Spend any time around an ocean beach or any huge body of water and sooner or later someone gazing out over the water will be asked, “How far can you see?” It’s an inevitable question and one which the beachcomber invariably cannot answer. How far is that horizon, anyway? Can you see what’s there?
We humans can see about 3 miles into the distance, before the horizon disappears with the curvature of the earth. We can also detect a galaxy 2.6 million light years away, to a time when the first galaxies formed. With the barest of light, we can see in the dark. Our eyesight is a remarkable sense, indeed.
There’s another category of sightedness that begs the same sort of question, “how far can you see?” It’s the view forward, what we can see or anticipate for the future, and what that portends for our current circumstances. Understandably, we tend to be less accomplished in this effort, because what we endeavor to see is not yet physically visible. So we do our best to impute, deduce, and imagine.
Many entities try to see, with varying degrees of success. Within the communities of Nicaragua, leaders often pretend to see bright opportunity for their constituents, when the real view is only one of self-aggrandizement or patriarchal gatekeeping. For its part, the U.S. government is afflicted with a malady which prevents its elected representatives from seeing much beyond the end of the day; it virtually defines short-sightedness. Some business leaders work very hard to see into the future, though for many their acuity dims after about one quarter on the calendar. Fortune-tellers would have us believe that they can see the future with clarity, but I don’t think they do much better than the rest of us. Unfortunately, too many of us simply hope that the future will be as we might wish it, without working to shape it.
The reality is that in order to “know” the future and create a means to it, we have to be pretty clear about what is happening at present. That work is more difficult than it sounds, as we tend to fall prey to factors like misinformation, data that makes us look different than we actually are, shorter-term motives and even egos. If we start from a point of obfuscation, the chances of shaping a realistic future direction are very slim. But knowing the truth requires self-honesty and discipline, characteristics that are cultivated through courage and practice.
Unfortunately, most of us lack sufficient courage or practice to express openly those shortcomings and mistakes that have impeded our sight. Since it isn’t a comfortable or easy thing to do, we don’t practice it much. And that lack of practice, in turn, renders us less courageous, less open to understanding our truths and being able to use them as the basis for where we’d like to go. It’s a vicious circle that ever-lessens our ability to see what might be. And without such vision, we limit where we can choose to go. We simply can’t see that far.
Later this Spring, a certificate program for cooperatives will be taught in the rural reaches of Nicaragua. The program will be more than a week in duration, as rural producers will come together to learn holistically about seeing a future of their own making, to create the conditions and circumstances which can better allow those visions to become reality, to open their eyes to their own truths. Like staring into a bright light after an immersion in darkness, there will be discomfort, disorientation and maybe even even distress. But like the gradual adjustment our eyes make to that bright light, the emerging views will become clear and free from the drowsy effects of the dark. And the courage, the practice, the habit, of far-sightedness just may take root in people eager to see further than ever before. (I’ll be sure to write about the process in April, after the workshop has been completed.)
Meanwhile, I’ll do my best to keep asking the question of myself, “How far can you see?” It’s one of those introspective probes that just might help me prepare myself for the future….