This is a photo of my younger sister and me watching the sun go down on the Kona side of the Big Island of Hawaii with our dear doggie Cuddles! The year was about 1950, and it would have been a mid-week “vacation” with our parents, whose obligations with their church kept them close to home in Hilo over the week-ends. We loved these trips!
Years later when a college girlfriend, Malinda, visited the islands, we decided to fly to the Big Island from Honolulu (where I was living as a young adult) and rent a car to tour around a bit. I told her that we would get the car in Hilo and drive to the Kona side, but that it would take us all day to make the drive. We arrived as planned, and set out along the Hamakua Coast, stopping along the way to admire the stunning coastline and a host of price-winning horses on the Parker Ranch. We arrived at our Kona-side destination in about 2 hours!!
The point of this story is to reflect on how perceptions and perspectives change along the way. One of my favorite authors, Suzette Haden Elgin, in her “Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense” explains that one of the principles of good communication is to assume that whatever someone says or believes is true — you just have to figure out what it is true of, or what else the person has to believe in order to see this as the truth for them. So for example, when i told Malinda that our drive from Hilo to Kona was a whole day’s trip, this was true for the little child whose perception of time spent on a car trip from one side of the island to the other was a long long, in fact a day-long trip. From a grown-up perspective, this trip was measured more in terms of not only the actual clock time that passed along the way, but a new sense of appreciation for things beyond the back seat of a car!
So what does this have to do with anything, you might be asking. As I have been searching for a way to find sense in the senseless political wrangling going on now, much of it based, to me, in total ignorance or even worse, wrong-headed intentions, I returned to Suzette’s principle about what is true, and to and my drastic shift in perception about the duration of a simple car trip. Understanding the child’s perspective does not make it “right,” nor does it in any way bring me to re-consider my adult perspective about the time required for the trip. What is re-assuring is that my perspective did change more in the direction of an empirically valid reality – thankfully!
I could point to many other changes in perspective that I have experienced that are far more significant than this simple example, as I am sure you can too. Some of my earlier notions do not elicit the same kind of humorous reflection. In fact I sometimes regret holding on to misguided perceptions as long as I did. But it is always useful in my own process to focus on what happened to create the change. More often than not, changes for me come about after new life experiences, including new learning, that creates an expanded interest in and appreciation of things far beyond the metaphorical back seat of the car.
The politicians who seem to be entrenched in a damaging and senseless political battle are, in a way, stuck in the back seat of a car somewhere. I am not sure what they see as they gaze at the back of the front seats … some may see their own political fortune, some may see a limited or distorted set of values that create a mind’s eye prison, others see something I cannot even imagine. For some they may never move beyond that back seat. But I hold out hope that the actions, large and small, that happen at the initiative of the larger public, including each of us, somehow get their attention, entice them to take a peak out the window and shift their view beyond that of the back seat. This certainly remains to be seen, but I have to believe that anything is possible. I just hope they do not inflict serious and irreversible damage on the rest of us in the process.