One Vantage Point?

What do YOU see?

Okay, so Jay and I were looking at some incredible bark on a palm tree and I immediately asked him to take a photograph of it, which he so graciously did. It was kind of surprising when he showed it to me. It was such a cool photograph, but it wasn’t really what I had seen at all. It looked almost like a mask or face of some kind. At first glance, no one would really guess it was a part of a palm tree. The thing that had intrigued me originally about the actual tree was the pattern as its lattice skins cross-hatched each other in smaller and bigger and even larger patterns…all the way from the top to the bottom of the tree. The thing that caught Jay’s attention was the close-up, detailed pattern and textures that resembled mask-like features.

So this got to me thinking about perspective. Two people looking at the same object from nearly the same physical location, yet seeing two different things, or one focusing on the detail of a small area and the other looking at the bigger picture. In this case neither was more right or more wrong. Depending on what the motive or goal, both perspectives could serve a purpose. I’ve seen this same thing when cloud-watching with someone. We both are looking at the same cloud areas and one of us sees a dragon head, while the other sees a banana tree. When we identify how to see what each other of us has noticed, described where the head is or where to start, it all makes sense. We can see each other’s image, and somehow that feels good. We feel more connected with each other somehow. It was our perspective, our experiences, our present thought patterns that molded what we viewed. Hmmm…this seems pretty important.

During our travels there have been many times when we have both been observing the same area, but WOW, did we notice different things. Sometimes we focused on completely different aspects in an area, and other times one of us narrowed our scope and saw something in a lot of detail, especially when Jay was using his binoculars. I might have been noticing the variety and pattern of the sailboats and the size of the waves hitting them, while Jay noticed the pattern of the seaweed and the seal bobbing his head near the boats…all in the same area.

So how often do we do this in other areas of our lives? And how often do we assume that someone else saw exactly what we did because we were looking in same area. And this doesn’t even account for those times that we appear to be looking at something, but have something so steeped in our thoughts that we don’t even see what is in front of us…. an emotion clouding what we see or hear, giving a shadowed view.

What about in our conversations? There are times when I have relayed a story or incident and Jay had really been listening, but when we discuss something related to it later it was a small detail he remembered, and not the general story, or vice versa. Again, not right or wrong, but it makes me want to be more aware of my reason for relating something, and also realize that it could be helpful if I mentioned ahead of time whether I was telling something in order to show how humorous it was, or how sad or clever, or if I needed help in remembering a list, etc. Or could I add clarity if I asked a question like, “Could you listen to this and let me know what you would have done in this situation?” or asked “ Can you figure out why this might have happened this way?” ….something to lead the listener to my motive for sharing, giving more directions on how or what to listen for. I see there are times I could guide the listener more… sometimes the bigger picture or a solution is what I am aiming for, and other times it is being able to share the details or the scenery with someone.

There is a song about 5 blind men (I hope someone can remind me of the name of it. I think it is by David Roth). None of them had ever seen/felt and elephant before and they were all led to a different part of the elephant to experience it. When they had finished investigating they all had their own idea of what an elephant was. One said that it was a very curvy tube-like thing and that he felt air coming out of the end of this hose-like animal. Another said that he felt a tree-trunk-like structure, straight and cylindrical with leathery and hairy bark. Yet another said that he felt something like a very big, irregularly shaped, tough pancake, thin between his hands, and very large. He had to reach up quite high to feel it. Their descriptions went on like that. Each thought their part was the actual elephant. Only one ventured around to feel a variety of the parts and could see that they were all important parts that made up the whole…the entire elephant.

So are there various views that are all correct, but need to be shared in order to get the whole picture? Are there times when a quick overview does the trick, but other times when a closer, longer view is in order? Are there times when we need to gently probe someone in a discussion to be sure we understand exactly what s/he means, to know if we are really understanding him/her? I am finding that there is often SO much under the surface of a facial expression, a comment, a view…and rather than ASSUME, I can ask or explore. Or I can make things more clear from my side when I am explaining something and express what type of feedback I am hoping for.

I think this is a topic worth considering and sharing our thoughts and experiences about. How have YOU experienced different perspectives and where did it lead? How have your assumptions lead to misunderstanding and how did you regroup or fix that? Our theme at Scholars this year centers around building and maintaining community, and this perspective and communication angle seems to be an important aspect in the building of an effective community…a good point on which to explore together and begin our dialog.

written by Tien Stone Langlois, Scholars Together, Director/Lead Instructor

Photography by Jay Langlois

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