Take a moment to reflect on what is beautiful about just visualizing a page of poetry or a sheet of music. What makes it so pleasing, even if you don’t appreciate the poetry or can’t read the music? In both, there is ample white space. The page is not filled to the margins with text or type.
Did you have parents who insisted that you use every piece of paper until all white space, front and back, was used up before the paper could be discarded? We often think of white space as a waste; as a blank place to be filled in. But in the publishing world, white space is considered an important design element – it enables the objects in it to exist at all; the balance between positive (or non-white) and the use of negative (white) spaces is key to esthetic composition.
What if we applied that notion of white space to our own lives? What if we operated on the assumption that our physical and emotional composition needs a balance between filling up space and allowing space to remain open?
We’ve become a culture of filling our ‘pages’ out to the very edges, maybe encouraged by upbringing and 24/7 expectations of connectedness, work blending with personal time, and other intrusions into that white space. Our collective esthetic composition has become lopsided. It’s why practices like meditation have gained popularity recently, as a counterbalance in seeking that white space.
What would it look like to incorporate white space into your life, to allow more openness on the pages? What would that openness invite – even beg of you?
Curiosity. Rather than our daily drive to getting the ‘right answers’, what if we instead asked more questions? Instead of being frustrated with someone who seems to have a rigid opinion, what if we asked “What in your experience has brought you to this solid opinion?” What if we just spent a half hour a day Googling a concept and exploring it more? Like ‘what does it take to make great decisions?’, or ‘how do cows get black and white spots?’ What fascinating white spaces might we start to create around the periphery of our full lives?
Diversity. White space vs. black space – the very connotation of openness to difference invites us to reach into different realms of existence, beyond acceptance and into understanding. “Why does that comment make you so mad?” in response to a comment made to a leader of color that we might consider harmless – and oh, what a new world you can discover! Learning to speak another language in order to communicate with others in a more meaningful way; going to a celebration of someone else’s social or religious events and learning more about the meaning. All of these enlarge the white spaces in our lives.
Walking in others’ shoes. No matter the situation, our viewing point is limited by where we are standing. Walking across a bridge, or into another neighborhood, gives another point of view. Ask an employee who is chronically late to take you through her morning routine, and you may learn something you never knew about her life. Seeking out the perspective of a minority stakeholder on a project may give you valuable insights about everyone’s discomforts. Stepping outside your own world builds white space; it enlarges your point of view.
Think/imagine time. Showers have become too short – they used to be the proverbial time when good ideas hit. Thinking time doesn’t have to be time set apart for the purpose, just time that’s not filled up, like our ‘pages’. So if you enjoy gardening, weeding can be your white space time. If you’re a woodworker, the time spent making a dovetail might be it. If you love exercise, you’ve got it made! During this time, you allow the white space to envelop you and your subconscious mind to take over. Its ability to recall and synch many divergent images, thoughts, and half-formed ideas pulls you into a creativity of wonderful proportions.
Allowing the white space in our lives – making room for it as a legitimate part of our overall esthetic, not demeaning it as wasted space – has the potential to offer us as leaders enormous advantage in our capability to lead. By incorporating the white space, we create a whole page, and a page of infinite beauty and complexity.
Written by Marge Combe, VMC Consultant
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