When I was 14, I volunteered at the pediatric playroom of the local hospital. Many of the children were there for extended cancer treatments, so our “big buddy/little buddy” relationship was a joyful highlight in their otherwise serious little lives.
Several times a week, I’d go hang out with the kids after school, reading, talking, playing games, and doing art projects with them.
The Purple Tree
One day, I was sitting with Suzie — a five year old who kept her sunny disposition in spite of having lost all her hair — when she declared, “I’m going to draw a tree!” She reached into her brand new box of crayons and pulled out the purple crayon.
Now I have no artistic talent whatsoever. But I know that drawing a tree requires two colors, and neither one is purple!
Purple. Who ever heard of a purple tree?
True to my Choleric personality, I reached over, yanked the purple crayon out of her hand, found the brown crayon, and thrust it at her.
Victory! Thank goodness I’d been there to save the day! A purple tree…!?!
Suddenly, I noticed my supervisor beckoning to me. She invited me to join her on the far side of the room, where she spoke in a conspiratorial whisper.
“What if we . . .” she began.
Immediately alert, my Sanguine side could sense that she was about to propose something fun, maybe even risky.
“What if we . . . let her draw a purple tree?” she continued.
I stared back at her in amazement. My mind did cartwheels, flipping, stretching, and contorting.
Let her draw a purple tree?
Of all the audacious, impudent, bold ideas! We could actually let her draw a purple tree. Yes! Yes, as a matter of fact, we could!
I marched back across the room, snatched the brown crayon out of Suzie’s hand, and quickly replaced it with the original purple crayon.
“You can draw a purple tree!” I announced victoriously.
Suzie drew her purple tree, and I doubt she — or my wise supervisor — knew the profound impact this little episode had (and continues to have) on me.
I have Tunnel Vision
You see, this was the first time I consciously realized that I have “tunnel vision” — that I live with a preconceived vision of how things should be. And that perhaps my vision isn’t the only valid vision around. It was a mind-blowing, paradigm-altering day: to realize that my way wasn’t the only way.
And, many years later, I recognized the wisdom and graciousness of my supervisor. She could have come down hard on me, “What are you doing, Cheri? Squashing her creativity? Here, Suzie, you can use whatever color crayon you want. Cheri, go mop floors and quit ruining these kids’ psyches.”
Instead, she wooed me:
“What if we . . . ”
Oh, she had me at “we”! How I wanted to be part of “we”!
She recognized my good intentions, in spite of my immaturity and lack of skill. And with one short sentence, “What if we let her draw a purple tree?” she mentored me not only to do what Suzie needed at that moment, but to “think different.”
To seek the other’s victory when encountering someone wanting to draw a purple tree.