Everyone sees and does things differently. Sometimes even people with the same goals find totally different ways to reach them. Our Torah portion this week emphasizes how the Jewish people, even though they were one nation, were also divided into twelve different tribes. Each tribe had its own special place to camp as the people traveled in the desert. Each tribe had its own identity and special ways they were able to fulfill the Jewish nation's common goal of bringing more goodness and spirituality into the world. From this we learn that there are many ways to look at something. We all gain when we learn to respect and cherish each other's unique perspective and way of doing things.
In our story, a group of classmates look at things from their own perspective.
It was the end of the school year and as a special treat Mrs. Glass, the nature and ecology teacher, decided to take her class on a hike through the Blue Ridge nature reserve. She told the students that they had permission to bring back one small object each that would help them to remember the experience and asked them to save it for a show-and-tell presentation when they got back to school.
It was an unbelievable trip. It had been a warm and rainy spring which had caused the many types of plants and wild flowers to bloom into a dazzling array that made parts of the valley look like a giant flower bouquet. The rushing streams that followed the trail and the small waterfall at the end of the hike gave plenty of pure cool water to refresh the kids' spirits for the bus ride back to school.
On the way home, several of the girls were chatting about the trip. The topic of the show-and-tell came up. "What did you bring back, Laura?" asked one of her friends. The girl adjusted her glasses, opened up her tidy carry bag and pulled out a neatly folded piece of paper. She spread it out on the seat next to her.
"They had some of these brochures at the entrance to the park," she explained. "This one lists all of the park's facts and figures including all the trails' elevations. It even has a small map. What better way to remember the trip?" she added with a tight smile as she refolded the brochure.
"Well, maybe for you there is no better way but for me this said it all," offered Sharon, the girl in the next seat. She opened up the faded denim pouch she always carried and pulled out a small pine cone. She brought it to her nose. "Mmm!" she said. "Just one smell brings me right back to that incredible forest."
Just then another girl, Ruth, cut in with a wave of her hand. "It's nice," she admitted, "but I think you both missed the boat." She reached into her blue-and-green "Save the Earth" tote bag and pulled out a crushed Pepsi can.
"What's that?" asked her friends.
"Didn't you notice there were tons of these things just off the side of the trail?" Ruth asked. "Even in a nature reserve people just have to litter! This can is going to remind me to fight even harder against pollution. After all, this is an ecology class, isn't it?"
Suddenly, the girls realized that Debbie, the teacher's assistant, had been watching their little show-and-tell preview. The older girl tried to turn her head away when they noticed her. But it was too late.
"C'mon, Debbie, you decide," said Ruth. "Which of us picked the best thing for show-and-tell?"
Debbie blushed and tried to change the subject but the girls wouldn't let her off the hook. Finally she looked at them warmly and said, "They were all perfect." But this answer seemed to satisfy nobody.
"Really, Debbie," said Laura. "How could they all be perfect? That's statistically impossible."
The older girl held back a smile. "What I mean is that Mrs. Glass asked each of you to bring something back that had special meaning for you. And that's what you did. Each of you, from your own way of looking at things, fulfilled the assignment perfectly! Knowing each of you, I think you each chose just the object that will help you to remember and appreciate the nature reserve."
The friends drank in Debbie's words with a smile.
Just then the bus pulled into the school parking lot. The girls filed off the bus, each with her "perfect" object and a little bit wiser from the trip home.
Q. How did the girls in the story feel about the objects that they had picked out for show and tell?
A. Each of them felt that the particular thing she had picked out really helped her to remember and appreciate the class trip.
Q. Do people always have to do things the same way to be right?
A. No. Since everybody is different, they may have different but equally right ways of doing things.
Q. Do you think that when Mrs. Glass asked each of the students to pick something meaningful to bring home from the trip she intended everyone to pick the same thing? Why or why not?
A. When the teacher gave her assignment she realized that each of her students had her own unique personality and ways of looking at things; she knew that naturally they would be inspired by different kinds of objects. Laura's ability to relate to facts and figures, Sharon love of nature's beauty, and Ruth's desire to protect it, led each of them to choose the objects that they did. The teacher's goal was to have each student find a particular object that she could relate to, and not to merely copy each other.
Q. How can being aware that each person has a different way of looking at things help people to get along with each other?
A. One way could be that when we find ourselves disagreeing with somebody else we can tell ourselves that "looking at it from their perspective, what they are saying may make sense." This attitude can help us be more accepting of each other.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. In your opinion would the world be a better place if everyone did things the same way and all had the exact same opinions on things? Why or why not?
A. While the differences between people are a potential source of conflict, they also provide a tremendous opportunity for growth and learning. When we encounter others who are different from ourselves in some way, we are challenged to try to understand them and accept them. In the process we learn more about ourselves -- who we are and who we are not. God created the world with endless variety of plants, animals, and people. His decision not to make everyone the same was for our benefit, to learn from and appreciate each other and become better people in the process.
Q. It can be difficult to relate positively with people who seem different than us, with different ways of dressing, tastes in music etc. Can you suggest a way to overcome this hurdle?
A. No one is exactly like us. Everyone we meet is going to have certain things in common with us as well as certain differences. How well we relate to them is going to have a lot to do with whether we choose to focus on the similarities or on the differences. When we focus on what we have in common with somebody else we naturally begin to feel a connection to them. Perhaps with some people it could be common goals, even if they come out in different ways. With others we may share family backgrounds or mutual friends. Still others may seem so different from us that we need to remember that we are both children of the same loving God. Once we are able to find each other's "common denominator" and turn a bit of a "blind eye" to what we don't have in common, we are well on our way toward building more tolerant and harmonious relationships.