Things Are Not Always As They Appear

The perspective of time changes as one gets older. For example,  studying history in grammar school the Civil War, the American Revolution and the Roman Empire all seemed  to me to have occurred an equally enormous long time ago. Beyond that, the Biblical characters Adam and Eve, Noah, Moses, King David, John the Baptist and Jesus all seemed like folks from a single story, even longer ago.

Now that I’m approaching eighty years of age I can better relate to the characters and stories of Civil War battles, since they happened in the same range of years as the experiences of my life have since my birth. My father lived to be almost ninety. Go back about ninety years before his birthday and you can be watching George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jeffferson leading a brand new nation and the Lewis & Clark expedition pushing it west. (I can now better relate to some of those Bible characters too, especially the imperfect ones, but for much different reasons! I’ll spare you the details.) 

Most elderly people will tell you (even if you don’t ask) that past events are now recalled as if they happened more recently than they actually did. Ironically, the older we get the younger things seem. My grandparents and their entire generation seemed to me to be classic “old.” They acted like old people when they were in their sixties and seventies. Quite the contrary, I still view myself and most of my peers as young. I behave differently now, and yes my joints ache a bit more, but I think about myself pretty much the same was I did when I was forty or fifty.

Often things actually are not what they appear to be and, since events and experiences seem to appear differently to different people anyway, it follows that communication about important realities in life are sure to be difficult.

There is a concept of redemptive listening which can be thought of as sacred observation. It’s a discipline where we humans choose to stay completely objective as we see or hear things going on around us. I think animals are probably better at sacred observation than we are. They just do what they were created to do, whether its a bee collecting nectar and pollen or a dog reminding us of the value of positive attitude. But with a little practice sacred observation, redemptive listening with its many benefits can be relearned and become habit. “Re”-learned because as young children we did it naturally, watching older siblings and adults, figuring out the mechanics and motives, learning how to do things ourselves. It’s natural in the very young years because young kids respect elders without question. But when exposed to wider society and its adopted values, and the concept of ego develops, we elder humans become more skeptical, less open, less candid. We gradually, unconsciously become different from the original person we were created to be, becoming more competitive, judgmental, impatient and unforgiving. 

An interesting experiment would be to have folks try sacred observation for a while to see if it improves things. Those who are willing, could train themselves to “see” people as curious tykes living inside, trapped inside, an outer shell of persona formed by the years of wounds, worries, memories and moods from both positive and negative experiences. God only knows the quantity of events that contributed to all of our forming an outer shell persona. But if we each observing others with intentional awareness of their original, supple, attractive mix of kind, careful, inquisitive, appreciative and humble attributes that reflect mutual respect, compassion and willingness to forgive, we would set the framework for redemptive listening.


To practice this idea, charge yourself with the task of developing the skill of looking past the outer person, where subjective opinion, socially-acquired values and behaviors impact us, to see what lies behind that screen. Quietly accept the lessor known inner person as “good” irrespective of reputation or appearance. Acquiring this skill can be difficult, especially when evidence seems scarce, but easily done in the private thoughts of your head. It will help you feel better about yourself as you move away from repetitive, socially acquired judgements, some of which were acquired unintentionally and open up a less rehearsed, more genuine and objective pattern of thought.

Try it.

About hamiltonstation

I grew up in New England, graduated from college in upstate NY, spent a few years as a small boat officer with the U.S. Navy in the Western Pacific, then worked 35 years as an industrial automation engineer. My retirement jobs, teaching - 8 years in a public high school as a special needs educator, 3 years as a kayak guide for a small cruise ship company on the Gulf of Mexico, the Great Lakes and Canadian Maritimes and 10 years as a ocean kayak guide for a large outdoor outfitter in Maine. For 30 years, my wife and I volunteered in maximum security state prisons, helping inmates with their literacy, developing of the spiritual side of personality, and learning mature social skills - all to eventually assist with their future re-integration into society. My wife and I have 2 adult children. We are now living in a community of friends and continue with our craft and outdoor hobbies of hiking, biking and sea kayaking.
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