A voice in the dirt

Although I awoke this morning to several inches of fresh snow on the ground, spring can be seen peeking around the corner if you know where to look. It is a messy time of year. Our landscape is stuck between seasons with a puzzling mix… remnants from last month and previews of next month. Fading snow banks are creating an eerie worm hunting ground for the robins. Early morning birdsong can be heard while you scrape away the thick frost from your car windows.

Last night during a short cut through a playground, the path traversed a large sloppy pool of early spring gumbo. My 12 year old daughter proclaimed “whoa… that is some awesome mud”.


(friend or foe?)


It instantly struck me how different our perspectives can be. My reaction was to avoid it at all costs for fear that it would clog our shoe treads and track into the car and house. Hers was one of wonder and potential. Perhaps visions of culinary creations, mud pies and terra muffins. Hours of entertainment in the pure primeval goo. I was thrilled at witnessing her innocent guttural reaction. But it took me a several seconds to recognize it.

Last week while attending a meeting in Texas, the keynote speaker Tye Maner spoke of many intriguing things. One key insight was the lost art of listening. He used several analogies to make the point that listening to understand is different than listening just to hear. As a designers or individuals involved in creating solutions that improve people’s lives, this is a crucial point and a crucial difference.

My daughter’s reaction to the mud was not at all what I would have expected. Had I not been listening to understand, I would have missed the rapid romping through the possibilities on her imaginary journey and the simple joy she found in it. It is a simple thing and certainly not a major crime had I failed, but a beach cannot be formed with one grain of sand. Like our experiences in life, it takes thousands.

My opinion of the mud pit changed from one of avoidance to one of admiration… not that we stopped what we were doing and dove in, but my point is this. People react to things differently. Tye’s presentation came to mind. We need to always strive to understand through listening, through seeing and through pushing our own biases aside. In doing so we will be better designers, organizers, spouses, sand castle architects and perhaps mud chefs.


3 thoughts on “A voice in the dirt

  1. What a great article. Love your photo of the River Walk, it took me back to the time we visited San Antonio for the world fair. Beautiful area. Your anology about the mud was thought provoking. I could just picture it. We also got 7 inches of snow the end of March here at our place in Utah.

  2. A friend offered to slide my refrigerator to a different spot in my kitchen, with the promise that he would put it back again if I didn’t like it. The space opened up inspired me to some long needed de-cluttering. Now my kitchen area is pleasant to walk into, more room, more light. My kitchen window is more visible from the other part of the apartment.

    Moving the refrigerator required unscrewing and moving a set of shelves to another spot. I could not do these things by myself, so I made do. That’s part of what I meant by my first post.

    Another part of what I meant: At a thrift store I saw a brightly colored ceramic candlestick with a striped snake coiled around it. The snake has a goofy expression on his face. Instantly I realized I had been looking all my life for this exact snake. Go figure! The colorful silly object catalyzed my use of another space for interesting candles, a woven basket, a tiny alabaster jar, and a netsuke.

    This underlines the risk and challenge when building features in permanently.

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