Before fixing what you are looking at, check what you are looking through…
- Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening
In his book, The Book of Awakening, Mark Nepo speaks about how we see the world using the example of his grandmother looking out through her only window and complaining about how gray the day was, only to realize that the window was dirty. When he discovered this, his grandmother with humor stated, “Got a dirty eye, see a dirty world…. ”Whether it is a dirty window, a pair of glasses with smudges or reflections of something else, or a mood that affects everything that happens to us, he offers a reminder that we see the world as we choose to see it.
While we do not control all the events in our lives, we do have the capability to see things as they are, naked of all the baggage we pile on. It’s not only a question of perspective, but perhaps also one of simplicity devoid of assumptions and or expectations. We don’t control the all the events in our lives, but we do choose what we see and how we interpret those events. Finally, we choose what to do in the face of these events.
While coaching clients who want to improve how they manage conflict in their professional or personal lives, I often ask my client to walk through an event, step by step, as it is a movie played on a screen in front of them. First observing what is seen, heard, the actual words and motions. As we dive deeper, the client is often surprised when I play back the words used by the client to describe the situation. Or, the client is surprised when I ask whether some portion of the event that was critical in their interpretation came from the scene itself or from something he or she interpreted from a past experience or an expectation.
There is something to be said about learning from our past experiences or using our intuition in dealing with the events in front of us. The tricky part is to be aware of what is an assumption or comes from within ourselves and what is actually being done by another person in front of us. When we become aware of our own internal dialogue or assumptions, it is only then that we can put forth those assumptions to check with the other person if that is what they truly intended. Through more simple questions and communication to clarify, some of the conflicts and misunderstandings could perhaps be avoided.
The other factor that can dirty our windows, so to speak, can be our beliefs and expectations. Whether in the office or at home, if we expect the worst from someone without giving them the benefit of the doubt, we will for sure end up with an unpleasant experience that reinforces our beliefs about that person. It can make a simple misunderstanding evolve into an overall sentiment that all is terrible with that person, therefore labeling the identity of the person as “bad.” Likewise, we may also miss critical clues if we expect that anything that a given person does is perfect. Later, we can experience an unpleasant surprise because we “did not see it coming.”
Another example of this is a senior leader that is preparing to “fight” for his department at a management meeting. Whether for new product development budget or for issues that his department has encountered, by seeing the meeting as a battlefield, the executive found himself in a defensive position, using terms like “my department” and digging his heels, wondering why no one was listening to his ideas and concerns. In doing so, he probably positioned himself as sitting across the table against his peers, rather than sitting together trying to find the best solutions for the business as a whole. After our discussion, he liked the analogy of being in a boat, each leader having an oar, and each oarsman playing a critical role to move the boat forward. It gave him food for thought as he prepared for his next management meeting.
Mark Nepo speaks about the window washing in our minds and in our hearts. He asks us to contemplate what are the ideas and conclusions we have in our minds and in our hearts, and how we can wash these windows through which we see the world. It was a great reminder for me, an invitation for me to see things and other people for what and who they are, not as I believe them to be.
I hope that it can also offer you an opportunity for reflection. Thanks !