“Can’t see the forest for the trees,” is a figure of speech (or idiom) that some use to describe when people are having a hard time seeing a larger perspective of a particular situation. This figure of speech requires that one should be able to understand the whole if one can understand the meaning each of the parts that make up the whole. We use idioms or figures of speech nearly every day to best describe what is going on, including… it is not rocket science…you are pulling my leg… the devil is in the details… the early bird catches the worm… it’s raining cats and dogs…kicked the bucket… break a leg, how do we get to the bottom of this situation?… and Oh no! You spilled the beans?” to just name a few.
In the figure of speech “can’t see the forest for the trees,” the meaning is that one looks at things one at a time and might not realize that a branch of separate trees go together to make a forest. It also means that one can focus in on the various details in particular and might fail to see the overall view, impression, key points or long view. In other words, many often lose sight of the big picture by getting themselves mired down into the details, while not fully understanding that some issues are interconnected.
Each week, I encounter a number of people in our community who are solely focused on one or more details of a problem. And that is “OK” in my book; we need people working on various issues to help us all live better, do better, live longer and to act better. There is no doubt about it, we need committed people to be advocates for better health care, quality of education, affordable housing, livable wage employment, incarceration, racism, voting, running for public office and economic development. We need all the help we can get and then some. But we also need people to understand that the problem they are dealing with is also larger, interconnected with other issues and together the “picture” or “mosaic” is something to see and framing it up is a far greater task.
All situations, regardless of size or scope have a history, roots and a reason behind it. Just because a situation has ended in some aspects, laws passed decades ago, a new generation, times have changed; does not mean it has not left a legacy or residual effect… for some people have not gotten the memo, email or text yet. Perspective is what we need to keep in mind when dealing with the details. What do you think?
Dr. Andrew Calhoun, Ed.D., can be heard each Sunday at Grace Fellowship Church of Milwaukee. You can contact him at email@example.com, twitter #AC53, Facebook 414-571-5015.