riving through town the other day with the kids, I spotted a wind turbine spinning far faster than I would have expected. It hadn’t felt particularly breezy when I’d picked them up on the school playground a few minutes earlier. Nor did I see any tree branches swaying.
“That windmill’s spinning really fast,” I commented idly. “I didn’t think it was that windy out.”
“Maybe it’s windy to the windmill,” my daughter Audrey replied from the backseat.
Sounds silly. But upon reflection, it was downright profound. First, the conditions 100 feet atop the turbine tower were undoubtedly different from the ground on which I judged them. So was the material subject to the force of the wind– the sleek curved propeller blades vs. my distinctly unaerodynamic body.
If I walk it back even further, my own initial comment really wasn’t idle, either. I said it deliberately, hoping to engage my son Owen, who dwells so much in separate worlds – movies he’s seen, books he’s read, memories of former physical places like his old daycare – in the present moment.
It didn’t work. Audrey replied, not Owen. And as I reflected on the moment more, it struck me as a perfect metaphor for why so many contemporary problems feel hopeless and unsolveable. Exhibit A would be the national uproar over race provoked by the failures to indict in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner killings. Exhibit B, on my community level, is the bitterness surrounding a proposal to turn a warehouse near a residential neighborhood into a seasonal homeless shelter.
In both situations, just like I did with the windmill, we tend to speak first. What we say is often woefully underinformed with appreciation — not just consideration, but appreciation, which connotes value – for conditions as others might see them.
Even more potentially damning, we tend to speak with a particular goal in mind — mine was to elicit a response from Owen — rather than seeking to learn from or simply listen to the others in the conversation. As I discovered, that doesn’t work. Thus the “conversation” devolves into a non-conversation, dueling monologues instead of dialogues.
I don’t have an end to this blog post. That’s deliberate. If I’m to change my own habit of speaking with an end in mind, there’s no better place to start than here. So what do you think?