Verklempt

The following appeared recently in Neighbors of Batavia Magazine.
I do verklempt about as well as anyone.
Recently, the Chamber of Commerce recognized 18 professionals, under the age of 30, at our first annual “20 Under 30” dinner. It was a night filled with emotion as these extraordinary young leaders gathered with the senior leaders who nominated them, and a plethora of proud parents, friends and relatives. As is often the case, when in a place imbued with meaning, I became verklempt—choked with emotion.
I realize as I write, that the words we use seldom communicate their true importance. It is the emotions animating those words that do. As I introduced the honorees that evening, what brought tears to the eyes of those in the room was not what these young people accomplish at work; it was hearing that collectively they canoed 2300 miles to raise money for cancer research…spent their free time with Big Brother and Big Sisters, and Feed My Starving Children… dealt daily with people struggling mightily to find a reason to continue their lives…tutored the students at Mooseheart…were instrumental in bringing art and beauty to Batavia and so much more. It was their generosity and giving nature that invited everyone to explore the meaning of verklempt.
Kanizsa Triangle

That night I used an icon, created by Italian psychologist Gaetano Kanizsa in 1955, as a metaphor for how we construct meaning. I asked the guests to decide whether the black or white triangle was larger. The majority concluded they were the same size. Then I asked how many noticed there were no triangles in the picture at all. That brought a smile to many faces…and frustration to others.

We owe our survival, as individuals and as a species on the brain’s ability to extract bits of data from the environment and use that limited information to construct complete pictures and draw conclusions. If not for this ability, we would be unable to, upon hearing rustling in the woods, construct a picture that includes the possibility of a dangerous snake in our presence. It is this ability that, when we see a green light turn yellow, enables us to conclude a red light is likely to follow. It is this ability that allows us to see a few facial features on a loved one and inquire if they are troubled about some aspect of their life.
Unfortunately, we are so adept at moving from disconnected images to complete pictures that we can fall into the trap of believing the pictures we create are accurate beyond reproach. If I am not careful, by looking only at certain aspects of young people as they enter the workplace, I can construct a less-than-flattering picture of who they are. Doing so is disrespectful, dishonest and distasteful. Most forms of prejudice emerge from our unwillingness to question the inaccurate pictures our minds complete of others…using disconnected bits of information to pre-judge them.
There is a Buddhist tradition that says, if we were to look deeply into the souls of those around us, we would never get anything done…we would spend our lives bowing to one another. We took the time at our recent dinner to look more deeply into the souls of 18 emerging leaders and create a more accurate picture of their wholeness. It left me in awe…it left me with the desire to bow in their presence…and it left me verklempt.

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