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“A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees” (William Blake).
THERE ARE FEW OF US WHO WOULDN’T BE HELPED BY AN IMPROVEMENT IN OUR VISION, OUR ABILITY TO SEE. Too often, we see (i.e., experience) things without learning anything. We see them, but their importance escapes us. We notice them, but their wonder is wasted on us. There may be nothing wrong with our eyesight, but truly, “a fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees.”
Depth of vision. At times, we don’t see deeply enough, that is, we don’t take the time to look below the surface. And not taking the time is really the heart of the problem, as anyone knows who has wrongfully judged another person by making a hasty assessment on the basis of a first impression or a superficial acquaintance.
Breadth of vision. When we don’t see what we need to see, sometimes the problem is not so much incorrect seeing as it is insufficient seeing. John Ruskin wrote, “Not only is there but one way of doing things rightly, but there is only one way of seeing them, and that is, seeing the whole of them.” Factors like perspective and scope are critically important. Just as there are times when we need to look more deeply, there are times when we need to back up and take a wider view. It’s often amazing what can be seen from a distance!
If we need to see more deeply and more broadly, one of the best ways to learn to do so is to listen attentively when other people tell us what they see. One reason the fool doesn’t see the same tree as the wise man is that the fool won’t pay attention when the wise man is describing what he sees. The fool never learns a deeper, broader vision because he’s ignorantly content with what little he sees on his own.
In the end, it’s a combination of motive and experience that allows us to improve our seeing. We have to want to see more than we do right now, but even with that desire, we have to have our understanding prepared by certain experiences before we can be struck by the full significance of the things we encounter. The longer we live, the more we’re able to recognize certain truths that have been “right before our eyes” for many years. That’s one reason life in this remarkable world is such a never-ending adventure in seeing.
“People only see what they are prepared to see” (Ralph Waldo Emerson).