A forest of trees

Seeing trees

You can’t see the forest for the trees. 

We all know what that means — being so myopic or narrowly focused that we never step back and see the bigger picture, the broader issue, the context. We get tangled in the bramble of life and miss having a larger world, a larger view.

More often, I wonder if the opposite is true when it comes to making a difference, effecting change in our world: We can’t see the trees for the forest. 

In this reverse of principle, we get so overwhelmed with the magnitude of issues and needs around us — leaving us feeling ineffectual and powerless — that we lose sight of how those very same issues appear in front of us in ways that are very much in our province to influence.

I talked with a company CEO this week who hosted his global sales team to the annual awards retreat at a resort in the Dominican Republic.  One of the on-site staff people there was a recent high school graduate who was working there in a pretty tenuous attempt to save money for college while also trying to help her mother support the rest of the family. The reality is that she was very unlikely to ever close the gap, but the CEO rallied his sales team to the cause and raised enough money to pay her tuition and expenses for two years. I would suggest they changed her life.

I wonder sometimes if the reason we like the forest more than the trees is because the issues take on a certain emotional opacity. It’s easy to rail against the wrongs of the world than to look into the eyes of someone who personifies those very same issues.

I love how Christ put it when he said: “Look on the fields; they are ripe for harvest.” The need becomes clearer and our role in them becomes more compelling when we are willing to look more closely.

Want to impact poverty? Help someone learn how to interview or excel in their job, or manage their family finances.

Want to stop the tide of divorce? Invest your time in a couple who is struggling.

Abortion? Adopt a child, or take a unwed mother into your home and show her what family can mean.

Care about the stresses on a single mom? Volunteer to watch her kids for the day.

We can usually easily name the issues we feel are at the heart of society’s ills, but the real calling is to then seek and find those issues in the people who come across our path every day. Or go find them.

Do that, and we can change the world.

At least the one that’s right in front of us.


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