Not long ago, my teenage daughters were bickering, and I said to them, but also to myself, “If we could spend half the time we currently spend trying to make our own voice be heard, listening… If we could take the time to see and hear the people we encounter – even those who are different from us… If we could seek to understand them…We might be surprised by what we learn, and perhaps the world would be a better place.”
There’s always another side to the story, another perspective that we were blind to before. Sometimes we all get caught up in our own view, our own version of the truth. There’s this famous drawing that illustrates how we can get so hyper-focused on our own perspective that even looking at the same black and white picture, we can see something different from the next guy. I first encountered this exercise in Psych 101 and have since encountered it many times.
My fascination with this illustration has nothing to do with the deep psychological meaning of what you see first, a young woman or an old woman. My interest lies in the fact that it really is possible to adjust your eyes to see the other side. It’s hard to do. You have to step back, blur your eyes, look away for a moment, shift your perspective. And when you do, you see that there is more than one right way to look at the same set of black and white facts.
As you change your lens, the young woman’s chiseled jawline becomes the old woman’s gnarly nose. The choker on her slender neck becomes the old woman’s thin grimace, her ear becomes the old woman’s eye, etc. It may even be hard to go back to your old way of seeing it once you’ve seen the new image.
Though it seems impossible, sometimes both ways of looking at something are right, even if they seem diametrically opposed to one another. And sometimes they’re both wrong. Usually they’re both a little bit of both, and the path is in the middle. The answer is finding a common ground, seeking to understand, and loving even when we don’t feel loving. We are all waves in the same ocean. Treating people with kindness and respect, listening more than we speak, seeking first to understand – this isn’t just rainbows and unicorns. Forgiving ourselves and others when we make mistakes, treating people how they want to be treated, caring how we make them feel, and loving them as we love ourselves. This is the basis of the teachings of Jesus – and every other coach or teacher I have learned from. But long before I knew about any of that, this is how I was raised. I learned this from my dad’s family and their exodus from Egypt. I learned this from my mom, and the way she lives every day. And I believe this is the answer to all the problems we face as a world. This is important, life-changing stuff.
If I could go back and undo the hurt that I caused other people, I would. But I can’t go back. I can only move forward and try to bring light and love to my world now. And having been in that place where I so desperately needed to be forgiven has built in me a tremendous capacity to love, understand, and forgive the people around me. And to move forward gracefully through my own life’s battles with resilience and strength. My life is a tapestry and I’m still weaving it.
We are all a piece of work, a work in progress and a work of art, all at the same time. We are all pieces of The Master, The Great I am. No matter who we are. Or what we’ve done.