Lessons From a Flag

Humans are pattern-seeking story-telling animals, and we are quite adept at telling stories about patterns, whether they exist or not.” (Michael Shermer) Weird Maryland As a child growing up in Maryland, I remember thinking that the Maryland state flagwas really weird looking. It seemed to be a jumble of colors that didn’t make any sense together with patterns locked in some sort of perpetual argument.

In school we were taught that the black and gold is part of the Calvert family crest and that the red and white was part of the Crossland family crest. These are two of the more powerful Euro families who took over Piscataway, Mattaponi, Nanticoke and Susquehannock land, forming what we now know as Maryland. (Funny how they didn’t teach it quite that way.) I understood logically why the flag looks the way it does, but it still seemed to me like someone threw up too many ideas on a single piece of cloth.

Over time however, being that my state is obsessed with putting Maryland state flags and colors on pretty much everything that moves or doesn’t move, I began to look through the weirdness of it. It seemed almost normal.

Fear the Turtle For a brief period of time I attended the University of Maryland at College Park. There, the red and white are the athletic department colors and the black and gold are academic. Under the watchful gaze of Testudo, my automatic head tilt reaction to this Maryland stamp (inside joke for Terps,) finally ceased.

Looking Through A recent experience beading a necklace and matching earrings showed me that my oblivion to our colors is now complete.

I chose the colors based on the properties that my Chickamauga tradition ascribes to each color. The earrings went fine, but I really struggled with the necklace. Every pattern I did just looked wrong. I was working with red and yellow beads and I couldn’t get ketchup and mustard out of my head. I realized that I needed to emphasize more of the black beads and use the white beads to draw the eye to the…

Oh crap. I was beading the freaking Maryland State flag!

Seeing Colors

If we can acclimate to something as weird as the Maryland State flag, what things of greater importance might we have acclimated to? Are there unhealthy relationship assumptions that we might have gotten so used to that we no longer see them? Ways of thinking? Ways of treating others? How do we learn to see what we no longer see?

Updating Our Database When my clients are working on relationships of various kinds, I encourage them to periodically “update their database” on the other person. People grow and change constantly. Sometimes we interact with people projecting older, worn out ideas about who they are. We can resist looking through their growth by taking in a fresh view.

The same is true in our self-examinations. Pattern-seeking is an important survival skill for humans. At the same time, we can fall into doing things, thinking things and believing things simply because we have created a pattern and are sticking to it.

Fresh Eyes

Meeting new people shakes this up nicely. When someone is learning us for the first time, we have an opportunity to see ourselves freshly and decide what does and does not belong. On a more intimate level, this is exactly what we are doing when we engage in therapy.

Learning new skills also gives up an update on who we are and what we can do. Writing and telling our life stories likewise puts us outside ourselves to a certain degree, inspiring us to consider what we do and don’t want to travel forward.

Empowered Choices Whatever means we choose, seeing those things we have been looking through empowers us to live more in the way we want to, rather than defaulting to our patterns and assumptions.

I have grown to love the quirkiness of the Maryland state flag. I’m also learning to notice the quirkiness and to use those colors in very different ways. May that flexibility bleed over into all areas of life.

........................................................................... Would you like an outside view to help you see what you might be looking through? Contact Tiffany today. Let’s look together.