Changing Focus in Our World Today

Changing Focus

By Tali Hairston, Director of the John Perkins Center at SPU

According to Merriam Webster’s dictionary, “liminal” means to be barely perceptible, or to be in an intermediate state or condition. It is one of my new top 10 words for sure. Not because I am a word nerd, but largely because it creates an image for me that describes where I believe many are in our world today.


From the economy to immigration, taxes to the deficit — and everything in between — so much seems barely perceptible in the midst of an image-driven culture where ideas and identity are commodities on the open market and political playfield. How do we understand the real issues, problems, solutions, and systemic challenges at work in our society today where so much seems barely perceptible?


Our work in the Perkins Center is to bring together theorists and practitioners with the most vulnerable of our society and act together for a healthier community. I believe we must re-engage the concepts of image, ideas, and identity — in direct response to what I have come to define as a liminal existence. To state it more clearly: Without addressing the liminal, the barely perceptible, can we be sure that our actions are in the best interest of those we seek to serve?


There are two points I believe we should discuss that come from one simple story. Hopefully they will be helpful in advocating for a thorough dialogue regarding the liminal way in which we are being led to engage the world in a relevant step to correct action.


Point one comes from a friend who told me the story of his grandson who is slightly autistic. Grandpa was being his normally engaging self, but he had a nasty cold sore on his lip. He asked his grandson, “What’s different about Grandpa today?” To wit, his grandson replied after a brief meditation and glare, “Hmmm … Grandpa, you are smiling.” We all laughed of course.


The story is cute, but it truly makes a much larger point in my head. What is our focus? While most of us are looking at the cold sores of the other, if we changed our focus, what would we see?


Most people today refuse to change their focus, as if the opponent has no smile, only cold sores. Reconciliation and community development happen in this midst of a community where people are willing to focus on different things than what they brought to the table. They are, in fact, willing to see the other differently.


The second point this story brings this to the forefront: How dangerous is it for a perspective to be held so tightly that no other perspective is possible? What technological innovation, basic invention, or intellectual breakthrough can be attributed to an informed, or transformed, perspective?


We have advanced as a society because we allow for other ideas and identities to inform — and thus transform our own. This external adaptation and internal integration is necessary as our world grows more diverse. On the other hand, concretized perspectives lead to weaken our creativity. And we need true creativity today, where so many issues of historic significance lay in the balance. 

Tali Hairston Tali Hairston has guided the Perkins Center at SPU since its founding in 2004. He is leading Seattle Pacific in a comprehensive initiative born out of a dream and a partnership between SPU President Philip Eaton and the legendary reconciliation advocate Dr. John Perkins.

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