Friday, April 15, 2016
Take Another Look
As I write this, we're anticipating at a major storm dumping inches of snow on Denver this-coming weekend (although it may be rain -- those weather-forecasters! By the time you read this, however, the form of precipitation may have been settled!). Lots of plans have been changed because of the weather . . . At least one DU sporting event has changed venues (it's difficult to play tennis, for example, in rainy/snowy conditions). My son's Boy Scout campout has been postponed a week (as currently forecast, NEXT weekend should be in the '70's! -- it's Colorado!). "The best-laid plans . . ." So, is it a "disaster"? It could be, to be sure, for some folks -- some things WERE only scheduled for this weekend. But maybe not! For some parents, the weekend is lost to gardening, and will be spent with kids indoors. While my son may not be learning outdoor skills, we will get some other scout-requirements out-of-the-way.
This-coming weekend's severe weather cannot be evaluated from only one perspective. Indeed, most things can be viewed from a least a couple of vantage points (without saying "every cloud has a silver lining"). This came "home" to me last week as I was attending a meeting of one of DU's religious student groups. A member of the group had suffered a severe medical emergency a week or so earlier and remains in the hospital. At one point, the prospects for a recovery looked pretty dim.* The question was asked of the group how each individual made sense of, or found solace in, a situation like this. The answers were varied, as one might expect. But most focused either on the difficult nature of the tragedy, or on the inscrutable nature of God's will. I wondered (aloud) whether there were another way of looking at the entire situation. That is, that the tragedy had produced a major effort on the part of the community. People came together, supported room-mates, supported the student's family, prayed together. YES, the student's situation was dire -- we had to trust the medical professionals, the student's will-to-live, and the power of prayer -- other than that, there was little we could "do" for the student. But what was produced BY that concern was amazing. How we look at things is NOT limited to only one perspective.
A similar "take-another-look" reminder came to me this morning in a blog-post by the Director of Duke University's Islamic Studies Center, Omid Safi. He tells of being invited to Salt Lake City to give a series of lectures, remarking that he had never had such an extended period of time to spend at the epicenter of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (my words, not his!). He writes of how much he learned, not just in terms of "history" but of people's real lives. He learned how different, but how similar the Mormon experience was from the Muslim. And, of course, he came under criticism WHILE there. Yet he chose NOT to write of the critics, but of the hospitality and hope he found. The title of his blog-piece is "Shine a Light on the Good and Beautiful".
In all of my thinking about this, I have to admit that I'm very influenced by the theory/philosophy of managing change known as Appreciative Inquiry. At its core, AI focuses on what is good, what works. It does not deny that there are problems, but chooses not to focus on fixing them, but rather accentuating the positive. One writer, Jackie Kelm (popularizing AI as "Appreciative Living"), uses the image of a movie screen, where many of us see life's film with only half the curtain opened -- leaving us with a negative impression of what's going on. She argues for opening the other half of the curtain where we can see a more complete picture, to also, to use Safi's words, to "shine a light on the good and beautiful"; the negative isn't gone, it's simply complemented by something more nuanced, more constructive. It's takes discipline to look at things this way, but (I've found) a very useful discipline.
Another way to "look" at this is through the lens of optical illusions. Regardless of how we first see the picture above, after a while (even if we need to be shown), we'll probably see something more that we originally thought. Is it simply a mountain range, or is it a person's face? And, of course, for those of us in Colorado anticipating a lot of snow, we know that mountains bare of snow tell one story, but those with snow another -- yet they are the same mountains, only with a different look.
*They look MUCH better now, thankfully!