WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FOR?
By JIM NICHOLS
Although some people call it “jogging,” I call it “running;” that sounds faster to me.
I have never understood why people outside running or even walking wear ear buds. One of the major reasons I go outside to exercise is to hear outside sounds in addition to breathing fresh air and seeing nature. Clearly, I must be in the minority on this, but wearing ear buds and listening to music (or even a good podcast) seems to destroy a main reason to go out in the first place.
I have been trying to teach myself to pay better attention to my surroundings. Those surroundings include nature as well as human-constructed items such as cars, buildings, fences, and signs. People, of course, also help compose my surroundings and I fear that I have not always paid close enough attention to them; perhaps it is in the way I am looking at them. This pertains not only to when I am outside running, but also, to all times.
Author Alexandra Horowitz suggests that there is lots to see if we would look better. In her book, On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes, she guides us to see the world as others perceive it. The simple premise of the author is to walk around the same block in her city multiple times. Each circuit is with a different individual and she records what they see and tell her about that walk.
For instance, while walking with a visual artist, her guest points out the contrasting colors used on the store front facades. “Note,” her partner says, “how they changed not only the font type on that sign, but also the shading of blue and white to make it more visually appealing.”
Her geologist partner pointed out the different types of stone used in the sidewalks in their walking loop. Differences showed up in not only the sidewalks, but also the origins for the stone and brick type of the outside building walls; they seemed to come from different parts of the country. There were also varied types of stonecutting used.
The sound designer seemed to pay no attention to the hardened objects at all, but had a keen ear. A dog barked. Then two other dogs barked. The street cleaner drove by and drowned out their conversation, as did the police car siren. There was a constant background of car horns, many of them from taxicabs.
Walking with the physician led her to quick identification of those with obvious physical problems. There was a sight-impaired individual with a cane. Another was in a wheel chair and yet another was having so much difficulty with crutches that he needed a wheelchair.
The author took her two-year-old child around the same block; this was the longest trip in time. The child paid no attention to the signs on the buildings, the type of rock in the sidewalk, or to the car horns, but was distracted by small crawling insects. Every flower growing nearby deserved close examination. “I believe I will see how many of these steps I can climb without falling.”
Nearly equal in time spent was a trip around the block with her dog. Distractions for dogs are different from distractions for children, but similarly challenging if one is in a hurry.
One would think that these eleven trips should show common traits, but that was not the case. The author’s goal was to try to see the world through the eyes of others. What she found, to no one’s surprise, was that we do not all see the same things. We are each an expert observer in rather narrow ways.
The lesson for me leads not just to toleration, but also to appreciation for differences. Each of us subtly believes that our way of experiencing life is the “normal” way. This, of course, completely ignores our experience (to say nothing of scripture) that different people obviously do not experience the world in the same way as others. When speaking of a well-functioning community (especially a Christian one), this exceeds simple tolerance of differences, but goes on to acceptance and appreciation. It may not lead to agreement, but it should not lead to discord.
This is, admittedly, tricky business. Perhaps I am speaking only for myself, but a few people in my community are, frankly, a bit of a pain to me. I am working hard to try to see their heart and not become distracted by some of the things they say or do. This is consistent, I believe, with one of the most important concepts in scripture. When Samuel was involved in selecting David as King, he is reminded that, whereas humans see outward appearances, God looks on the heart. I want to make sure that I am looking for the right things.
Jim Nichols is a retired Abilene Christian University biology professor and current medical chaplain.