Man Walking
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Man Walking • Posted: Apr 08, 2008 15:42:40Comments WelcomeVote CoolPhotoblogsPurchase a PrintShare

At a moment when the U.S. is remembering the assassination of Martin Luther King and mulling over the inflammatory rhetoric of Rev. Wright and its implications for a possible Obama Presidency, it might be interesting to take a good look at the above image and be honest with yourself about what you see.

If you see a picture of a man walking, you aren't alone. But I suspect you see more than that.

Is it a rural or urban setting? Is it a paved or a dirt road? Is the man dressed for work or for play? Is he relaxed or in a hurry to get somewhere? Is he distressed or intent? Those are all human dimensions, dimensions we can all relate to for their universality, their commonality with our own lives, our own experiences.

Now tell me if you are also noticing his age, his apparent health, whether he might be poor or rich or in between? If so, you are beginning to parse him, to categorize him relative to the categories you place yourself into. You will be noting not only what is similar to yourself, but things that may differ from yourself. That would not be abnormal. We all do it. We find comfort in similarity. We find interest in things different from what we might normally expect. Differences pique our curiosity. They represent opportunity to learn, to grow, and perhaps to prosper.

But there is also a darker side to parsing differences. Sometimes the differences we detect alarm us. We wonder if those differences represent a threat.

When you look at the man walking in the picture above, do you perceive anything that might represent a threat to you? Do you think that if he were to see you suddenly standing in the road ahead of him, he might perceive you as a threat to him? Why would that be??

Surely it would not be a good thing if we all were so alike no differences could ever be perceived that might pose a threat. Interaction with other people would become a numbing bore. So surely, there must be a way to safely and productively negotiate away or nullify the potential for threat. It would be a skill we'd all do well to acquire. The world would be a far more interesting place to live in if we did.

If I might suggest, a simple "Hi. How's it going?" often works for me, followed by a few more pointed non-threatening questions, such as "That building over there, do you happen to know what's it used for?" Not everybody, but many are often more than willing to stop and chat for a while. It can be very enlightening.

Thursday, April 3rd, 2008