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What can’t we see when we see what we see?

When I was a child, I wanted to learn how to play chess. I didn’t progress beyond the basic moves, but one day I was playing against another child and suddenly several people gathered around the table. I didn’t know why. They were smiling at me. A few minutes later, the mystery of the gathering was solved.

I lost that chess match, as I did so many other times. Then, one of the spectators came to me and said: “You almost won, but you didn’t see it.”

He explained that I was just one or two moves away from defeating my opponent, but I never saw those movements and, therefore, I never made them.

That story (a true story) came back to me after a recent meeting with a person who wanted my opinion about a certain issue. I was intrigued, not by the request, but by the fact that person assumed I had something of value to say about that issue.

Regardless, I listened to a long presentation of the problem and during the presentation the person said again and again “I see this” or “I see that.”

I didn’t share any opinion. I simply asked him, what do you stop seeing when you see what you see? What can’t you see in seeing what you see?

For example, the light from the sun is so bright that we can’t see the stars. The stars are still there. They don’t “disappear” only to “reappear” when the sun “disappears”. The same light which allows us to see many things causes other things not to be seen. We can only become aware of those other things when the intense light is dimmed or blocked (an eclipse, for example.)

Something similar happens when we focus all our mental “light” on something: we can clearly see whatever the focus of our “light” is, but, at the same time, we stop seeing many other things, a whole universe of things interconnected with whatever we do see.

Perhaps that’s why some of the best solutions and some of the most creative ideas arise precisely when we are not paying attention to the problem. And, on the other hand, focusing all our energy on one issue could be counterproductive.

From a similar perspective, Hegel said that what is known, precisely because it is known, it remains unknown. We all have things in our homes, things we see every day, yet we don’t know what they are. And, of course, we have people in our lives, people we know, but, in a sense, they still remain unknown to us.

So, how many times we were defeated just because we focused all our attention to what we saw (the chess pieces on the board) and not on what we didn’t see (where the chess pieces should have been to win)?

Because we focus only on what we see, we often live “in a future which never becomes present”, German poet and theologian August Niemeyer said two centuries ago.

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