By Walter Thiessen
Opening metaphor: Two players sit at a chess table. I’m moving the white pieces and across from me someone in a dark, hooded cloak moves the black pieces. The play is eager and competitive.
I am (by nature?) an insatiably curious, logical person who wants to understand the world and the people in it. I want to go around turning on the lights. At some point, I realized that I was trying to turn on lights when and where some people didn’t think it was appropriate. At other times, as I was turning on the lights, I wondered myself whether this made things worse. After all, turning on the lights kills some things – or perhaps it’s better to say that there are some things that, like cockroaches, quickly scuttle away into crevices and disappear when the lights come on (and some of those things may be more desirable than cockroaches).
Opening metaphor shifts: the hooded player is still cloaked in mystery – unidentifiable, faceless, genderless – but the tone of the play has shifted. The two players are now in a relationship, appreciative of one another. Playing the game, rather than winning, is now the point. More attention and respect are given to the mysterious opponent.
Are there other ways to respond appropriately to curiosity, to the search for understanding, besides turning on the light? What kinds of understanding work best in the dark or dimly lit? I am trying to learn how to know when to turn on lights and when to wait, or when to prefer a candle vs. something brighter. Is it fair to talk about seeking a more mystical understanding that prefers dim, shifting light? Are there cognitive (or spiritual?) equivalents to the rods in our retinas that see very sensitively in dim light, especially in our peripheral vision, what can’t be seen when looking straight ahead?* Bright light is very helpful for some things, but it can blind, distract and create false certainties.
Opening metaphor shifts once more: the hooded player and myself seem equally visible and equally mysterious – the black (full spectrum of pigments) somehow mirroring the white (full spectrum of light).
Exactly how related are these players? The play is now about the beauty of the game*, a dance. Winning is immaterial and incomprehensible.
*True story: one night in 1997, my wife, Carol, and I watched the comet Hale-Bopp passing the Earth. Looking straight at it, we saw a disappointing fuzzy-looking star, but turning slightly away, we could see the comet’s perfect “tail” with our peripheral vision.
**Irrelevant full disclosure: I actually hate playing chess.