January 20, 2012

If You Could See What I See

If You Could See What I See

Now that I am blogging about running, all the runners I know (and I discover I know more of them all the time) have stories for me. I listen to them all – I think of them as little pearls of wisdom to file away for the if and when I need to know that thing about socks or trail running or marathon training.

You really never know what you might need to know.

Yesterday a friend told me this story about running at night. He does this near his office sometimes. I know the area -there is a path that runs along the road which is used by walkers, runners, cyclists and the like. Part of the path runs along a golf course and it is rather poorly lit. Here is what he tells me:

I was running one way up the path and coming the other way is a cyclist. You know they have those really bright lights now and this guy had one on the front of his bike – it was on because it was dark. But as he comes towards me I notice that it is not blinding me – and as he gets closer I can see the reason the light is not in my eyes is because the cyclist has partly covered it with his hand to shield me form the direct impact of the light. It was such as nice thing for him to do!

I thought about this story for a long time.

We all like when someone does a kind deed to be sure- but I felt like I was missing the point. This morning as I was running I was looking around at the cars and bikes, the other runners, the surfers assessing the waves, a few women on roller-blades, several people with dogs. We all share the same road.

Then I thought about Amsterdam.

I was there a couple of years ago presenting a paper to the European Congress on Obesity. I had to walk each day from my hotel to the congress center which was about 20 minutes. Amsterdam has a lot of bikes. It seems like more bikes than cars. Heck, it seems like more bikes than people. And if you are a pedestrian, they are dangerous. Forget to be careful crossing the street and I am pretty sure you could get run over by a stampede (?) of bikes who would never notice you were there.

So I thought about that and I thought about the story about the light and I wondered why it is that sometimes we see things and sometimes we don’t? And why does it matter anyway?

The thing is that the light that helps one person see can blind another.

It is so easy to be in our “own” space and completely forget that we share it with others. Driving, running, biking – we can be lost in our own needs and thoughts and it can be easy to lose perspective. At its worst, this forgetting can trap us into thinking that our perspective is THE perspective. But when we can hold a bigger vision – and include the perspective of others, powerful things can happen. This might show up as simple acts of kindness (the cyclist heading towards my friend knew that from his perspective the light would be blinding and perhaps dangerous), but this can also result in great moments of understanding between people, or communities or cultures. Anytime we can practice taking the perspective of others we are building empathy and good will – big or small – this has value.

Building perspective is hard. We can’t go and live the lives and have the experiences of each and every person on the planet. Maybe the cyclist has been a runner, so he can easily know what that light is like when it’s shining your eyes. But how do we gain perspective when we can’t run in the shoes of another? We ask, we listen, we learn, we try. The world will give you the feedback you need if you pay attention.

I was not there and I have not asked, but I bet if that cyclist was looking my friend was surely smiling as they passed in the night.




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  1. ams
    January 21, 2012 at 4:14 pm #

    As we well know, “Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way when you criticize them, you are a mile away from them and you have their shoes.”

    ~ Jack Handey