As we enter the season of Thanksgiving, I am compelled to propose one wish for which I would really want to be thankful if it were to come true; I wish that people could understand each other enough to live and let live, find peace in each others' differences, respect each others' boundaries and give peace a chance.
I know that’s a big wish and perhaps one that is counter to basic human genetics, but still, I think it is a wish that, if granted, would lead to a much better world.
To achieve this wish would mean that human beings would have to develop a better capability to see the views and differences of others not as a threat, but simply as a difference.
This thought floated to the top of my consciousness after a response to a recent Week-Ender about a young Marine who was critically injured in combat but who survived and overcame insurmountable odds to become an inspiration to others. As one reader noted, he was not disabled, he was enabled.
Brian Muller, Park Planning and Facilities Manager in the Highlands Ranch Metro District, Highlands Ranch, Colo., wrote back that he was inspired by the young man and recalled a saying that he carried in his hip pocket and used when needed. “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change,” he wrote.
Brian wanted to ensure I attributed that saying to Dr Wayne Dyer, American self-help author and motivational speaker who unfortunately past away at age 75 in August.
The sentiment in that saying really resonated with me. I actually try to exercise the belief espoused in that axiom. In fact, it reminds me of another similar phrase I heard several years ago that I have also kept in my hip pocket and draw it out like a tool from time to time.
When I was in an advanced military leadership course, one instructor was talking about different techniques to use when interacting with others in a variety of circumstances. To demonstrate this, he said, “The world you see depends on where you are standing.”
He illustrated this by drawing on the white board a stick figure standing on a globe with a straight-line view of the horizon, shown as a line from the figure’s eyes to the horizon. When the stick figure moved to a different point on the globe, his view of the horizon, i.e., reality, changed.
As a person who would rather solve problems than perpetuate them, I have always kept that illustration in my mind. I have always tried (not always successfully) to see and understand viewpoints that aren’t parallel with mine; and there are plenty of them, because people tend to be so different based on background, upbringing, social values and a host of other variables.
Many times, this attitude has enabled me to mitigate issues among different groups, to be an arbitrator, a negotiator or a middleman in a discussion. Most times, this has led to amicable agreements among often-divergent groups. I have tried to find the common ground that normally always exists that can be used to build a unified solution.
It hasn’t always worked out that way and sometimes what was an amicable agreement at the table didn’t work out in the field, on the ground, once others in organizations who had not been at the table became involved.
But still, I believe in the deliberative approach to solving problems among people. This belief forms the basis of my wish, that all people--from local community groups to global organizations--can stop the combative approach to problem-solving and take a few steps back, listen to other groups and try to find common ground.
However, while I have one foot in a world of wishful thinking, my other is firmly planted in reality. I recognize that while the majority of people in the world would be willing and in fact eager to take the deliberative and peaceful approach to life, there are a few who will never accept that approach. Their only view of the world is theirs and anyone who disagrees is marked for extermination.
It is one thing to disagree with others’ views, but when someone threatens my personal safety, or that of my family or my community, they have crossed a line that defies reason and supersedes beliefs. It becomes a matter of survival.
These extremists--foreign and home-grown--will continue to keep the world from being a safe and peaceful place. They have become grounded on one viewpoint and will not even try to balance their views with those of others.
In the end, I think, this will backfire on them, because in doing so they will pit themselves and their antiquated militant view of the world against the rest of the entire civilized world. Their extreme viewpoint will so vehemently oppose the preponderance of most others’ perspective that people will do what they must to oppose them.
However, I remain hopeful that cooler heads will prevail, that the greater good will be served and that a state of peacefulness, if not total peace, can be achieved soon. I hope that one day in the not-too-distant future, I can say that I am thankful for world peace, or at least world détente, where people of all persuasions have taken time to put themselves in others’ shoes, tried to understand them and at least leave them be; or at most, learn to like them.
In the meantime, I will do what I can do within my very limited scope of influence to do as Brian suggested, to change the way I look at things, to move to a different point of reference so I can see others from a different perspective. Perhaps then, I can be thankful for the peace that does exist somewhere in the world.
Randy Gaddo, a retired Marine who also served for 15 years in municipal parks and recreation, is now a full-time photojournalist who lives in Bay Minette, AL; he can be reached at (678) 350-8642 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.