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I spent the summer traveling. I got halfway across my backyard.

—Louis Agassiz 

The naturalist Louis Agassiz makes a good point: how often it is that we don’t see the ground just beneath our feet. Or slow down enough to see the world in another way, through a different lens. Particularly in our culture, we tend to be looking down the road, just ahead, rarely taking the time to stop and observe, to cultivate a different perspective. We’re also taught to defend our opinions, stand our ground and not admit that we make mistakes.  

If we take the time, we cannot only see the toll that this might take on many levels—from the personal to the political—but also ways in which we might slowly nurture an alternative way of looking at not simply our world but also at the patterns of our lives and relationships. Can we look closely at our habits without being critical or judgmental? Can we observe the way we live our lives, understanding that we may want to make change in ourselves, our work, and our world but not rushing the process? This slowing down and change in perspective is fundamental to creating change in our lives and our culture. Increasingly, we need to come up with creative solutions to complex problems. As the oft-quoted Einstein quip goes “The problems we face will not be solved by the same level of consciousness that created them”—or, as a mentor of mine has paraphrased “If you do what you always did, you get what you always got.” 

As we move into the Fall, in which our patterns are changing with the change in nature’s pace—whether we notice it or not—what can we do to take the time to observe our current patterns and try to cultivate new perspectives? Is there a way that you always think about an issue or react to a challenge that you can focus on? What are ways you look at yourself or your work that might need the attention of a different perspective? Who can you speak with about this? 

A metaphor I often use about perspective and seeing new connections and possibilities draws on the ecology of the redwood: We stare up in awe at the tremendous height of such beautiful trees, but we truly should be staring down. Were it not for the extensive network of roots intertwining to form a supportive mesh, the redwoods would topple. And the same could be said for us and our organizations. 

As the poet and writer Marge Piercy reminds us:

Connections are made slowly, sometimes they grow underground.

You cannot always tell by looking what is happening.

More than half a tree is spread out in the soil under your feet.  

August 2005