Monday, November 17, 2014

Things are not quite what they seem

Or are they?

We never really know. We are all viewing the world from our limited peep holes, imposing our own judgements, perceptions, and biases on everything that we see and experience. It's not really our fault, I mean, we're conditioned from the day we're born by our gender, our ethnicity, our nationality, our socioeconomic status, our birth order, our sexual orientation, and on and on and on and on and on. We are layers and layers of stories we've learned, or tell ourselves, in order to make this life more understandable. Ultimately, we do it (rather unconsciously mostly, I think) to attempt to exert some control on a world (and life) that we really don't have that much control over.

A well known parable from India does a good job (as parables tend to do) of illustrating this phenomena. It goes like this: a group of blind men touch an elephant to see what it is like, but each of them comes away with a very different description based on the particular part of the elephant he touched. The one who felt the trunk uses the description of tree branch, the one touching the tail says a rope, the one feeling the ear says fan, etc. etc. etc. They are all right. But if they don't understand that they are all right, that they are each seeing only a portion of the "manifold nature of truth," they may well argue against this, get stuck in their limited perception, believe that what they experience is the ultimate truth and that, therefore, all others are (or should be) experiencing this same thing. If not, well, they're wrong!

I love this story, and this line of thinking, and things in life that bring this idea to the surface. I think other people do too. I think it's one reason why the Broadway musical Wicked (which I saw yesterday with my mom and older girls -- so good!) is so popular, and why the movie Maleficent was well received, and why the Geraldine Brooks' book March sits on my shelf and will soon be read. I want to know what happened to the absent father in Louisa May Alcott’s beloved classic Little Women. Even though I love that fact that Alcott's book is about the women of that time period, a peek into the lives of mothers and girls at that time in American history, and NOT about the men, Brooks' book is compelling because it offers another glimpse on the same truth, another viewpoint that is actually necessary to gain a full picture of reality.

Here's a recent, and very modern example of someone experiencing this shift that I heard a few weeks ago: One of my youngest daughter's classmates was waiting to get his haircut at the same time my girls were. I struck up a conversation with his dad while we waited, and this is what sticks with me most about the conversation.

This family had recently moved from the east coast, from the Washington DC area. Having lived for many years close by, outside of Baltimore, we discussed some similarities and differences between the two cities. To illustrate one big difference he described a recent trip to the nearest Costco here in San Diego. On the way out a man engaged his wife and him in conversation. He was friendly and the conversation went on for quite a while. It made them uncomfortable. Driving home, they started to diss him. "What was up with that guy?" "Was was his problem?" "Weirdo, what's he talking to us for?"  [Full disclosure I don't know if they actually called him a weirdo.] But as they continued to drive they had a shift in perspective and realized, "What is our problem?" This dad actually told me that the experience was a turning point for them in their transition to moving here. They were viewing this conversation "elephant" from their DC perspective, from that particular "truth," and it took some contemplation to  realize that reality is totally dependent on your own perception, and that this is, thankfully, fluid and open to change.


Pat said...

Oh my goodness that is so true!
Well put.
Love, Mom

Pat said...

I had the same transition experience. I used to get steamed up in the grocery store because everyone chatted with the check ou person and it slowed down the line. And there I was retired and what was the rush?
Now I am chatty Kathy at the store and way less stressed. We Easterners do adjust to the laid back atmosphere over time.

Me, You, or Ellie said...

Mistah really needs to move to San Diego: he talks to all the peeps, all the time.

March. Oh how I adore that book. A really really really great read. I love when *I* think a book deserves its Pulitzer; that one sure did.

Thanks for this post, Beth. I love the other side of the story, too......


Beth said...

Yes, he does. The sooner the better. With you in tow, of course.

jacquie said...

Love this, Beth. Was this perhaps a teensy bit inspired by the "I was talking to my husband" comment that you got in the beer line at del mar this weekend? Those peeps need to consider another perspective.


Beth said...

omg, is it bad that I don't know what you're referring to, J?

I do remember my running, jumping embrace of hot guy in a fur coat though!