Patterns and Perspectives

Carol A. Hand

Where we stand at any given moment affects what we see. It’s a simple common sense maxim that we often lose sight of in our everyday lives. If I look at my garden closely, I see all of the things that I didn’t plant (“weeds”) crowding out the things I had deliberately placed.


Photo: Peonies and Weeds – August 2015

If my vantage point is a little distance, the “weeds” are less visible, but because the plants have grown so densely and tall, I can only see the plants that are closest to me.


Photo: Flower Gardens – August 2015

It is only when I have a distant vantage point above that I am able to see larger patterns.


Photo: Gardens – September 2015

Although we can see the patterns from above, we lose the details that help us tend the gardens to keep them healthy.

Our lives are like that too. Both the details and patterns are important. The poem I posted yesterday about a childhood memory is but one detail that is nested within the histories of peoples and nations over the course of generations. One question that follows is “why would an Ojibwe woman feel that her only alternative to escape abuse by her husband was to hop on a train at night with her two little children?” Another is “why would she return and suffer even greater abuse – standing as a silent powerless witness as her children offered themselves up to deflect or accept abuse as her proxies?” The answer is deceptively simple. She was socialized to accept her place in society, as were her ancestors before her. And all the institutions of that society operated to keep them there.

She accepted her place in her aunt’s family as the beholden servant. What other options were there for a child whose mother gave her away to a sister when she was only two weeks old? She internalized the messages of the Catholic Indian boarding school where she spent at least several years of her childhood. She was inferior to whites, but better than other Indians because she was diligent and docile. And heartbroken over the loss of her fiancée, an Ojibwe pilot killed in action in WWII, she married the charming, handsome Anglo-American marine from New Jersey who courted her and promised her the world. Although it wasn’t what she had envisioned, she made the best of her situation. An unwanted child who really didn’t fit in either Ojibwe or Euro-American culture.

A hopeless situation except for serendipity.

The wife of a wealthy resort owner who had grown up poor herself decided to help my mother go to school, paying all of her expenses at Loyola University so she could become a Registered Nurse. My mother became a gifted healer who would, in later years, be instrumental in the creation of the healthcare clinic on her reservation. Few knew the suffering she endured to get there.

I doubt that she ever really saw the larger pattern of her life. She merely lived it by attending to the details day to day. But I had to learn to see the larger patterns in order to survive. My mother couldn’t really help me bear the weight of the promise I made when I was a child of four to protect her from abuse. I had to protect my own tender empathetic heart by learning and questioning everything I could – by thinking critically about the institutions that were meant to keep me in my place. I learned to pay more attention to the patterns from my vantage point on the margins than I did to the details.

It would be many decades before I would have words to describe this perspective – standpoint theory and strong objectivity. It’s reasonable to acknowledge the trustworthiness of a theory that asserts that where we stand in the social hierarchy affects what we see and how we experience the world. As a qualitative researcher, a woman of mixed ancestry, and now an elder, I find the notion of strong objectivity appealing as well.

“Standpoint theory supports what feminist theorist Sandra Harding calls strong objectivity, or the notion that the perspectives of marginalized and/or oppressed individuals can help to create more objective accounts of the world. Through the outsider-within phenomenon, these individuals are placed in a unique position to point to patterns of behavior that those immersed in the dominant group culture are unable to recognize. Standpoint theory gives voice to the marginalized groups by allowing them to challenge the status quo as the outsider within. The status quo representing the dominant white male position of privilege.” (Source: Wikipedia)


Photo: Duluth Shore of Lake Superior – Summer 2010 (photographer Jnana Hand)

As I look at the larger patterns in my life, I realize that it’s important for me to share knowledge from the heart as well as from the intellect in words that are clear and simple. Lately, I’ve given some thought to the question “why do I write?” I write to share the simple things I’ve learned in hopes that it will help others. I follow my mother’s footsteps, not as a healer of bodies (I grow faint at the sight of blood), but as someone who sees the beauty in others even in times of adversity. I hope to be a mirror that reflects back the beauty I see in others so they can see it in themselves.

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

31 thoughts on “Patterns and Perspectives

  1. “I had to protect my own tender empathetic heart by learning and questioning everything I could…” Indeed. And how coincidently these lines line up with my post, Letter to Myself, which I’m just moments from releasing.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. A very moving and insightful piece! You present so many dimensions and layers of experience, there is much to chew on here! Yes,please keep writing! ,
    I’d just like to add from another vantage point, that the Wikipedia statement “The status quo representing the dominant white male position of privilege” is a generalization that implies one white male hegemony, ignoring many nuances experienced in private lives.. My father, a well-educated immigrant white male, even though “well integrated” (except for his accent 🙂 ) and a respected cultural contributor to his new chosen homeland, could not escape the outsider-in experience, and our family definitely grew up biculturally, which, as it turned out when we grew older and wiser, was a great enrichment.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I’m grateful for your thoughtful comments, Hilegard. I so appreciate your mention of the importance of another source of socially-constructed status, national origin/”native” language-speaker, which is of increasing importance during these xenophobic times. You also make another crucial point. Growing up on the margins does enrich one’s ability to think critically and see additional dimensions of reality. Thank you for your kind words and crucial insights 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Honestly, your comments always mean a great deal to me, Diane, and I am truly grateful for your kind words. Your eloquence as a thinker and writer make me realize that I still feel the sting of an off-hand comment someone made to me a long time ago – “the grass is still caught between your toes” meaning, of course, that I lack sophistication. It’s not something I regret, but I am in awe of your work and writing.


