One night at dinnertime, years ago, when my son Matt was at the ripe old age of thirteen, he walked into the kitchen, put a plate on the table, and said, out of the blue, “Dad, I've figured out that glass question.” I drew a total blank.
“What glass question, Matt?” I asked as I quickly searched my memory for anything we might have been talking about in the preceding hours.
He said, “You know, the one about the glass being half empty or half full.” Oh, that glass question. You know the famous scenario: A water glass contains liquid up to its midpoint. The question is then asked whether the glass is half empty or half full. Everyone then tells us that a pessimist will say it’s half empty, while an optimist will say it’s half full. The situation is supposed to be a test for inner attitude. It’s assumed that there's no objectively better answer. Either can be right, and yet neither is objectively preferable. What you say will be determined by what you are as an observer, not just by what the glass is as an item apart from you in the world.
Well, my son wasn’t about to buy that. He had heard the question somewhere, and apparently it had been bothering him. He now had his own take on it. “So, what's the answer?” I asked with real curiosity, wondering how someone his age would approach this old classic. And, in reply, he said something that proved to me again the simple truth that you can be a philosopher at almost any age.
He thought for a second and said, “It all depends.” Well, of course, when I heard these opening words, I thought that we’d be quickly going straight into the familiar and well trod territory of attitude relativism. But his next words surprised me and took us into a totally different direction. He said, “If you were filling the glass up just before you got to that point, it’s half full. If you were drinking from it or pouring it out just before that, then it’s half empty.”
Aha! “It all depends,” people have always said, but they’ve thought the answer depends on the attitude of the person looking at the glass. Matt couldn’t accept that as the final word. It does all depend, he was saying, but it depends on what real process had been going on previously, in order to bring the glass to its present state. What something is sometimes depends on where it came from, on how it got to be as it is, and maybe even on where it’s in the process of going. That’s a pretty profound insight.
There’s a lesson here for us all. How’s your glass these days? How’s your life? Is it pretty good, or pretty bad? If you’re like most people, you may think of yourself as somehow representative of roughly half-glass living. There are some good things in your life. And there’s a lack, or an empty space, as well. Well, then, if this is even remotely an accurate representation, the question arises: Is your life generally half full, or basically half empty? According to young Matt, it all depends. Have you been emptying it out, dissipating your energies, squandering your deepest self, alienating those who are closest to you, and as a result losing things of real value – or have you been filling up your life in the best possible way, adding elements of true value and deep worth to your daily experience? Have you been depleting or enriching yourself? What real process has been going on up until now, and is perhaps still presently occurring in your life, right now, or in your business? Where have you been, in this regard, and where are you now going?