(How You Want It) To Be

| 12/5/2012 10:40:52 AM

Tags: Peter Buffett, Understanding,

Peter Buffett, son of billionaire investor Warren Buffett, is an Emmy Award-winning composer, NY Times best-selling author and noted philanthropist. Currently, he is releasing socially-conscious music and touring his "Concert & Conversation" series in support of his book Life Is What You Make It

old woman

“(How You Want It) To Be” by Peter Buffett  

This is a song about understanding; about how the stories we believe might change if we saw the world through someone else's eyes. Of course we all know the old "walk a mile in someone's shoes" line. But somehow the reality of that is hard to achieve. Partly because there are around 14 billion pairs of shoes to fill.

I'm writing this as I ride a high speed train traveling through the Chinese countryside. How could I possibly ever know the intricacies of the lives I'm seeing from a relatively close distance while speeding along at 200 mph? I won't pretend to. But I can respect the fact that I never will, and honor their life as one that is as important as mine or someone dear to me.

Why can't we assume that everyone has a life as complex as our own? That everyone has family stories that haunt us or inspire us? That every culture has a history that shames us or makes us proud? And that, in truth, almost all stories hold both beauty and ugliness—perfection in the very lack of perfection.

The opening stanza plays off of the old joke that even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day. It's the idea that everyone can be right sometimes. But how do we make room for all the rest? How do we allow for the messiness of the gray areas?

As we move further and further into a digital world, one that's made up of ones and zeros in almost every facet of life, how do we keep this binary imprint from seeping further and further into our everyday thinking? As George Bush Jr. so perfectly said in very black and white terms, "you're either with us or against us."

12/14/2012 9:56:50 AM

Yes, but it's just the beginning. When I was an ignorant child, I had no respect for the life forms around me. But as I discovered microscopes and telescopes and fell in love with the animal and insect world, I gradually woke up from my sleep of arrogance and careless self-absorption. The incredible beauty of a microscopic pond cyclops with its tiny heart beating at the same rate as mine became inescapable. I wouldn't let even one die at my hands. Now my Cockatoo George talks to me in English. " I was scared!" "Is this an excellent vehicle?" "Watch where you're going!" In short, I became aware that life is a continuum, not me vs. other humans in a world of fuzzy, feathered animated toys. I've become able to walk in their claws, their webbed feet, their hooves. So heck, people are easy. Consciousness and self-awareness and empathy is not some special human soul magic. The birds in the parking lot pecking at french fries have families, and problems, and personalities...and empathy. Individuals all. This acceptance of the reality of life consciousness opens the door of empathy for all living things, with other humans the easiest of all. Once you have deep respect for all of life, empathy for others comes naturally. Basically we need to vote ourselves off the island of ego and dive into the sea of life. And if you just relax and lay back, you'll discover you float just fine along with all the others!

Donna Young
12/12/2012 12:50:21 PM

a gray area,..with many connections and association in many categores, some might view this as a dismal condition with many mountains to climb BUT...others see many connections and association in many categories as a brilliantly bright outlook...

Yaxue Cao
12/11/2012 5:04:24 PM

Dear Mr. Buffett, I'm the translator of your essays here. I learned about your trip to China on Twitter and translated this piece yesterday. I hope you had a good trip. Unrelated to the Chinese-language media outlet that hired me to translate your essays, I myself have an English-language blog about China. I would like to recommend an essay of my own to you titled "The Other China". Look forward to your next post. http://seeingredinchina.com/2012/06/01/the-other-china/

12/11/2012 2:45:53 PM

Hi Walter - well.. the shoe is just a metaphor, of course. Shoes being representative of someone else's experience. Even 14 billion is double the number of people in the world. But I think we wear different "shoes" in different aspects of our lives. No question that I'm raising more questions than answers here.... it's a more honest stance for me. The more I learn, the less I know!

Diana Anaya
12/10/2012 8:41:06 PM

I recently listened a TED Talk by Ernesto Sirolli, titled: "Shut up and listen". I think his idea runs around this one as well, we have lost the art of listen to the other`s wisdom. For sure it would be a different world with the inclusiveness around, the ego of feeling that there is no one better or know better or should know better has taking over the world for far too many decades now. It is not with or against me approach in my opinion but in: "you and me together in this world". Kind of dreamy but nice to dream it!

shujuan li
12/7/2012 5:37:36 AM

Dear Peter, This is a well written blog I like the best not only because it was written here in China while Peter was travelling, so it gives me somewhat intimate feeling, but also it tells the truth in a very simple way, easy to understand and it can trigger our thinking immediately. Yes. How could you be possible to understand how people live here in a 200 mph train? Unless you can jump off the train, walk into their houses and talk to them, even live with them for a period of time. I like the phrase “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes”. When we travel, we can only see the surface of a place, we never know deep of the local’s life unless we talk to them, live as they do every day. It’s hard to understand each other, but through conversation, music, films, paintings, even through one’s eyes, you can understand something. Every nation has advanced side and backward side, we should use modern technique to improve our life and better protect our nature, but not to destroy it. We should try to walk into people’s heart to feel their inside world, to hear their voices. I believe everyone was born to be good. Everyone has a beautiful heart. We should keep this phrase in mind and whenever we do something, think about it, and try to think what we would do in other’s shoes, and we will make a better world then. This is what I felt after reading the blog. I would like to share it with you. From Shujuan Beijing, China

12/5/2012 11:36:20 PM

Dear Peter - I would like to say that some of what you write makes a great deal of sense and some of what you write in this blog leaves way too many questions to get a good grasp around having any answers - for example - there are most likely a few if not a lot less pairs of shoes than you imagine since it is true that not everyone can either afford to wear shoes or own a pair of shoes - then there is the question of certain things in life that we have here in the U.S. that are just not even known about in other countries - not that they might not be welcomed if they were known about or perhaps they might not be welcomed - I cannot say - but ----------I am thinking the music is nice - and the photograph is a strong image - and then has the "old woman" in that photograph heard your melody? what would it or does it mean to her if she heard or has heard it? There are absolutely so many things in this world that we cannot know - that we will never know - that is just impossible to know - so many things that go into even one person's life in just one moment - stories are simply any person's efforts to tell just a fraction of whatever it is that they can consciously come out with at any moment in time and if they were to go on perhaps other stories and maybe contradicting ones would be told - even if a slight point or coloration in the same story were to occur the entire story would change just like any melody that you write - a different half tone here or there might change the entire mood of what it is that you wish to convey - but I wonder if you will indeed respond to this - there are many things that I have written on this blog in previous posts or on different blogs in general were people do not seem to respond - perhaps I am simply talking to myself or perhaps what I say is incomprehensible to others so that they do not know how to respond - not all shades of grey are the same -