“It All Depends on How You Look at Things”

Carol A. Hand

These were the words often repeated by the Churkendoose, a voice from the margins in the first book I remember reading as a young child (Berenberg, 1946). As a unique animal – a hybrid of a chicken, turkey, duck, and goose – the Churkendoose accepted his differences and those of others around him. Despite the initial discrimination he suffered, he stayed focused on using his special gifts to benefit others. Because it’s a children’s story, it had a happy ending. The Churkendoose’s efforts were rewarded by acceptance. In real life, that’s not always the case.

It may be that overcoming the differences that can be seen is easier than dealing with differences in perception that are not visible on the surface. In a story for older children, Aunt Beast, a character in Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time represents creatures whose “sight” is not dependent on superficial appearances, but on the ability to discern the essence or substance of things beneath the surface.

“We do not know what things look like, as you say… we know what things are like. This must be a very limiting thing, this seeing.” (p. 181)

“We look not at the things which are what you would call seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporal. But the things which are not seen are eternal.” (p. 186)

I was reminded of the significance of the ability to discern more deeply by a comment about Teaching – And the Wonder of Life in a Blade of Grass from someone I worked with in the past. Initially, the comment didn’t make any sense. I reluctantly decided not to approve it. After reflection, however, it seemed to be another perspective – one that conveyed the inability to see the wonder of life beneath the surface appearance of things. I am grateful for a culture and experiences that have privileged me with a different view, and for artists like Louie Schwartzberg  and scientists like Neil deGrasse Tyson  whose work reminds us all of the beauty and mystery of life.

The observations and question I shared in my essay…

“Understanding one’s self and the ways in which one has been socialized to see the world are indispensable for understanding others in respectful, inclusive ways. Learning to see the wonder of life in a blade of grass is perhaps one of the most important things we can learn. If we can’t see the beauty and wonder of life in nature, how can we see it in each other?”

blade of grass

Photo Credit: 3quarksdaily – Tuesday Poem

The response from the critical commentator (as originally submitted) …

“I spent a long time thinking about the acute angle formed by the tip of a certain blade of grass. Perhaps the word “thinking” is not quite appropriate. That strange, trifling conception of mine was no continuing process, bet reappeared persistently, like some refrain. Why did the acute angle have to be so acute? If instead it were obtuse, would the classification “grass” be lost and would nature inevitably be destroyed from that one corner of its totality? When a single tiny cog is removed from nature, is not nature itself being entirely overthrown? Then my mind would aimlessly examine the problem from one point of view, or the other.”
Yukio Mishima ~ The Temple of the Golden Pavilion

This comment, based on the 1956 novel by Yukio Mishima, helps me understand why some people can destroy the earth or oppress others. Perhaps they can only see triangles where others see the wonder of life. Those who see the essence of things must be a powerful threat to those who can only ponder the surface of things. Yet, as deGrasse Tyson observes, we are not given clear guidelines for making sense of the universe.

“We awakened on this tiny world beneath a blanket of stars like an abandoned baby left on a doorstep without a note to explain where we came from, who we are, how our universe came to be. And with no idea how to end our cosmic isolation. We’ve had to figure it out for ourselves.” (deGrasse Tyson, 2014)

How we live and what we learn to love all depends on how we look at things.

Works cited:

Ben Ross Berenberg (1946). What am I? New York City, NY: Wonder Books.
Madeleine L’Engle (1962). A wrinkle in time. New York City, NY: Dell Publishing Company.
Neil deGrasse Tyson (2014). When knowledge conquered fear (Season 1, Episode 3). Cosmos: A Space Odyssey.

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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25 thoughts on ““It All Depends on How You Look at Things””

  1. Amen. So often we filter life through the murky mesh of old paradigms. We need to slow down, observe, listen, take a deep breath, a tiny taste, a wee touch…and then instead of unleashing the opinion monster, wait for the door of understanding to crack open a click.

