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.

10 thoughts on “Pet Projects and Points of View

  1. This is a great post to ponder over this morning ~ “all advancement springs from conflict between opposites” and without that we stagnate and rob either ourselves or those around us of potential.

    There are so many different takes on the world, and from perspectives so different than ours, such diversity . All perspectives hold truths, and sometimes these perspectives hold answers that are absolutely in conflict with someone else’s perspective…yet both can be true.

    To fully understand, it involves stepping back, seeing these extremes and differences and learning to appreciate what you have and learn to live with differences instead of forging ahead blindly and battling them. Happiness is learning that contradictions are a part of who we are and what we are…embrace happiness.

    🙂 Great post…even if I went off on my own tangent!

  2. Very thought provoking and well said. If I may add; I think that people sometimes are not aware that other people they have discourse with once lived in the same forest too, but have traveled to other forests as well, giving them a perspective that may be difficult, if not impossible, for the opponent to relate to.

    Sometimes what looks like “I’m right your wrong” is simply someone saying “it’s a nice place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there, because I already have.”

    1. Fair enough. However, if it looks too much like “I’m right; you’re wrong,” then it may be confused with it, and cause more harm than good. Also, it’s not so much about choosing to live in any given “forest,” as it is about learning to recognize the good in each one. If we come to the point of believing that ours is the only “forest” that contains anything worth entertaining, then we’ve removed ourselves from the conversation, and that is counterproductive. I think, anyway…

      1. Vance, maybe I’m just having a difficult time grasping your point. Not getting your children vaccinated could kill other children and your own. Are you suggesting that I look for the good in the anti-vaxxers ideology, and back away, having no backbone or voice on the matter in fear that I might look like I’m coming across as right and they are wrong?

        I see good in people, but I should not be expected to look for the good in another’s ideology. What it all boils down to is that when we are engaged in discourse, we are discussing ideologies. I don’t have to know someone else’s ideology to understand who I am — to see myself.

        I get the gist of what you are saying, but believing your are right is not necessarily wrong. Its people who make a stand that make a difference and sometimes it gets messy. Most of the human rights progression we’ve made in civilization has been due to those who stood for what’s right and knew it was right, even when most at the time thought it was wrong.

      2. “I don’t have to know someone else’s ideology to understand who I am — to see myself.”

        Okay, but you do have to know someone else’s ideology in order to understand who THEY are, and to see THEM. THAT is my point. We can’t fully engage others until we’re willing to learn who they are, and what they’re about. Doesn’t mean we have to agree with them, or that we shouldn’t be willing to voice our own opinions, or even believe that our opinions are the correct ones. But unless and until we fully engage with others (specifically others who do not agree with us), then we’re only preaching to the choir, if that, and what the heck’s the point of that?

        For example, I agree with you about the vaccination issue. BUT…anti-vaxxers? These are people who have reasons for what they are doing. They may not be good ones, from my point of view, but to jump right over meeting them as people to labeling them like that (and I’m not saying this is what you’re doing; I’m speaking in general here) diminishes them before the conversation even begins. In my mind, there is no difference between that label and “tree hugger” or “femi-Nazi” or “faggot.” It classes people in a way that is both derogatory and dismissive of their humanity and individuality. And demonstrates patently that I have no interest in them as persons, only as opponents.

        My brother-in-law and I are a case in point. For a very long time, we viewed each other categorically–me the atheist liberal, he the uber-Christian conservative–and as long as we saw each other in those terms, conversation was impossible. Literally. It wasn’t until we sat down and started from zero, really tried to listen and understand each other, that we realized that different as we are, we have quite a bit in common. That commonality allows us to talk to each other rather than at or over each other. We still disagree on a lot of issues, but at least we can sit and discuss them together.

        As for human rights progress, you’re not wrong, but unless you want to re-wage the Civil War every time an issue needs resolution, I think it’s better to talk and listen first. Tell me this: Do you honestly think that the combative, prejudiced attitudes (from both sides) that are aired in a lot of contemporary commentary are even the least bit progressive? Any ape can fling poo; the thing that sets us apart as humans (or should, anyway) is our ability to put down the poo and talk. Like we are, now. Even though we disagree on some things…

      3. People who are anti-vaxxers. Better? 😉

        Just because I may address you as an atheist doesn’t mean I don’t see you as a human being as well. I’m glad you weren’t suggesting that I dehumanized them when I said anit-vaxxers, because I was identifying a movement. People are fearful because they’ve listened to people in a movement and agreed with misinformation.

        People want to identify with something and it is usually based on ideology and it is through their ideology that we can get to know them better. Why did someone become a Christian? Why did someone become an unbeliever? I see the history in the human and how that has affected their perception of reality so I’ve already stepped into their shoes before I even begin to engage in discourse.

        I totally get what you are saying, I do. Empathize. Every member of my family are believers. I empathize with the fact that they have been wired since birth to believe and not question. I never challenge their ideology unless it begins to impinge on my well being and that of others who don’t align with their ideology.

        “It wasn’t until we sat down and started from zero, really tried to listen and understand each other, that we realized that different as we are, we have quite a bit in common.”

        Yes, and hopefully common sense was one of these things you had in common. I see you as an idealist, and I can relate, but we do not live in a idealistic world. I challenge you to sit at the table and look a member of ISIS in the eyes and see how far empathy takes you.

        I see the members of ISIS as human beings — human beings whose brains have been wired to a specific ideology and it could take hundreds, maybe thousands of hours of deprogramming to get them to come around to empathize and see themselves in others who do not hold the same ideology. Sometimes the only effective way to make people treat other people as human is to implement laws. and sometimes that can get messy. Life is messy.

        You have a beautiful heart, Vance.

        I posted this article on my other blog a few years back. I think you will see that we really are pretty much on the same page.

        http://neuroresearchproject.com/2012/09/10/relying-on-human-goodness/

        I’m just not as much of an idealist as I used to be since I’ve gained a better understanding of the brain which has given me a better understanding that no matter how diplomatic you are — no matter how empathic, not everybody is going to get the same positive outcome that you got with your brother. That understanding comes with seeing the bigger picture.

      4. You are right: I am an idealist, and I have to be, precisely BECAUSE we don’t live in an idealistic world.

        Other than that, in the words of the grooviest Muppet: Fer shuuur! :0)

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