Pet Projects and Points of View

DSC_0712Those who live in the forest only ever see the trees.

– Me

I often speak metaphorically, and my metaphors aren’t always what you would call…well…clear. More often, people miss the metaphor altogether and take me far more literally than is ever warranted. Yesterday, I posted a thought that was either not nearly as deep as I thought (quite possible) or just misunderstood (still going with “not that deep”). So, I offer this by way of explanation:

We’re all familiar, I hope, with the old adage “You can’t see the forest for the trees.” Meaning, of course, that when we allow ourselves to get too close to any given situation, it becomes almost impossible for us to see the big picture.

To this sage observation, I add the following caveat: Sometimes we insist on spending so much time on our forest that we forget that ours is not the only one, that our trees our not the only trees. In other words, we get so lost in whichever big picture we’ve chosen to inhabit, and so caught up in the minutiae of framing it, that we fail to see or appreciate the multitude of often beautiful pictures that fall outside our frames.

In short, we become tree-blind. Like its medical counterpart, snow-blindness, it is an ailment that may only make itself evident hours after the crucial moment, and long after we’re able to do anything to check its advance. We often miss our moment, not because of the “narrow-mindedness” of others, but because of our own tunnel-vision, our own dedication, to the point of myopia, to our one beloved cause. Whatever that may be. We’re so convinced we’re on the right track that the need for adjustment is unthinkable, unacceptable, ultimately impossible. In the words of U2, we’re “too right to be wrong.” We are, in other words, all the things we condemn in others, viewed in the mirror.

We live in the so-called “postmodern era,” an age of human intellectual development (defined, like all of them, ex post facto, and by humans) which supposedly eschews the meta-narrative–the overarching legitimating storyline–in favor of the individual stories of which any given human age is made up. This is fantastic, insofar as it encourages greater recognition of the many ingredients that make up the human soup in which we stew. Instead of using the building to legitimize the bricks, it uses the bricks to achieve a fuller understanding of the building they’ve been brought together to assemble.

However, there is a downside to this bias. We can become so caught up in the importance of the individual story that we forget there is still a larger narrative in which we all share. Postmodernism’s contribution to all this lies in teaching us not to be quite so confident in the nature of that greater narrative. Properly understood, it is an issue of composition: there is no predetermined story unfolding around us, willy-nilly; the story is not written until we write it; it is what we make of it. Unlike your standard literary endeavor, we are not written as characters fully-formed; we as characters are writers, forming steadily as we go.

And this brings us to dialectics, which is a conversation for another day. Suffice it to say that all advancement springs from conflict between opposites, and is to be found in the mean between the extremes. This is what dialogue is: the weighing of extremes in the interests of locating the mean. And as in mathematics, in order to determine that mean, we need all the values, from both ends of the spectrum. Otherwise, the solution will never read true.

My friend Madalyn said something, in response to yesterday’s post, that I find quite apropos: We need travelers. Not in the physical sense. Intellectually. We need people whose purpose in life is to step outside their ways of seeing, to map out the confines of their respective epistemologies and intentionally transgress those boundaries. People who truly seek to see through the eyes of others.

This is the only way to be the authors of the story we’re writing. We must write it together, and we must accept the editorial privileges of our fellow writers. Because the narrative is not mine, or yours, or theirs, or his. It is Ours.

We all have our pet projects and our particular points of view. But, if we’re not careful, a pet may turn on us, and it doesn’t take much for a point of view to become a blind alley.