      1. Damn! Don’t ever lose that grass! Your thinking is as sophisticated as thinking gets but unlike the intentionally obscure writing of some academics, it’s crafted to be understood equally by those with grass between the toes and those without!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. A very thoughtful post, Carol. It is all about perspectives in life and many are only seeing what is in front of their faces and fail to see the bigger picture. So they keep on their own little merry-go-round in life, missing out on true love, compassion, and joy in this world. You’ve been on an incredible journey from what I’ve read of your writings and continue to show insights and life lessons to all. Love and Light to you!


  4. Carol- Wisdom is knowledge with the perspective of experience and the sensitivity of empathy. You are a very wise woman and your desire to amplify the “beauty you see in others” is a priceless treasure. I have been so enheartened by your personal encouragement and empowerment as your student coming from a different margin of society. I find simple joy in your gentle, honest reflection upon your daily insights into yourself and others. Please let nothing silence your voice- it is a blessing!- Heidi

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s wonderful to hear from you, Heidi. I appreciate your kind and thoughtful comments. I hope you know that I enjoyed the chance to work with you and witness your commitment to helping people in incredibly creative, grounded ways, as well as your ability to bring a diverse group of professionals together to work with you to improve the lives of children and families. I hope all is well and look forward to finding out what you are doing now. I send my love and best wishes 🙂


  5. You wrote,

    “I follow my mother’s footsteps, not as a healer of bodies (I grow faint at the sight of blood), but as someone who sees the beauty in others even in times of adversity. I hope to be a mirror that reflects back the beauty I see in others so they can see it in themselves.”

    And this is what you do!

    My mother suffered at the hands of an abusive mother had and a father who could care less. And then she married a man to carry on this ignored abuse. My father abused me as well, physically, mentally and emotionally. In his defense, we found out, years later, right before his death, that he had a damaged brain which caused him to be depressed,irritable and volatile.

    With all the abuse and pain my mother suffered, she never stopped loving my father, me and everyone else. Like your mother, my mother had the strength to not give into what had been perpetrated on her and to continue to seek life and love. She still shames me, since I am too much male to stoop to such a wondrous way of life: I find it hard to forgive and move on!

    I am no longer religious, but I still firmly believe women and men bring very unique aspects to life. In a sense, the universe/creator did make us to complete each other, to balance each other out and make up for the short falls that are common to both women and men.

    But somewhere along the history line, the powers that be, like they do with everything else, divided and put us at odds with each other. And it was MEN, not women, these powers used to divide us. We men, whether aware or not, have bought into the lie that we are superior and thus “in charge”. AND WE ARE NOT, NOR HAVE WE EVER BEEN! We are just different, that’s all. And we need what women bring to the table, if you will, we are, for the most part, lacking in sensitivity and compassion (just to name a few), which are truly, in my estimation, the greatest strengths human beings can possess.

    These same powers have further divided us by skin color/race, intelligence, national origin/patriotism and financial success.

    We are all unique individuals who truly are equal and have much to offer each other in our own unique, wonderful ways. If only we could see this and “get ourselves back to the garden.”

    Sorry to go on, but it’s your fault;-)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for sharing a little bit about your life, Sojourner. We do have many childhood experiences in common.

      I’m not sure about the history in other parts of the world, but there is clear documentation of role European religious leaders and administrators intentionally played to destroy gender equity in Native American cultures. They were appalled by the power and equality women had in indigenous cultures. And like those you describe, the consequences were divisive and oppressive. Divides of all kinds do need to be set aside if we’re ever to turn this world around.

      Again, thank you for feeling comfortable enough to share your experiences and insights 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. In my experience, the perspectives of the dominant group are almost always erroneous because they can never can never admit (even to themselves) that they are exploiting and oppressing the disenfranchised.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This seems true to me. In fact, I remember in a simulated inequality exercise, the “winning” dominant group felt their triumph, based on a scoring system that was rigged in their favor, deserved to win because they worked just as hard as everyone else. They were unwilling to share any hypothetical extra credit grade points they earned for their win with their less fortunate classmates. It’s so easy to overlook others’ suffering if one is comfortable, or has the illusion they will someday be so.


  7. Close up and far away. Macro vs landscape. Both are valid perspectives. A poignant story wisely and beautifully presented, balancing acceptance with your desire to change, forgive and heal. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

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