Do you want to be a person of vision? Then get real.

Vision is essential for leaders. How’s your vision? How’s our vision as a nation? As a world? And let’s focus…on our vision with respect to Earth’s natural resources; the environment, ecosystems, and habitat; and natural hazards.

Rank yourself on this scale, going from excellent to poor [and using terminology which is embedded in everyone’s daily conversation]: Able to see beneath the surface. 20/20. Blurred. Mirage. Wistful thinking. Hallucinating/on drugs. Let’s start with:

20/20. You see things exactly – at least precisely as they are on the surface. Both the big picture, and the detail. Both the immediate, and the long-term trends. Let’s say as well that you also have great peripheral vision. You can see things that are currently off to the side but moving our way.

An aspirational goal, perhaps. But none of us is this clear-sighted when it comes to living on the real world. We don’t optimize our use of weather- and climate-related opportunities. We can’t distinguish all that clearly between those bits of Earth we can best draw upon to meet our daily needs, and those other bits that are vital, but fragile, and need protecting. We’re slow to see and react to Earth’s dangers.

Blurred. Most of us would put ourselves in this bin. We can see real-world opportunities, fragilities, and threats in broad outline. It’s just that our vision is clouded by uncertainty. But perhaps we’re not so good as we think. Maybe we’re prone to…

Mirage. That shimmering of the horizon on the desert at noon on a hot day? The “lake” we see out there? Nothing wrong with our eyes, or our minds. It’s just that the real world – the atmosphere, and the laws of optics, combine to make things appear other than they actually are. There’s a bit of this we all have to sort through.

Wistful thinking. Unfortunately, it’s not always just an atmospheric optical effect, or limits to our eyesight. We could hope to improve that with prescription glasses, maybe bifocals. [In a way, that’s the function of all of our observations of the Earth, the predictive models, the decision-support systems, the efforts to add to our store of knowledge and understanding.]

No, the greater danger, that affects most of us to a dismaying degree, is that we “see” what we believe, or want to believe – as opposed to believe what we see. Perhaps this defect is harmless enough in some individuals, under some circumstances? Maybe. But certainly dodgy when a trait of large groups, or entire societies. And dangerous when large groups of us daydream about things that matter as much as natural resources, energy, food and fiber, …

And wistful thinking is pervasive. “I didn’t really overeat at Christmas. I’m actually getting a fair amount of exercise. Even if I stopped smoking I’d still die someday of something else. The house doesn’t quite yet need repainting. My teenagers are behaving erratically but basically everything in their lives is okay. The air in our city is not so bad. Our county water supply contains trace carcinogens, but only a trace – not so bad as in the adjacent county, and they’re not dropping like flies. The city water infrastructure is aging, but it’ll hold together a little while longer. Hurricanes are coming but will not hit my beach house. The federal deficit is growing, but Greece has a worse problem. Deforestation isn’t happening where I live. The planet doesn’t feel any warmer this year than it did last year.”

Studies show that people everywhere – all of us – feel smarter, luckier, in less danger than others around us. It’s not the prescription on our glasses that is the problem. It’s the rose tint.

This is where leadership comes in, doesn’t it? It’s not just about vision. It’s about being unflinching in the face of that vision. Having the courage to change behavior to conform with the reality before us, and through example, encouraging those around us to do the same.

Hallucinating/on drugs. This is wistful thinking on steroids (so to speak). Wistful thinking after years of practice. As reality gets more intrusive, harder to ignore, we look for help, for escape. We can find it in many ways: through drugs, to be sure, but just as readily through distractions and absorptions. Escape to a virtual world. Myopic attention to day-to-day work to the exclusion of the longer-term.

There’s one category on the scale we saved for last:

Looking beneath the surface. Here is where leadership can truly shine. As a goal, 20/20 doesn’t go nearly far enough. On the surface, a lot of world challenges seem insurmountable. Not so! They’ll yield to the combination of a little more analysis and local action. Successful leaders have the ability to see the real world in that way.

And you can too! This is a skill which you can develop through conscious practice.

And on the surface, a lot of people seem ordinary. Again, not so! Each of us is extraordinary and has unique skills and abilities to bring to bear on the world’s ills. We just need a chance – we need a leader or leaders who visualize our potential.

Stephen Covey recognized this. In his book The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness, he states, “Leadership is communicating to people their worth and potential so clearly that they come to see it in themselves.”

Again, you can develop your perceptiveness about the value of others. And in so doing you can improve their vision; specifically, their self-image and self-worth. Think about it! Work on it! You, and others, will be glad you did.

So, as emphasized in the December 23 post, vision is about being able to see more realistically, not less.

Do you think this concern about vision is new?

Actually, it’s as old as the hills. It obsessed the ancient Hebrews. In fact, it inspired a proverb which they held dear, and which we all frequently quote today:

“Where there is no vision, the people perish…” Proverbs 29:18 KJV

Hmm. But wait a minute. There’s more. The proverb goes on “…but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” The New International Version is a little more accessible to modern ears and brains: “Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law.”

This proverb, housed as it is in the Old Testament, obviously speaks to the importance of keeping God’s law. Can it carry over to the context of Living on the Real World?

You bet. Rephrase it in the following way…

“where people either don’t know or misconstrue the laws of nature, when they don’t know how the real world works, they:

–         use Earth’s resources thoughtlessly,

–         give no priority to environmental protection, and

–         pay no heed to the risks posed by earthquakes, storms and other hazards.

That is, they cast off restraint.

They’ll be happier, though, and happier for longer, if they trouble themselves to learn how the natural world works, and if they then live more realistically – that is, responsibly and sustainably.”


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