The Art of Seeing

Do not go gentle into that good night but rage, rage against the dying of the light.

~ Dylan Thomas ~

For a while after I awoke at around 4 this morning, and for several minutes after I swallowed numerous medications prescribed to keep me either alive or comfortable, I felt proud of myself. My weight continues to drift downward, a direction I value. But, then, I discovered my blood sugar was higher than it was yesterday. I cannot imagine it was because of what I ate…but maybe it was. This new lifestyle of restricted consumption and regular exercise has not yet become second nature to me. It must. Or else I will need to find a source of powerful painkillers to consume when my decline reaches the critical point of no return. I prefer for the routine to become second nature. I will rage against the dying of the light.


I miss one-on-one philosophical conversations with like-minded individuals; a close friend, for example. Debates between people who espouse opposing points of view are fine, as they tend to sharpen one’s wits. But the presence or absence of mutually supportive dialogues can be the difference between happiness and depression. Perhaps philosophy has little to do with it, though; maybe it’s all about feeling safe and loved. And, maybe, it’s the unique sense of connection that is possible only between two individuals; threesomes or more may seriously dilute the sense of emotional bonding.

Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.

~ Jonathan Swift ~


A couple of years ago, an acquaintance offered the following observation to me: …diversity becomes easier with age, especially if one is well educated, retired, white, and not in need of food stamps. I have wrestled with that statement ever since, wondering whether “diversity” is code for “tolerance.” And I have wondered, instead, whether “diversity” might be a synonym for “a sense of superiority?” Does the statement suggest that diversity or tolerance or a sense of superiority are luxuries available only to well educated, retired, white, financially comfortable people getting along in age?” When I force myself to think deeply about such matters, I believe I can see the same images as those seen through the eyes of people on the far-right fringes of political and social conservatism. And through the eyes of African Americans who view their white “allies” who pat themselves on the back for their paternal “defense” of people of color.

Conflicts between warnings issued by the National Weather Service in text form differ significantly from predictions displayed on interactive weather maps. While Hot Springs Village is located in an area for which the maps identify as within an “ice storm warning” area, the animation on the maps forecasts sleet and/or freezing rain south and east of he Village, but not in or immediately adjacent to the Village itself. Because it’s still relatively early—not yet 6:30 as I write this—it’s too dark outside for me to see whether last night’s precipitation clings to the environment surrounding me. I will have to wait until dawn to illuminate the world around me. Until then, I can only guess what I will see through the windows in my study.


Ridding oneself of the tendency to make snap judgments about people requires commitment and practice. The propensity to categorize or classify another on the basis of a single observation or interaction is a hard habit to break. Yet, if one allows oneself even a moment to wonder why another person behaves in a certain way, that bad habit begins to weaken.

Seldom is a person’s one-off behavior reliably indicative of his core personality. More often, that behavior is triggered by exposure to an external stimulus. His core personality may be especially susceptible to exhibiting out-of-character behaviors when exposed to environmental triggers. But most of the time he is apt to be even-tempered and generally pleasant.  That explanation notwithstanding, exposure to a single instance of such out-of-character behavior often has the effect of negatively labeling the actor. That effect can interfere with a desire to understand a person at her core. Instead, offensive behavior or troubling words can provide the opportunity to justify one’s condemnation of the “guilty” party.

This little detour responds to my penchant for becoming witness and judge after observing certain behaviors. I ask myself why, if I do not like that component of my personality, I nourish it? For as long as I remember, I have believed people should be given at least one second chance; preferably several. Well, that’s hypocrisy on the hoof; that’s how I would label the shameful proclivity to harshly judge on the basis of a single experience.





About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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2 Responses to The Art of Seeing

  1. I am confident you’re right, David. Safety tends to allow one to open one’s mind to the wider world.

  2. davidlegan says:

    It is easier to adopt an attitude that favors diversity when one is older and financially secure. Being un-threatened will ease one’s mind rather quickly. I think that’s all your friend meant.

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