Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Through the Eyes of a Child

Fulbright orientation has begun, and we have had a wonderful introduction to Maori culture. Part of that orientation included a story about a Maori child learning to read English. The child’s first language was Maori, but when she was about 5, she attempted to learn to read in English. There is an electronics store here called Dick Smith, and the logo has a picture of Dick Smith’s head in between the words of his name. The young, Maori girl stared at the sign and then grinned largely, stating, “I get it – Dickhead Smith!” Her parents laughed out loud, and her response was, “that’s what I saw.”

As adults, and especially lawyers, we are good at tuning out the entire story, and seeing only our own story, our patterns. Instead, we read only what we want to see. In this case, we ignore the picture of the head between the words and just read it as Dick Smith’s electronics. A child, by contrast, sees the entire picture, and here the child read the entire picture as dickhead smith. What a great reminder that changing our patterns makes all the difference!

When we get too caught up in our own filter, we run the risk of not understanding the world in which others live. We run the risk of not being able to see the world from their point of view. But if we are able to train ourselves to see the entire picture, we not only become more empathic human beings, we become better lawyers. But how do we do this?

Yoga teaches us to be aware. From the smallest movements in our bodies to the thoughts that constantly flood our minds, yoga is about awareness of all that is happening. This awareness does more than just allow us to see the world from different perspectives, it actually increases our brain functioning power. There have been many, many neuroscience studies on monks who meditate several hours per day, as well as studies asking people to start meditating a certain amount of time per day. These studies show, over and over again, that those who meditate have longer attention spans, are able to concentrate better, remember more, and switch between tasks faster and better.

Thus, there are “palpable” benefits to learning to be aware, but the story of the Maori child is a great reminder of the less well-studied benefit, but perhaps the one that is more important. This is the reminder that we all see the world through our own eyes, our own biases, our own agendas, and learning to recognize that everyone does this is the first step to understanding ourselves and each other.

There is nothing inherently good or bad with how any one person sees the world, but when we think that our way is the only right way, we stop being able to interact as well with others, or "the other," as lawyers tend to see the opposing party. When we recognize that our views are only our views, and not right or wrong, we begin to be able to hold the perspectives of others. Increasing our ability to be aware of all our surroundings, seeing the entire picture, even if it results in seeing Dickhead Smith, helps us understand the ways others function in the world as well.

This notion of awareness and personal thinking is a constant theme on this blog, especially since my time has begun here in New Zealand. The reason, though, is because I think it is vital to our lives as lawyers, but also to our lives as human beings, especially in a world in which we interact so constantly with people who have beliefs that differ from our own.

What instances have reminded you that you have gotten stuck in your way of thinking?

Namaste and Blessings!

© 2011 Rebecca Stahl, all rights reserved
This blog is not affiliated with Fulbright or Fulbright New Zealand, and all opinions expressed herein are my own.

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