Op/Ed

Ways of Seeing: More perspectives, better answers

When I was a kid, we would play with the cardboard tubes from wrapping paper. Putting one up to your eye, you could get a focused view of something in the room or in the distance, while everything else around you disappeared. The tubes would evolve into spyglasses and the play into pirates, which of course meant that the tubes became swords and were soon broken, becoming trash.
My car has a little camera that allows me to see what is behind me when backing up. There is a written warning, however, to keep aware of what is on my sides. In the city streets of the 1800’s, horses were often fitted with blinders so they could only see what was in front of them, to keep them from shying from the bustle around them. Blinders is an interesting word, because that sort of narrowed vision truly does leave you blind to everything else. Those horses, of course had drivers who could take in the larger picture and provide guidance.
There is something appealing about that narrowed way of looking at things. I wonder how often we are lured into wanting that sort of simplicity when we try to unravel a situation or to find a solution to a problem. Just leave out the seemingly extraneous details so we can focus on what is important. Sometimes it works. If I’m planning a journey, I might want to figure out the best flight arrangements without thinking too much about whatever else I will be doing, or even too much about legroom, if my primary objective is a low price. Of course, I will be thinking about that legroom when I’m sitting on the plane. That’s the downside: Not paying attention to all aspects as you make the plans, and then dealing with the things you ignored.
For several years while I was working, I was part of a team that met once a week to develop positive ideas for addressing the academic, social and emotional needs of students. We would brainstorm, offering a wide variety of thoughts and possibilities. Because we were a group of people, each with different ways of thinking, different ways of viewing, we would look at the matter from many perspectives. As we talked, our ideas would evolve and layer and quite often the resulting plan would be one we never could have anticipated, and yet it was often effective.
One of the things that is so special about Vermont is the great number of creative people who live here, whether in the arts, technology, building, agriculture, or really any field you can think of. Further, our small population allows the possibility of direct citizen involvement in our planning, our government, and tackling our problems.
That said, it amazes me how infrequently that creative energy is tapped. I realize it can be messy to have a hundred ideas for solving a problem, rather that three or four, but maybe, within those one hundred are the ideas that actually take into consideration the whole panorama, rather than merely a narrow view.
When our school districts are trying to tackle the problems of budgets, educational programming, facilities, environmental concerns, etc., why not set up opportunities for the citizens to truly brainstorm and problem solve? Community meetings where ideas need to fit on a post-it note that few will ever read, let alone understand the necessarily abbreviated concepts, do not offer the necessary opportunity for ideas to thrive, blend, and transform. Having an architectural firm lead the discussion keeps the focus all too narrow. There is a saying: to a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Perhaps, to an architect, everything looks like a new building or a renovation.
When our state looks for additional younger population, why not engage the creative populace we have to generate ideas? Granted, it might cost more money to provide widespread connectivity, quality childcare, maintain educational excellence within communities, and all the sorts of things that really matter to young parents. It’s undoubtedly more expensive than trying to entice with the lure of a one-time payment. But with creative thinking, it might even be more cost effective than a narrowly-focused person could imagine.
It can be confusing to take in the big picture and all the different aspects therein. How tempting to just look through our cardboard tube and see a little bit, something simplistic, something we can get our hands and mind around.
We tend to use the term “narrow-minded” to refer to someone who does not want to consider the ideas that others might offer. That is because the world we inhabit is anything but narrow.
Open up our thinking, open up the dialogue, open up the participation. Let’s take off those blinders.
Laurie Cox is a retired school counselor and long-time Ripton selectboard member. Besides occasional writing, she sings with Maiden Vermont, pursues art, takes long hikes with her dog(s) and seasonally gardens. She also is about to become more actively involved in things political, environmental, and just.

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