The Way We See the World

When one of my daughters, Nikki, was in elementary school, her teacher asked all the members of her class to do a painting.  Specifically, the teacher wanted each student to paint a sunrise.  I can imagine that what the teacher had in mind was an exercise in the use of bright colors and contrast, which would certainly be appealing to young elementary-aged artists.  The teacher wandered around the room to observe the artwork-in-progress and offer words of encouragement, but when she came to Nikki’s desk she stopped and assessed the work for a couple of minutes.  She even asked Nikki what she was painting, reminding her that the assignment was for a sunrise, and that the grays and blacks on the paper didn’t seem to resemble much in the way of a sunrise.  Undaunted, Nikki responded that, yes, this was very much the way the sunrise looked before daybreak.  The teacher, duly chagrined, reported this exchange to us at the next parent-teacher conference, with the avant garde artwork in hand.  I appreciated both her candor and her confession.

The teacher seemed astonished that she had never considered what a sunrise looks like before the rays of the day actually penetrate the waning night sky.  Her concept of a sunrise was bright oranges and yellows and reds across the arc of the horizon.  It’s not an incorrect view of a sunrise, it’s simply not the only view.  And so it is with just about any experience we have in our lives.  How we see the world all depends…

To be sure, there are certain laws of nature that will seemingly always be true.  Dropping something from your hand will always result in the item falling to the ground.  (Of course, even that undeniable law of physics becomes troublesome once you leave the pull of the earth’s gravity; astronauts will attest that items dropped from the hand do not always fall downward.)  Night follows day.  (Although that’s not really true if you’re living at the North Pole right now; daylight follows daylight there.)  The poor will always be poor.  (Despite the fact that there is sufficient food and resources to sustain the current population of the earth if it were shared more equitably.)

Fortunately, there are those in the world who refuse to see the world in its current state as a fixed and immutable law of Nature.  The creators, innovators, inventors and merely curious are always “on the fringe,” looking at the way the world works today and trying to discern the truth behind it all.  That inevitably leads to suspicion and doubt about such views, denigration of the different way of thinking and even ridicule of the individual who dares to see daybreak in a different light.  Our only-two-party political system practices it.  Our established religious institutions live it.  And along the way most of us fall victim to it, often unknowingly, but almost always too narrowly.  It’s too bad, because it’s the innovators of this world who eventually create solutions and advancements that we all come to value eventually.  It’s hard enough by itself to innovate answers to problems; it’s a shame that the journey has to be complicated by naysayers.

The continuous interchange between WPF and its Nicaraguan partners is a perfect laboratory for this phenomenon.  Like many North Americans, I tend to have  my views and opinions that have been shaped by a decidedly Western-style democracy and economic model.  Nicaraguans have their perspectives shaped by very different experiences and end results.  And neither truth is right or wrong, just different.  That reality is as true on the dirt floor of a primitive Nicaraguan home as it is in the Board meeting room of a wealthy corporation.  Truth is most often an abstract that we can only get closer to over time, and no one has an absolute lock on how to achieve it.

Many outliers have achieved a fair amount of redemption in history.  Pythagorus is said to have asserted that the earth was actually round!  (Can you imagine?)  William Wilberforce condemned slavery as morally, religiously and intellectually wrong.  (A dangerous radical.)  Leonardo da Vinci, Otto Lilienthal and the Wright brothers all claimed that man could fly.  (Everyone knew how daft they all were.)  A guy named Henry Roberts envisioned personal computers for home use.  (What could be the possible uses for something like that?)  What they all had in common was a different view of the world, and an idea to live in it differently.

Innovation- doing things differently- takes a lot of courage.  It requires courage to walk in the unknown and courage to face the often-withering criticism from others who may possess less courage themselves.  Albert Einstein, one of the great intellects of history said it best: “Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.”  Whenever I feel myself being herded into a pattern of group-think, I remember Nikki’s muted sunrise and look for new ways to see the dawn….




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *