How many horses do you see in this photo?

Your answer is going to depend on the kind of person you are, and the way you think about a problem. But go ahead, take a second and answer this in your head. I'll wait.

... ... ...

Ok, got it? Good. Now, here's the answer:

If you read this question as "How many actual horses are in this photo?" you might answer "14." Because that's the number of actual horses that are on the ground, being reflected into the water ahead of them.

If you read the question as "How many representations of horses are in this photo?" you'd answer "28." Because the number of actual horses plus their reflections comes to 28 total.

If you're extremely literal, and not much for symbolism, you'll say "None." Because this is a photo, and not a real-world view of actual horses at all. 

If you're someone who prefers clever answers over facts and figures, you'll say "All of them." Because that's just the kind of answer you like to give. Short, clever, all-encompassing, and impossible to contradict. 

The truth is, all of these answers are right, and all of them are wrong. It's the perspective, temperament, perception and attitude of the viewer that determines what's "true" and what's "false."

The same applies to what you're communicating to your audience. Depending on who they are and how they think, they are going to get different "truths" out of everything you write, say, or produce. 

Learn to love that. Because that's where the real magic of being a communicator comes in. Don't try to force your own meaning down someone's throat. Let them come to meaning on their own. Your job is to communicate your ideas as clearly and effectively as possible, whether writing a book, giving a speech, or just talking to your kids about bullying or peer pressure.

State what needs to be stated, in honest and clear terms, and let the audience determine meaning for themselves. They'll often come up with wonders you would never have imagined. And that's when you get to learn something new from your own work.

So ... how many horses do you see? And why? How about telling me in the comments for this post?


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Kevin Tumlinson is the author of numerous novels, novellas, and non-fiction books, and the host of the Wordslinger Podcast. Try three of his best books for free when you download his starter library at


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