One day, over thirty years ago, after hours of searching for a contact in Soweto, a black township in South Africa just outside Johannesburg, we finally found the home of an individual who requested we visit. After one of the kindest greetings I had ever experienced, the older gentleman gathered three generations of his family into a very small family room.
Lanterns provided our light and burning coal our heat. We spent a couple of hours talking about family life, hopes, and dreams. His kindness and gratitude had a profound effect upon my view of the world. After all, I am white, and he had experienced oppression and suppression from the hands of the white race his whole life.
I was also amazed that conditions of extreme poverty and years of oppression had not affected this man and his family from possessing and emanating a compassion and excitement for life. Clearly, personal interpretation of life and its conditions creates the lens that determines reality.
The Eye of the Beholder
Recently, I read a story which unveils the very principle that research underscores as the discriminating factor of well-being, happiness and the nature by which we both feel stressed as well as how we cope with conditions in our life. There was a boy, whose family was very wealthy. One day his father took him on a trip to the country, where he aimed to show his son, how poor people live. Eventually, they arrived at a farm of a family that he considered to be very poor. They spent several days with the family.
Upon their return, the father asked his son, if he liked the trip. “Oh, it was great dad,” the boy replied. Then the father asked, “Did you notice how poor people live?” “Yeah I did,” said the boy. The father asked his son to share more details about his impressions from their trip. “Well, we have only one dog, and they have four of them. In our garden there is a pool, while they have a river that has no end. We‘ve got expensive lanterns, but they have stars above their heads at night. We have the patio, and they have the whole horizon. We have only a small piece of land, while they have the endless fields. We buy food, but they grow it. We have high fence for protection of our property, and they don‘t need it, as their friends protect them.” The father was stunned; he could not say a word. Then the boy added: “Thank you, dad, for letting me see how poor we are.”
This story reminds me of the words of John Milton, “The Mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.” Your perception and perspective is the lens--what do you see in your day?