By Tom Ehrich
Some things are clearer the second time around.
I can observe my grandchildren and see what I probably missed when their parents were infants, toddlers, potty-trainers, singing the ABC song, learning to draw and to read. I can see that children are amazing: resourceful, inquisitive, fearless, hungry to learn, eager to advance from crawling to walking to jumping, fragile at times and yet wonderfully durable most of the time.
I can observe my pastor and see what I probably missed when I was the pastor dealing with strong-willed lay leaders, demanding members and recalcitrant staff. I can see that patience is good but appreciating the other is better, that people are what they are and my priorities aren’t going to change them, and that getting things right is overrated.
I can observe my sons starting their careers and see what I probably missed when I was the young hotshot with the sterling credentials and limitless potential. I can see that jobs come and go, employers are fickle, a paycheck is good but a loving spouse means more, and when I lie awake wishing I could have done things differently, I rarely wish for more hours at work, but rather more hours with children.
I suppose this second-seeing is what gets labeled “wisdom.” I doubt that it has anything to do with becoming wise. I still make fresh mistakes in real time. It’s just that some situations come around again – like dealing with a two-year-old – and this time I see the challenge differently. I don’t bridle when asked to read “The Berenstain Bears and the Gimmies” yet another time. I can be glad it isn’t Disney pablum, and I can know that this moment of reading to a child on my lap comes and goes quickly.
In politics, I recognize my distaste for both presidential candidates in my party, but having endured the disastrous presidencies of Nixon, Reagan and W, I can see that having a leader who is vaguely, if not always effectually, working for you is better than a leader who is actively working against you.
I have also learned a critical lesson of democracy: the key isn’t that we do whatever it takes to get along and avoid conflict and hard feelings, but that we give free voice to our opinions and name our hopes, and then we learn how to get along with people holding different views.
This learning comes from second seeing: first time around, as it were, I pulled my punches in order to avoid offending. This time I want to speak my mind, and, equally, I want to hear from other people. There is no safety in a pulled punch or a conflict avoided.
The key to second seeing is the humble recognition, as the familiar comes into view again, that I might have misfired the first time. There is no virtue in thinking myself right all along. For one things, it’s a delusion. For another, how can I do better if I am unwilling to learn anything from experience?