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The Puzzle Paradigm

Over the holidays, I, probably like many individuals, lost myself in hours and hours of puzzles. We had a Secret Santa drop off a puzzle set with twelve inside. I was in heaven!

As I explored each option, I started to play with different "deep" philosophical ideas. What does a puzzle mean to the universe, to me, to God, to the law, and other topics? As I looked at lines, colors, shades, hues, shapes, and all the indicators which make the accomplishment of a puzzle possible, I had fun coming up four life keys or tools for better understanding the journey.

1. There is a bigger picture

It is obvious there is a bigger picture that the puzzler is trying to shape together. Within the bigger picture there are many smaller pictures. Those in a hurry might want the little picture within the larger picture to be the larger picture. By making the smaller picture the larger picture, the puzzler creates a universe out of an incomplete whole. The "doctrines" are limited, the philosophies incomplete, prejudices reaffirmed, and seeds for chaos sown.

Once the puzzle is complete a second process begins. The picture is complete, but it is also a smaller picture of a greater whole. The picture was a tiny piece of a scene. Depending on how zoomed in the pictures is on one idea or a whole city/landscape, we lose either from the micro or macro perspective. The author of the picture has shaped our view, and we also see the picture from our life experiences. We may be looking at the boats in the harbor and the author wanted us to see the water.

What is the bigger picture? As lawyers, judges, mediators, and individuals in general, how should we look at it all? We might all come up with a different answer depending on the role we play in relation to the picture, need for a decision and the public pressures and a specific opinion.

My take away is that I need to continue to ask questions to ensure I'm seeing the picture with clear eyes. Do I see the pressures on the picture? On me as I interpret it? Are the smaller parts of the puzzle potentially more important than the whole? Spending the time to work on the completed puzzles give you lots of ideas to consider as you consider the overall meaning of the project.

2. Follow the Clues

I have sat with many people and watched how others begin the puzzle. Some say, "We must start with the edges." Others, "We must turn over every piece first." My aunt starts with about twenty paper plates which she uses to short the pieces into similars such as colors, faces, shapes, etc. However you begin, there are clues. The puzzle is meant to be solved. The puzzle has answers. The picture will come together.

Personally I like to turn all the pieces to reflect lines. Most puzzles have lines that need to run to another piece. As I orient all the piece to have the lines running the same direction, the lines start to standout and the partners almost call out, "Here I am!"

If we are intent on seeing the clues, the picture will come together. Part of that intent comes from learning how to line up and short the pieces into a form that will speak to you.

3. Black and White Don't Always Mean Good and Bad.

I recognized over the holidays, that as I look at puzzles, I often see the vibrant colors and light. This came to me as I was doing a puzzle with hot air balloons. As I got into the pieces, I was surprised that there were so many dark pieces. I looked at the picture of the puzzle again trying to find all the vibrant colors and light which had drawn me to the picture. I saw that the colors and light were still there, but they were encompassed on many sides by shade. It hit me that most light at some point has a shadow. The contrast. The thing which helps to cause the things to stand out. I also recognized that I was seeing one hot air balloon with many different sides some in light some in darkness, but still the same balloon. I couldn't really have a picture of a balloon completely surrounded in light without great effort of many lights from all angles. I couldn't see the whole balloon at one time. I couldn't be at all those different angles at one time. Rather than go through all that effort, I could leave it alone and realize that there is light and darkness which mean nothing. It's ultimately up to me to see the balloon as it is. Not good and bad, sweet or bitter, just a balloon with contrasting points, each contrasting point adding to the makeup of its whole.

This comes into the law and life clearly. As a lawyer, I advocate the light and darkness from the values of my client. As a mediator, I might have conflicting visions of the shades depending on the parties. I am ultimately facilitating a mutual understanding of the contrasts. As a judge, I have to impose a vision of the picture on the parties based on rational connections to the picture that hopefully the conflicting parties can reconcile or appeal.

We litigate and argue about the meaning of shades. Perhaps they are just shades, not good or bad, just contrasting areas which bring out points we see because they appeal to us or scare us, but in the end might just be the necessary parts of a beautiful whole, like the hot air balloon.

4. Reflection and Discovery

At the end of the day, puzzles ultimately provide a time to ponder the larger picture, the process, the steps, the clues, the errors of judgment and the ideas that allow us to work on life through the medium of a much smaller picture, maybe just one hundred pieces, potentially two thousand pieces, but still immensely smaller than the whole picture we work on every day. The point is to reflect and ponder. Eventually many small discoveries will add up to pleasant realizations. Keep puzzling!


Travis Marker, JD, LLM, can be reached at travis@scrivenersquill.com

Photos courtesy of (c) Travis Marker

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