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What We See Depends on What We Look For

Written by Marsha Rakestraw | 2 Comments | Published on June 21, 2012 | Filed under Humane Connection
The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Humane Education website at http://humaneeducation.org/blog/2012/06/21/what-we-see-depends-on-what-we-look-for/
Image courtesy of frankieroberto via Creative Commons.

Recently I came across this quote: “What we see depends mainly on what we look for.” (John Lubbock)

It reminded me of the powerful story, based on a West African folktale, that Mary Pat Champeau, director of education, shares every summer at IHE’s student residency. Here’s one version of the story:

There was once an elderly and wise gentleman who lived in a village. He would often spend his days sitting in the shade of a big tree in the center of the village, reading books and talking to passersby. One day, a traveler came upon his village and stopped and said, “Old man, I have been traveling across the countryside, and I have seen many things and met many people. Can you tell me what kind of people I will find in your village?”
 
The elderly gentleman looked up at him and replied, “Certainly I can, but first tell me what kind of people you have found on your travels.”
 
The traveler scowled and said, “Old man, I have met people who cheat, steal, and aren’t kind to strangers, and people who don’t look out for one another.”
 
The elderly gentleman looked up and, with a faint look of sadness in his eyes, said, “Oh my friend, those are the people you will find in my village.” The traveler kicked the dirt under his feet, scoffed, and marched off towards the village
.
By and by, as the elderly gentleman continued to enjoy his day, another traveler came walking through the village. Once again, the traveler stopped and asked, “Please kind sir, I have been traveling across the countryside, and I have seen many things and met many people. Can you tell me what kind of people I will find in your village?”
 
The elderly gentleman said, “Certainly I can, but first tell me what kind of people you have found in your travels.”
 
The traveler replied, “I have found people who are kind and welcoming of strangers, people who care for one another, and people who love. These are the people I have met in my travels.”
 
The elderly gentleman looked up and, with the faintest smile in his eyes, said, “My friend, those are the people you will find in my village.”

The quote and the story are important reminders for us as humane educators and concerned citizens to be mindful of our worldview. Do we mainly see the things in people that annoy or upset us? Do we focus on all the animal and human suffering and planet-wide destruction? Do we fret about all the things we’re not doing? Or, do we see all the good in others and joyfully invite them to make even more compassionate, just, and sustainable choices? Do we celebrate all the positive things changemakers around the world are accomplishing? Do we acknowledge all the good that we ourselves are doing and seek out opportunities to do more?

Part of creating the world we want means keeping alive a vision of that world — not traversing life with rose-colored glasses, but rather maintaining a dual vision: one that sees what is, while seeing what’s possible; one that is aware of what’s good and of what can be better; one that recognizes the role our own biases and experiences play in our own vision of how the world (and others) should be.

~ Marsha

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