I snapped this picture returning home from a late afternoon dog-walk. The convergent lines formed by the telephone wires, road stripes and sidewalks, the vanishing point punctuated by the tail lights of a receding car, all took me back to art school days and studies in perspective.
Mimsy is walking beside me. She sees the same trees, sidewalks and telephone lines that I see, except that she sees them from one foot off the ground. A different perspective. A different point of view.
I’ve long known that the world revolves around me and I’m at the center of the universe.
This seems very narcissistic and I used to feel guilty about that outlook, until I realized that every human ever born has interpreted their world from this same self-centered context. This realization leads me to believe that this inward-out perspective is by divine design. Self-preservation is one of our strongest instincts. If you are not the center of your universe, self-preservation takes a big hit. Imagine your world as a series of concentric circles, like the ripples generated in a still pond from a tossed pebble. You are the pebble, the ring closest to you contains your family and loved ones. Extending outward are rings made up of friends, co-workers, neighbors, etc. The more distant the rings from the center (you), the less their actions, problems or successes impact your life. The closer those rings are to you, the more likely you are to help and defend the people within that circle.
Problems arise, not from having that self-centric world view, but from forgetting that our particular viewpoint is not universally shared. Even when we try to understand the worldview of someone else, it can never be entirely accurate. The more different their background, upbringing, socioeconomic status, geographic location, race, religion and education (just to name a few factors), the more difficult it will be to understand them. If we want to add time to the equation it becomes exponentially more difficult to understand the worldview and subsequent actions of people who lived a hundred or a thousand years ago.
A person’s perspectives and worldviews can be more or less accurate based on facts, history, knowledge, etc. But those viewpoints, even if inaccurate are not good or evil of themselves. It is only when those perspectives turn into actions (or inactions) that we can judge them right or wrong.
Of course, there are people who have no interest in understanding the worldview of anyone else. These worldview isolationists arrive at their position by everything from pure selfishness to apathy and laziness. It requires effort to try to understand why someone might see the same issues and current events that you do, but interpret them differently. Some people have no interest in making that effort.
Then we have the worldview supremacists, who believe that their viewpoints are superior to all others. Smug in their self-anointed righteousness, they can’t be bothered with even trying to understand the views of someone whose ideas are so obviously inferior to theirs.
Closely related to the worldview supremacists are the worldview moral superiorists. Not only does this group think their beliefs and opinions are morally superior to everyone else, but that anyone with a different view should be shunned and publicly shamed. This is most often accomplished by affixing labels to those with opposing ideas. The usual epithets are: racist, leftist, homophobe, commie, fascist, misogynist, Nazi, etc. These labels need no basis in fact, but that is of no concern to the morally superior crowd. Being morally superior justifies anything inflicted on the great unwashed masses beneath them. Unfortunately, such labels are easy to affix, but difficult to remove.
I’ll be the first to admit I’m sliding faster and faster into my curmudgeon status. I’m not to the point where I’m shaking my cane and yelling, “Get off my lawn,” at least not yet, but more and more I think that the net value of social media does not exceed the downside of its inane posts and hateful comments. It’s impossible to have a meaningful conversation using only 144 characters. I bemoan the lack of good civil discussion between people with differing views.
You didn’t ask for my advice, but since I’m a curmudgeon, I’m going to give it to you anyway …
Get off your computer and phone. Take your dog for a walk. If you don’t have a dog, I’m sorry for you, but go out and meet some neighbors anyway. Find someone with a differing view on a current issue and say, “Help me understand your view-point.” Maybe even go all out and read a book!
“Civility is not not saying negative or harsh things. It is not the absence of critical analysis. It is the manner in which we are sharing this territorial freedom of political discussion. If our discourse is yelled and screamed and interrupted and patronized, that’s uncivil.” Richard Dreyfuss
When Mimsy sees a squirrel on our walks, she thinks, “Chase … game on.”
When I see a squirrel, I think, “Bushy-tailed rat than can chew through anything, including the eaves of my attic.”
When she spots a fast food wrapper that someone has thrown out of their car window, she thinks, “Smells good, is there something in there for me?”
I think, “What a slob, couldn’t you wait till you got home to throw it away?”
When I see someone walking down the sidewalk toward us, I instantly try to categorize them. Do they look familiar? Is it a friend or neighbor? Is it a stranger, how should I greet them?
Mimsy sees the same person, and no matter which category they fall in, quivers with excitement. Her experience has been that everyone she meets loves her, wants to pet her, and tell her how pretty she is.
Mimsy has never seen a statue of Robert E. Lee, but I think I could predict her reaction. She would walk up to the closest point, hike her leg and relieve herself on Traveller’s hoof. This is a perspective shared by a lot of people these days.
I see the same statue and I don’t see it as an ode to the horrors of slavery. I don’t think of it as something to be desecrated or destroyed, but that’s just my perspective … and I’m a curmudgeon.