Seeing Other Than

I was born with a wandering left eye that worked as if it had a mind of its own, or perhaps no mind at all. It wandered about its socket, roving from side to side as if what was before its gaze did not hold enough interest for longer than a few milliseconds. As a consequence of this wandering eye, two images of the same thing would tango left-right, right-left. Nothing held still, nothing was static; everything dynamic and doubled.

This wandering eye was my doorway into otherness, meaning I could see things both as most people saw them, and also as something other than. It gave everything a shadow, a way of being that was other than.  Trees could be both still and in movement; faces could be both calm and tense; the ocean not a simple ebb and flow but a complex rush and crash of foam and waterfall. It isn’t wishful thinking, or even psychotic, to see lambs in lions.

This came to mind the other day as I was thinking about what it takes to overcome long simmering conflicts and co-create practical resolutions to impasses in organizations and communities. For the past fifteen years I’ve found myself involved in a number of complex challenges, for example: climate change, reproductive health, public education, youth employment, religiously motivated violence, access to safe drinking water and community development. These spaces and the people involved have been my teachers, and there are a number of principles I’ve culled from these experiences.

Far too often I see people and groups taking sides, digging in, trying to win, believing they see the true reality, and any opposition is simply wrong headed. Accompanying this mindset is a rush to shut out the opposition and to move quickly to the preferred solution. For example, a client of mine sees her bosses opposition to her ideas as a fist raised to her face. She blames her boss for being inflexible and narrow minded.  They are at an impasse. The same is true for the debates here in Canada around issues ranging from what to do about the tar sands, the East Coast fishery, the country’s military role in Afghanistan.

This is where what I’m calling the other than mindset comes in. I experience the other than mindset as something that knocks expectations out from under what appears to be solidly built stances. It’s like my wandering eye where two or more images appear when I let the eye wander at will (a capacity I still have). So, for the client I spoke about above, I see both a man’s drive to achieve his purpose (the fist), and a desire to unify something that is separated: one eye sees things one way, the other sees it differently.

In other words, there isn’t one true existing reality; rather reality is a construction build on beliefs and assumptions (that are often unexamined, even unknown to those hold a particular view).

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