[Advice] White Space

The person, or organization, pressuring you to make a decision right now, to hurry up, to do the quick and easy thing, are crowding your decisional white space.

This is a rhetorical and persuasive technique where all the methods of persuasion and influence from reciprocation to consensus, meet at the head of a pin.

They know that you know this. That’s why they’re crowding you.

And you know that something is happening to influence your decision making process— you feel the pressure and the stress emotionally and psychologically—but you’re not quite sure why or how.

The framing the person, or organization uses, is that the quick decision is benefiting you, but in reality your quick decision actually benefits them.

Make a quick decision and don’t think about the future, because maintaining the status quo is really what matters, and besides, who can know the future?

Hurry up to achieve harmony, or ensure stasis.

Make a quick decision for immediate gain—or at least, the perception of immediate gain—based on the appearance of an immediate need that needs to be filled.

Don’t slow down.

Don’t consider all of your options.

Even better, you have no options other than the ones that the organization—or the person—in charge gives to you.

Full pedal to the metal driving 105 miles per hour.


The singer Jewel turned down a $1-million-dollar recording contract when she was homeless, broken, sick, and needy.

Money is really no object.

Bob Dylan made albums when no one was listening.

Neither is safety, security, or the status quo. They are stories we tell ourselves, and let ourselves be told.

The future is unknowable, uncontrollable, and imprecise, yes, it always has been. But, today is the place where you have the most control over what you do.

Patience, slowing down, meditating, praying, contemplating, thinking deeply, disagreeing, exploring options, taking your time, being mindful of your surroundings and your inner life—these are not stories, frames or listicle based techniques or shortcuts.

They are skills, based in deeply held values, that resonate through your decisions.

These skills expand your decisional white space, and make it less likely that the person—or organization—pressuring you to make a decision across the table, will have any success at filling your white space.

And they will have even less success crowding the white space of your life.

[Advice] The Productivity of White Space

The human eye is a powerful bundle of tissues, nerves and liquid.

As the most complicated mechanism (short of the brain) in the human body, the human eye can see, take in information and transmit that information for interpretation in the brain.

One of the first things that a practicing artist must learn while still a student, is the value of white space: Those places in the piece of art where there is “nothing,” instead of “something.” The artist must dismiss her natural tendecy to trust what her eyes—that confuse the crowded appearance of the world, with meaning—see is “there,” and search diligently for what is not.

There are a lot articles on the Internet, which fall into the genre of the “new self-help.” These articles focus around “hacking” your life to become more “productive.” Some of them offer valuable information in the form of listicles, without much explanatory content, research based findings, or even a really good argument about how to implement all of the tips at a practical level. This species of article has become so rampant in parts of the Internet, that they are approaching the level of pornography in their ubiquity.

But what do the human eye, seeing, art production, and the “new self-help” all have in common?

The lack of—or the crowding out of—white space in the world.

The human mind has a limited attention span.

And the messages from various signal bearers (i.e. family members, neighbors, co-workers, etc.) tend to “crowd into” the human mind, creating distractions that cause a loss of focus, a loss of clarity, and sometimes, a loss of personal purpose. The solution to this limited attention span problem (or limited bandwidth problem) is not to read another productivity hack article on the Internet and then to vainly attempt to apply its proscriptions.

The solution is to focus ruthlessly on carving out more white space.

More absence of messages that don’t matter, in order to catch the signal of messages that do matter. In principle, this just reads like another “new self-help” proscription with no basis in practical fact, so here are three initial questions to ask yourself before carving out more white space in your personal interactions, your personal productivity, and even in your personal perspective on the world:

Is this action I’m taking right now (or think about taking later) going to give me the highest value beyond just this moment (or the next)?

Am I providing value to someone else by having this interaction with them, or am I not?

Am I playing the long game, the short game, or not playing a “game” at all by having/not having this interaction, taking on this task, or engaging with this person?

Through discipline and with an understanding of the power of absence, your human attention span can focus on the things that matter, and be more productive.

-Peace Be With You All-

Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT: jsorrells@hsconsultingandtraining.com
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