to wonder if even the
best amongst them were really the last word on what a human being can
This is a two tiered question.
One of the things that really bugs me about existing human role models is that
the vast majority of them are such one trick ponies.
So there's a guy who can paint - but he can hardly speak, can't play an
instrument, is useless at soccer, can't add two and two together, cheats on his
wife and beats the children.
SOME role model!
It seems that everywhere, it is EXPECTED that you basically suck at everything,
and if it should happen by some freak accident that someone discovers they have
"a talent" for (knitting, horse riding, music, counting, remembering rote facts,
doing sex well, ballroom dancing, garden gnome collecting etc ad infinitum!)
they'll be stuck on this monorail of a life that is far more exclusive than it
Personally, I've been on the receiving end of this railroading all my life.
I do some thing, and I try and do it well, learn how to do it well, with
continuous improvement in mind, and immediately folk will try and put me in a
box and reduce me and my abilities to that one thing. They'll expect me to now
do that and nothing else for the rest of my life.
I do teach, and I'm a MUCH better teacher for the fact that I also sing, and
paint, and do complicated calculations, and study language, and hypnosis,
horticulture, animal behaviour and whatever else than I could ever be if I only
And vice, vice, vice versa, versa, versa - all the way across the board.
Every time you "get something" (it doesn't even have to be "it"!), you get
better all around at everything.
It's a fact.
And here we come to the others, and to work, and play.
Work & Play
Need to pay for one's living drives this one track specialisation. You need to
work to make money, right?
So your "work" is one thing, and only when work is done, you get to "play".
"Play", of course, is not important - and that is extremely important to our
lives and our neurologies.
As a global device across the board, with "play" being secondary, second rate,
not important, what we have is a situation where lessons learned during "play"
are likewise relegated to a secondary, unimportant position - and they do not
get to structurally interact with the lessons and experiences from "work", which
is stored elsewhere, deemed to be on a higher level, more important for
Thus, the experiences do not mesh and they do not interact, cannot
cross-fertilise one another as they should.
Did I play with my cousin in the garden that day, with pillow cases and straw,
or did we work?
I wasn't old enough to make that distinction; and my cousin wasn't of the kind
to make it at all.
There is a third state, a third way of accumulating experience altogether,
something that isn't work, or play, but much, much more than the sum of those
reality reduced parts in EVERY WAY - a way of learning, of unfolding and growing
that is TOTALLY OTHER THAN.
With my personal truth, namely that we actually don't know yet how far ANYONE
can actually go, we have a white space that goes beyond anything that anyone has
ever experienced or modelled for us to draw upon.
There is something out there, something on the other side.
Could Einstein, for example, have thought more clearly?
I believe so. In fact, I know so.
Can you personally think more clearly than Einstein?
You don't think so?
Are you sure?
We don't know, not until you've been taught some basic things and then you had
That's the key.
I call the kinds of people that have not yet existed, or if they have, we don't
know about them so we can role model on them, THE OTHERS.
These are not superhuman, please don't get me wrong.
They are JUST HUMAN, just the same as we are, only they do things differently,
very differently to how we are used to seeing things being done.
The others are a thought construct which I use to focus various enquiries, and
to get me out of what I know already (the old) into that unexplored white space
of human potential.
That is a fascinating cognitive manouvre which throws the barn doors wide open
What if there was a different state, NOT work, NOT play, but a form of activity
that was essentially, OTHER THAN either?
What if there were ways of thinking, of feeling, of being, of behaving that we
have actually NEVER seen before, and which are in every way and essence,
entirely OTHER THAN?
You start thinking like that, and a whole lot of possibilities and lines of
enquiry begin to unfold.
More importantly, some of the worst "cages of entrainment" begin to fall away
and the results can SEEM miraculous.
If I had "known" that my cousin was learning disabled, how would that have
limited my efforts to teach her, or to try and make her understand what I could
see, and she could not to start with?
There so many things we think we "know" and which limit us as a species and
across the board insanely, incredibly.
The things that we DON'T KNOW are where the wonder lies.
If we can just get our minds to point in that direction, with joy of discovery,
we can truly, "boldly go where no man went before".
Are we all superhuman and just don't know that?
I don't know!
But I do know there's room for improvement. There is a massive "more" that is
completely and structurally available to every one of us.
Breaking down the distinction between work and play to move into a third state
that is so immeasurably richer, wider, more encompassing and more exciting in
every way is just ONE of a myriad of lessons that we can and do learn when we
stretch out towards OTHERNESS.
To lay ALL existing human role models aside, and literally put them in the past,
where they belong, is a big step, but also a very freeing one.
There is no disrespect intended or in action to progenitors, predecessors or any
of the true human beings who came before us.
But it is essential, and I really mean absolutely essential, that the
achievements of the past do not become the goal posts of the future.
Nothing is really known yet.
Nothing has really been understood yet.
A word of totally, and really and truly TOTALLY different lives, experiences,
potentials is there and waiting for us to grow into it.
That's not make belief.
That is completely true and structurally pre-supposed in EVERY living human
being on this planet.
And that is what "personal development" into "human potential" is about for me,
that is the great exploration.
I wish from the bottom of my heart that EVERYONE should take part, no holds
It doesn't matter if you're old or blind or sick or learning disabled.
If you are HUMAN, then the limit of what you can do, what you learn, what you
can experience HAS NOT YET BEEN REACHED.
That is a fantastic thing, to really understand that.
When you do, the future becomes - OTHER THAN.
And that is EXACTLY how it should be.
© Silvia Hartmann 2006