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  2. Anyone who cites Madeleine L’Engle is a friend of mine. The Wrinkle in Time series is one of my all time favorites. We all need an Aunt Beast in our lives to help us with this seeing thing…to learn to see one another clearly. We may not be the person others want us to be but we may be becoming the person we were meant to be.

    Long live the Churkendoose. You would like “Click Clack Moo”, Carol. 🙂
    (http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/766955.Click_Clack_Moo)

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  3. It’s one of my all time favorites too, Jeff, and Aunt Beast is one of my favorite characters. Based on your advice, I’ve just ordered Click Clack Moo — really, it’s for my granddaughter :-). (imagine the winking icon that I don’t know how to create.)

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  4. There are so many books which share such beautiful stories. I remember loving the Little Prince, while i read it to my daughter, and the story of the rose, which was beautiful because it had been loved, nurtured and cared about. And then there was the story of the corn, beautiful because it would remind a fox of a child’s golden hair. What is essential is invisible to the eye!

    I think all of life so depends on how we look at things (and are willing to let ourselves look, so that what we see around us starts to matter to us).

    Such a lovely post to read early in the morning. Made my day feel so lovely from the start.

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    1. Yes, there are so many lovely children’s books that convey love and hope and wonder — the Little Prince, the Velveteen Rabbit, the Giving Tree. I much prefer them rather than textbooks, research articles, and mainstream news :-). Yet it’s also important to know what’s going on in the world. The challenge is to stay informed without losing sight of what really matters. That’s one of the many reasons I so appreciate the work you do with Agents of Change.

      Again, thank you for your kindness, Nicci. I hope you had a wonderful day!

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  5. As for me, I am cursed. I can see beauty, but evil overshadows and makes its presence ever so present. I fear that should I focus on the beauty, to look always on the brighter side some evil may slip by undetected, even though I am so powerless to fight it, I must know of it, and curse it at the least.

    “It all depends on how you look at things.” Yes, it does.

    If I may, might I link to my poem “From where we see?”

    http://www.crowsheadsoup.com/from-where-we-see/

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    1. Ah Peter, you carry the burden of the sentinels: https://carolahand.wordpress.com/2013/11/12/the-burden-of-the-sentinels/ The weight of responsibility to be ever-vigilant is never-ending and sometimes so lonely.

      I also carry the burden of a sentinel, but I need to focus on what I can do to work toward a vision of what could be for the sake of my daughter and grandchildren. It makes me impatient with institutions that publicly proclaim their commitment to social justice and really only focus on social control …

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  6. Superb as always…Carola, you are my people! I was saving this and other posts of yours to read later and this came just in time: today I started a course on botany at one of the local universities…while I was all jumping of excitement at the lab examining plant morphology, I was also thinking how much I already see and “understand” when I go to the forest and just listen to the trees or capture their language…or the immense happiness I feel when I’m “working” in my garden and see a new leave, a new bulb or fruit…systems, magical and interconnected, ancient and caring systems…we know so little and yet, it is all in our veins…we see them with deep eyes and they see us back…:)

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    1. Sylvia, your insights are so lovely and eloquently written. This sounds like a wonderful course, and an important foundation for your work! Thank you for sharing your excitement, depth, and wisdom 🙂

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  7. Love this post Carol!
    I think when we learn to see the wonder in a blade of grass the beauty of the cosmos is revealed to us. With our gaze often fixed on goals, promotions, or what I often like to consider sensation and intellection, we often neglect the mundane. Only when the illusory nature of the grandiose becomes apparent do we seem to return to beauty that was there all along.

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    1. Thank you for your kind words, Keane, and for your thoughtful comments. As I thought about your insights about choice, I realized all of the privileges I’ve had that helped me overcome challenges in my life. I wonder if I would be able to choose how I look at things if my circumstances had been different – as a grandmother in Gaza, an orphan on the streets of Nairobi, a child born with HIV, or an Ojibwe parent on the death march to Sandy Lake, MN in 1850. Perhaps those of us who can choose have an obligation to do so with kindness and compassion?

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