ON MY MIND: How do you look at the Kleenex box?

On My Mind | Maureen Burns

We think we know stuff. We think we understand how things are. We wonder why some things are happening and why people don’t see things our way.

Therein lies the rub. Our way is just that — “our” way.

Take a Kleenex box. Ask someone to describe the end of the box. Do the same with the side of the box. Do the same with the bottom of the box. Do the same with the top of the box. Were their replies all different? Why? It’s just a Kleenex box, after all. The obvious reason is that they each look at it from their perspective. They’re all right.

When someone sees something from their perspective it is truth to them. That Kleenex concept has changed the way I now look at things. It has helped me understand more. When? Usually I think of this when someone says something really, really stupid to me. Oh, please, don’t act like no one ever says anything really, really stupid to you.

When something like this happens, I now think, “Oh, that isn’t stupid, they are just looking at it from their perspective. To them, it’s true.”

I look back at my life and cringe at some ridiculous thoughts I’ve had. I’ll share a couple. They may not be the best examples but, hopefully, you’ll get my drift.

I was 20 and saw a woman a few years older with terrible varicose veins. I remember thinking, “I’ll never get those.” How dumb was I? I really believed I had control over such things. I have now had varicose veins and vein surgery and now have new varicose veins. I learned I really didn’t have much control over my genes. How naive I was at 20!

I remember riding to Chicago with a couple and their toddler. I hadn’t had children yet. The baby cried all the way to Chicago because he wanted to drive. I remember thinking, “My kids will never do that.” How dumb was I? My kids did oodles of bad things and some of them made crying all the way to Chicago look like a piece of cake. When I experienced parenthood I learned not to be so judgmental and to have empathy for other parents. I had new perspective.

You might think I would have grown out of all these idiotic reactions, but no, life moves on and, if we are open, we keep learning and growing.

One of the things I love about books, movies and TV is that, at their best, they can take us to new places, experiences and feelings. If you saw the HBO movie, “Temple Grandin,” you likely learned much about how autistic people think and feel and act. If you haven’t seen it, rent it today. It is something you will never forget. Temple Grandin is a brilliant autistic woman from Colorado.

Last year the One Book One County choice, “Look Me In The Eye,” opened my eyes to Asperger’s syndrome. I had never understood that. Now I find myself relating to people differently and being much more understanding.

This year the book chosen was lighter and fiction. It contains racism, an older love story, a grown child not acting like the parent wishes, etc. It is a gentle story told with subtle British wit. It opened my mind to the way other cultures work. The more different we are, the more we are the same.

Remember as kids how we folded our hands in an inside way and then said, “Here’s the church, here’s the steeple. Open the door and see all the people.” Our fingers would pop up and be all the people. Now, as I look at the world, I see that the churches change, the steeples change, but the people, even though different in many ways, have qualities that make us all very human and similar. Even as we look at the other side of the Kleenex box.

Tuesday we have an exciting thing happening in Montcalm County. I invite you to come. With the aid of several generous benefactors, we are able to bring in Helen Simonson from New York City. Her book, our One Book One County choice for 2012, was called one of the best books of the year by The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Christian Science Monitor, The Oprah Magazine and on and on.

However, you do not need to read the book to come and enjoy her. Two male librarians in Battle Creek raved about her presentation to me. They said, “Everyone absolutely loved her. She was thoroughly delightful and an absolute hoot!” Battle Creek chose her book and brought her in earlier this year.

Though she lives in America now, she is British with a lovely British accent and charm. We are so fortunate to be able to bring her to our area.

Come and enjoy this fun event. We can all grow together and look at the world from a new perspective as she shares things through her eyes. It is at Greenville High School Performing Arts Center at 7 p.m. Tuesday. Rest assured, you will be home in time to see the presidential debate at 9 p.m. And don’t forget the price is right … it’s free.

Maureen Burns, a Greenville resident, is a professional speaker and author. Her e-mail address is maureenburns@maureenburns.com.

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