The sight of cool, cascading water dropping over a 129 foot cliff to a whirling riverbed below just takes your breath away. The enormity, power and majesty that nature brings to one’s senses cuts across the cultural divide. There we stood, Anglo, Armenian, and East Indian – united at the awe-inspiring view before us. We couldn’t wait to devour the scene, descending down the ever-lengthening switchbacks to access the riverbed and rocks below. As we slowly trekked down, snapping photos along the way, we realized we were being swept up by a sea of humanity. Many others had also come out to enjoy nature and experience this unforgettable place.
Whether because of the packed humanity, the pace of the climb, or just looking beyond the spectacular view, I began to realize that my husband and I were in the minority. There appeared to be predominantly more East Indians around us, as opposed to just those in our group. As world travelers with close friends from multi-ethnic backgrounds, it was literally a passing observation. Until our East Indian friends observed, “Our people are out in force, and someone needs to let them know that flip flops are not the appropriate walking attire on these steep paths and rocks.” The realization dawned on me that in fact many of the people around us were wearing flip flops as opposed to tennis shoes or hiking boots, despite the steep and treacherous terrain.
How many times have I had friends, clients and colleagues share that stating the obvious seems so redundant? Why should they verbally share what everyone else has already observed? Yet here was the classic case; I am in a sea of humanity, observing the same scenery, people swirling around me, and my friend notices that people are wearing flip flops. Definitely not the thoughts or observations I was taking in. What if this had not been a group of people enjoying a climb down to a waterfall, but rather a group of people getting ready to embark on a hazardous working assignment? Or people sitting in a meeting trying to come to a group decision on the future of a product launch? Stating the obvious from the multiple perspectives gathered could literally mean the difference between human life and death or the success of a business endeavor. Whatever the result, stating the obvious takes on a whole different meaning for everyone involved.
So how do we reframe the phrase “stating the obvious” to put it in its proper perspective? Firstly, acknowledge that people observe what’s around them in very different ways. Factors such as ethnicity, cultural background, life experiences, knowledge, etc. affect what the eye visually sees and how the brain filters that information. Secondly, recognize that verbally sharing what you observe contributes to the larger group knowledge and current understanding. And finally, be open to each person’s observations as it informs your current thinking and resulting actions. Realize there is no obvious; there are only fleeting glimpses of your personal observations punctuated by the incoming data from others.