Shifting Vantage Points. Welcoming New Perspectives.

August 16, 2018

SSM President, Nick Stoneman, offers his thoughts on welcoming new perspectives.

Recently, I was standing atop of a 30’ extension ladder attempting to nail siding onto the gable-end wall of my house. It was a bit tricky because I am a lefty, and the nailing was all needed on the right side – and a good stretch from the ladder at that. I attempted to reach across with my hammer in my left hand, my right hand putting the nail in place, and my legs bracing me all the while. It worked well enough for nails near the ladder, but was definitely not the technique of choice for nailing the siding more than a couple of feet out.

Then I had a brilliant carpentry epiphany. I could reach further, and far less awkwardly, if I switched up (ugh!) and tried nailing with my right hand. Yes, it was awkward at first, but over the course of finishing up that side of the building, it worked beautifully, with far fewer extension ladder contortions. I worked with a different approach – really a pretty simple shift, in hindsight - and in so doing gained a new perspective on putting up siding.

In a different way, I had a new perspective while out on a run in a new neighborhood. The course had several turns as I meandered through intersections, past homes, fields and an array of buildings. On my return route, oddly enough, I found very few familiar landmarks. My perspective – running on the other side of the road and in the other direction – had changed. While a bit discomforting, it was fascinating to reflect on how this simple perspective shift created an uncomfortable angst. However, by combining what I recognized from my earlier route with what I was observing from the other side of the road, I was able to find my way.

And recently, a good friend of mine and I were listening to the Beatles song, Paperback Writer, singing along with it. When it came to the refrain, she sang, “take the back right turn” in place of “paperback writer”! I laughed and told her the actual words. She couldn’t believe that all these years she had a totally different perspective on the song – and it wasn’t until someone else sang with her that she had a shift in her perspective on the song and its message.

Finally, another friend of mine came to visit me at our home, situated at the end of a dirt road. As we talked about the neighborhood, he asked me about one particular home he had seen, describing it in a fair amount of detail. I listened and for the life of me could not place the home. Later that day, we drove into town together and he pointed it out to me. Wow! There it was. A house I had driven past countless times and never noticed. His fresh eyes and new perspective picked up something I had never seen – and it was staring me in the face all these years.

While each of these is a small and seemingly unimportant vignette, for me they have a commonality. They illustrate how different perspectives shape what we hear, what we see, or the way we do things. They also highlight how new perspectives can be humorous, off-putting, confounding, unsettling, and yes, often illuminating and helpful.

While the proclivity of aging is to become steadfast and decided, I remain hopeful that I can learn from life’s small messages and sustain a continued willingness to appreciate the multitude of perspectives that surround me. Discerning how to digest, adapt, embrace, deter, or engage these perspectives is part of life’s richness. As someone who has spent a career in education, I know that I have benefitted from being continually exposed to the perspectives of youth, and to those of the bright and committed staff and teachers with whom I’ve had the chance to work over the years.

SSM, as an enduring institution, has an incredible history of welcoming youth from all across the globe, and creating a setting where perspectives that stem from different cultures, ethnicities, traditions, and belief systems find a place to come together to add to the rich essence of our community. And the good news is the 2018-19 school year, our 161st, is upon us! Here’s to the year ahead and the many perspectives it will bring together for all of us to appreciate!