They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Let’s find out.
What do you see in this picture? What words would you use to describe what you see here?
One could start by looking at all of the elements within the picture. I see a rudimentary structure in the background. I see a tattered blue tarp covering it. In the forefront I see an iron ring. A smiling, young boy with worn and mismatched shoes holding a small stick. I see his shadow behind him. I see green grass, soil and rocks.
I see that the sun is shining.
Those are the obvious things. Simple observations that describe the objects in the picture.
But, let’s dig deeper. What could one read into what they see?
The rudimentary structure would indicate that simple, inexpensive materials were used to create a shelter for something. That would seem to imply that resources were or are limited. The structure itself and the tarp covering it would further indicate that there is something of value inside.
The little boy is dressed well except for the shoes, which are a real mess. He is using a stick to play with an iron ring. The combination would seem to indicate that he has no better shoes and nothing better to play with than a rusty, iron ring and a stick.
The bright sun indicates that it is daytime hours and likely warm or even hot.
Now what about the big picture? What you see as a whole? What kind of words would you use to describe the overall scene and how it makes you feel?
What you see may very well be heavily influenced by who you are and where you are because we all value by comparison.
In 1921, a man named Rorschach developed a test using 10 hand-drawn, symmetrical ink blots. The test was designed to be a method to test for the diagnosis of schizophrenia. Test-subjects were shown the blots one by one and asked to describe what they saw. They were then shown them again and asked to indicate where they saw what they had described. Then a complex algorithm was used to determine if the results indicated schizophrenia.
There was much controversy over whether or not it was an effective diagnostic tool, but one side effect discovery was that people from different cultures saw different things than their counterpart, test subjects from other cultures. Value by perspective. Value by comparison.
Many people living in developed nations would look at this picture and have the word “poverty” pop into their mind. It makes perfect sense because we live in a country and a culture wherein most of what we see in this picture indicates poverty in comparison to our own lifestyle.
That word, poverty, would likely illicit emotions of sadness, pity, compassion, empathy. People from our culture would likely see the shoes on this child’s feet and imagine that it is all he has to wear. They might look at the structure in the background and assume it was where the young boy was living. They might look at the stick and the iron ring and assume the child has nothing else to do to pass the time. They might assume that the picture was taken by someone who was trying to capture an image of a young boy living in abject poverty.
Based upon value by comparison, some of those assumptions would likely be true. True to the observer based upon their own lifestyle.
But, truth be told, they would be missing one very important thing.
The totality of the picture almost instantly triggers our emotions. The apparent poverty, the mismatched shoes, the stick and the iron ring, the tarp and shabby structure in the background.
So, what did we miss?
What you don’t see, for obvious reasons, is the person behind the camera. What you don’t see, of course, is the reason this person had for taking the picture in the first place.
The very first thing I noticed when I first saw this picture was the smile on the little boy’s face. But my eyes quickly moved from his face to his shoes…and then to the stick in his hand and the iron ring he is playing with. From there they moved to the background. To the tarp and the structure it covers.
The smile and what it meant were lost in the fact that he was wearing mismatched shoes. It was lost in the fact that he seemingly had only a rusty ring and a stick to entertain him. The smile was lost in the overall scene that seems to portray a child living in abject poverty.
It is that overall scene that elicits the empathy, the compassion.
But, what if that isn’t what we are really seeing at all?
What if the person taking the picture took it for an entirely different reason? An entirely opposite reason?
What if she took the picture to show the smile on the young boy’s face? What if she took the picture as a way of thanking you for making the young boy smile in the first place?
What would happen if you knew that the shoes were mismatched because he has a slight injury to one of his toes and the oversized shoe is there to protect it? Would those things change the way you feel about the picture?
What if you knew that this is a boy from one of our children’s homes?
All of these things are the reality in this picture. But, there is more to it than that. Far more.
There was a time when a picture of this boy would have been different in a few very important ways.
If a picture had been taken then, you would have found this young boy alone and dressed in rags if dressed at all. You would have found him hungry and alone in the slums, scrounging for scraps, begging for help from those who have no means to provide that help.
If a picture had been taken then, you would have still seen the evidence that he lives in a culture of poverty in a developing nation.
But, what you wouldn’t have seen is even more important.
You wouldn’t have seen this healthy boy living a simple life. You wouldn’t have seen the sparkle in his eyes or the smile of amusement on his face.
Because that was before he had you.
You, a total stranger, took him from the slums and gave him a home. You gave him a family. In doing so, you showed him that people care about him. That helped him to realize he was worth being loved. The home gave him security and in that, freedom from fear. The food gave him nutrition that healed his starving body. The fact that the food was there each day added to the security and he was able to stop worrying about what the next day would bring.
The family you gave him brought with it, a sense of belonging and the bonds of love.
You gave him an education and his young mind was unlocked to untold potential. He began to dream of what he would one day become. In that, you gave him hope for a bright future.
You gave him God’s Word and he learned that he had a Father in Heaven even though he had none on earth. In that, you gave him the knowledge that he will never truly be alone again and that he has a savior who died for him that he might have everlasting life.
These are the things that make him smile. These are the things that make his eyes sparkle. These are the things that allow him to find happiness in such simple things as a stick and a rusty, old, iron ring.
Boys are boys the world over, so there is little doubt that he would prefer a Tonka Truck over the iron ring. There’s no doubt that like the iron ring, the truck would make him smile.
But the sparkle in his eyes and the smile on his face are there because of the totality of it all.
They are there because the love that is shown in all that you do for him…and wrapped within that, is the essence of the real gift you have given him.
Yes, this picture is worth more than a thousand words, but it only takes one word to truly describe it and that gift…Joy.