“In this treacherous world/Nothing is the truth nor a lie./Everything depends on the color/Of the crystal through which one sees it.” ― Pedro Calderón de la Barca
Big philosophical questions whiz around in my brain – what is true, what is fair? You might be wondering what prompts this deep state of pondering. You might be assuming it is being provoked by the pandemic, politics, economics, or protests, but no. More surely it is caused by hanging out with our grandkids. Having to mediate, arbitrate, lay down the law, defend my rulings, have caused me to seriously think about different perspectives.
“Eli just hit me in the eye.” I am indignant as I notice the pain on Sophia’s face. I rush outside to mete out justice to the little rascal.
Luckily, I asked a few questions first. “Eli, did you hit Sophia?”
“She was messing with me.”
“Messing with you how?”
“She dumped sand and water on my head.”
Tight-lipped and narrow-eyed, I look back at Sophia who seems to be searching for a counter response. That is when I realize the truth… is not so simple. That is when I come to terms with the nuances of crime and punishment. My initial reaction – to send Eli to his room, no longer seems appropriate.
For some time now, like 45+ years – since I have been married to my husband, John, I have understood that people can see things differently and can literally see different things. This situation can lead to all sorts of confusion, even downright ungenerous assumptions. Sometimes our different ways of seeing the world provokes hostile ways of being with each other.
One of my most vivid stories happened early in our relationship. We happened to be in Chicago and were taking a walk around Lake Michigan. I noticed a young couple walking by holding hands. They passed us twice. It made me smile. The way they looked so adoringly at each other, I imagined they might be on their honeymoon.
Later when we got back to our hotel, we discussed our walk, I mentioned the lovers. John looked puzzled. He had not seen them. The romantic in me was crushed and started making up rather villainous stories about this man I had married not so long ago.
After a pause, John said, “I must have been looking at the ship when they passed.”
You know where this is going. “What ship?” I asked.
John was shocked, “June,” he said. “A ship is a big thing, a very big thing! There was a very big ship docked there.” (I have decided that it is better that I do not know exactly what he was thinking about me at that moment.)
Why we pay attention differently continues to be studied by researchers in cognition. All sorts of things affect our perspective, how we pay attention, and what we pay attention to - our past experiences, our interests, our values, our biases, our personalities, our roles and positions in life, even our moods. In a perfect world, these differences could lead us into delightful encounters and collaborations. More often it erupts into conflict about what’s true, what’s right, and what’s fair.
When my children were small and “got into it” in a big way, we had a conflict protocol. They each sat in a chair and told their own side of the story. Then after listening to each other’s side, they switched places and told the story from their brother’s point of view. This exercise worked well mostly because they hated having to listen to their brother’s perspective. Afterwards, we discussed what outcomes or consequences seemed fair. It could be a loooong process.
I doubt I would be telling you anything new if I mention how difficult it is to have kids and adults, who see things differently, agree on what is fair. And this leads us back to the Sophia and Eli’s situation.
She, Sophia, “messed with him,” that is, she poured water and sand on Eli. Therefore, it seemed only fair to Eli that he was justified in hitting her in the eye. To Sophia, being hit in the eye was extreme and seriously harmful whereas a little sand and water on the head, is all good fun.
What I have learned as this summer comes to an end? Life, truth, fairness. It’s complicated. That may seem like a pathetically paltry punchline. However, it could save us all a lot of anguish and usher in a lot of wisdom if we took that concept to heart.
How do I put this messiness into practice?
“Slow down, be patient, be curious, ask, listen, don’t make assumptions, look for and acknowledge the different points of view,” I internally whisper to prepare myself for dealing wisely with my grandchildren. “Remember the research, the tools, your ‘aha’ moments.”
Understanding that we have different ways of seeing the world - embracing the complexity, helps me be a better grandparent and …could be quite handy out in the big world of pandemics and politics too.
How might you journey to the good life by learning to deal wisely with the complexity of different perspectives?