Not too far from my house, there is a road which travels over the top of a small hill, overlooking the greater Hamilton area where I live. Now I don't know of anyone who has ever stated that Hamilton is a beautiful city, what with its rundown abandoned factories, large pay-by-the-minute parking lots devoid of cars, and depressing, low income housing that consume vast stretches of the central urban areas, but at night (when all that is hidden and all you can see are lights) it can be pretty nice.
A few weeks ago, I was driving my daughters over that hill and it happened to be a clear night. As we crested the rise, for a moment all we could see was the twinkling lights of the city nestled in the slumbering valley. One of my daughters called out excitedly:
"Whoa! I can see the whole world from here!"
I smiled as I thought about the childish naivety of the statement. I thought to myself how much bigger the world really is than this small little slice of heaven in which I have planted my family tree. But as a child the world must seem at times both very small, and very large.
It is small because it is limited to the child's experience. The only things that exist are the things they have already seen, learned, and touched themselves.
And yet, at the same time, the world must seem expansive and incredible from the eyes of a child. Everything is new, and exciting, and to many children, the world holds only great things to be experienced. To them, every tree is a mountain to be conquered, and not a trap from which to fall to their deaths. To a child, no darkness waits around the corner, only light, excitement, and wonder. The world is immense therefore, because it is yet to be explored.
Sometimes as a parent I forget just how incredible what you don't know can be if you are willing to cast aside what life and experience has taught you.
This demonstrates for us all the importance of understanding just how influential our past experiences are in determining how we see things. My daughter, for all her youthful verve and vigor, lacked the understanding to know just how truly large the world out there is. All it takes to begin to scratch the surface of the immensity of our world is a single airline flight from where I live in Hamilton Ohio, to literally the opposite side of the world in Mumbai India. I took a trip like that a few years ago and I wondered if I would ever get off that plane. While a flight like that helps you understand how large our world is, it also teaches you how small 'Economy' travel accommodations are as a 6' 1" man stuffed into a tiny uncomfortable airline seat.
While thinking about this I am reminded of a very powerful section of Stephen Covey's book: "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People", where he talks about showing a picture to a group of students in a class. To half the class the photo image was an outline of a young attractive woman. To the other half it was an old haggard woman reminiscent of a witch hunched over a cauldron of some malevolent potion.
The problem was, both sides of the class were looking at the same photo.
(For a visual example, check out this link)
The photo had simply been modified to accentuate certain elements for each half of the class. For one half, the image left them with the impression of the old woman, for the other half it was the young woman. Then Covey watched as the two halves of the class argued with one another about what they saw.
The application here is that how we see things, and our past experiences has a great impact on what we see when we look. For my daughter, that picturesque vista over the city must have been the entire world. After all, what other world is there, but the one she can see in front of her?
This is true for adults as well.
If in the past someone has stolen from us, then we see thieves everywhere we look. If we have been hurt or lied to previously, then we look at everyone in our lives around as someone waiting to deliver that crushing hurtful blow. Our perspective, which is a greatly influenced by our personal back story, greatly impacts what we see when we look around us.
Those moments when children approach the world with an excited sense of wanderlust and adventure, should remind us at those times when we see only wolves in the world around us, to evaluate not just what we see, but HOW we see things too.
Because maybe those aren't wolves at all out there in the shadows.