On Missing the Obvious

On Missing the Obvious

By Israel Galindo, Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning

Some things should be obvious, but often we require someone to point out the obvious to us. A man walks into a doctor’s office. He has a cucumber up his nose, a carrot in his left ear and a banana in his right ear.

“What’s the matter with me?” He asked.

“You’re not eating properly,” replied the doctor.

The ability to see the obvious is a skill that often requires cultivation. Like the moral of the story The Emperor’s New Clothes, seeing the obvious is a childlike trait that often is lost in adulthood. Children see everything and ask why; adults see selectively and lack wonder. Peter J. Leithart, in Touchstone (June 2008) writes,

Jesus told his disciples to become like children. This has often been understood, sentimentally, as an encouragement to naivete. Jesus wants us to go through life in undiscerning simplicity.

This is precisely the opposite of what Jesus intended. Children’s ability to see through cant and pretense is proverbial, and this native shrewdness is what Jesus was after. “Becoming as a child” means, “Don’t take the world as seriously as it takes itself.”

All of the greatest observers of human life have been children at heart. Augustine admitted he could be boyishly distracted by the sight of a lizard catching an insect. He sometimes writes like a man surrounded by fearful temptations, but that is because he is dazzled by every sight and sound that touches him. He sees quite through men because he still remembers what it was like to play dress-up or wear a mask.

Seeing the obvious seems to be most difficult when we’re in the middle of the situation. Like the fish oblivious of the water in which it swims we often are unable to see the forces and dynamics that are the product of our context. A common scenario in coaching groups is that of the presentator laying out a case study of a situation in which he or she is stuck. At the end of the presentation most of the persons in the group are able to see what is happening and often ask, “Isn’t it obvious?” But until the group points it out it’s not obvious to the presenter, who can only see the situation from the perspective of his or her position. It usually does not take long for the presenter to have an “Aha!” moment after someone points out the obvious. When we’re too close to a situation, it’s not obvious.

Coaches, consultants, support and peer groups, or a wise friend can be a helpful resource for pointing out the obvious that is beyond our capacity to see. Sometimes we just need someone to point out that we have a cucumber up our nose.

Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning at the Columbia Theological Seminary. Formerly, he was Dean at the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer and Don Reagan.

His books on Christian education include The Craft of Christian Teaching (Judson), How to be the Best Christian Study Group Leader (Judson), Planning for Christian Education Formation (Chalice), and A Christian Educator’s Book of Lists (S&H).

Galindo contributes to the Wabash Center’s blog for theological school deans and to the Digital Flipchart blog.

 

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