Through the Prism

After passing through the prism, each refraction contains some pure essence of the light, but only an incomplete part. We will always experience some aspect of reality, of the Truth, but only from our perspectives as they are colored by who and where we are. Others will know a different color and none will see the whole, complete light. These are my musings from my particular refraction.


What Is Your Perspective? (Part II)

AND (not OR)

In Part I, I explored the idea, with the help of a multitude of sources, that we all have unique perspectives due to the unique combinations of experiences, influences, and sources we experience. We all like to think we can be objective, but we can't.

So what to do about it? What commonly happens--even though it makes no sense--is we argue and fight about whose perspective is the most objective, the most "correct." It has to be your perspective OR mine that is true. The real truth is that your perspective is true in some ways ("from your perspective") AND mine is true in others. They are both true, they are both just limited and finite in their ability to capture and convey that truth. If we really want to expand ourselves and gain true understanding, we shouldn't be using an OR framework but an AND one.

This was most vividly articulated for me by a book I discussed in the post People Almost Never Change Without First Feeling Understood. It's a book about communication. I wrote: I just finished reading the first detail chapter: "Stop Arguing About Who's Right: Explore Each Other's Stories." Basically, everyone has a perspective that is only part of the big picture. We are each right and capturing the truth, but only as we understand it. Instead of pushing our interpretation of things, we need to stand back and listen to their interpretations to learn from each other and get a fuller understanding of the situation. It's not an either-or approach, but an "and stance."

To communicate and resolve conflict, we should explore each other's stories. That's what I want to focus on for the rest of this post, the idea of exploring each other's stories, particularly as a way to be less entrenched in our perspectives. I've seen two quotes recently that have me thinking along these lines. The first:

When you don't talk to someone, it's very easy to judge them. You can build up a narrative where they kind of deserve what they got. When you talk to someone, it's much harder.

I like what that says about getting out of our own perspectives and exploring those of others. It's a quote from a photographer talking about his photos, Portraits of Addiction. That's all he's trying to do with his pictures, letting people's stories show.

That's actually the strategy employed by the most powerful tool for social change of which I've been a part. In the past, I volunteered as staff for a week-long residential summer camp for teens sponsored by the NCCJ called Anytown. The purpose was to bring youth from as many different perspectives and walks of life as possible and create a structure for them to share their stories. A safe environment was created so issues could be brought up and buttons could really be pushed to dig into things, but the biggest changes always occurred around listening to each other and personalizing new perspectives. I saw stories change people.

Unfortunately, there aren't enough Anytowns to go around and it's hard to find time in busy lives to create safe spaces for exploring each other's stories, especially the stories of those who are different than we are. That leads me to my second quote:

The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated. . . . Fiction — with its redolent details, imaginative metaphors and attentive descriptions of people and their actions — offers an especially rich replica. Indeed, in one respect novels go beyond simulating reality to give readers an experience unavailable off the page: the opportunity to enter fully into other people’s thoughts and feelings.

The novel, of course, is an unequaled medium for the exploration of human social and emotional life. And there is evidence that just as the brain responds to depictions of smells and textures and movements as if they were the real thing, so it treats the interactions among fictional characters as something like real-life social encounters.

It's from the article Your Brain on Fiction, which summarizes some of the brain science behind the power of metaphors and fiction to literally change the way we think. It goes on to say, individuals who frequently read fiction seem to be better able to understand other people, empathize with them and see the world from their perspective. This relationship persisted even after the researchers accounted for the possibility that more empathetic individuals might prefer reading novels. A 2010 study by Dr. Mar found a similar result in preschool-age children: the more stories they had read to them, the keener their theory of mind. This isn't just a matter of knowledge, it has an actual physical manifestation in the very operation of the brain.

So I suppose you might say all the connections I've been making in these two posts are a bit of an attempt at articulating my personal manifesto, why, as a librarian, I find my life's meaning in being (as I've called myself previously) a storypusher. I'm doing my small part to make the world a better place by encouraging people to broaden their perspectives.

This article isn't a new idea to me; I'm always posting about the power of story, even as it relates to brain science and social change. If you'd like to do a bit more reading on the topic, here's an older post with some good sources (and, like the "storypusher" link above, to even other related posts).

From The Life of the Brain: The emotions triggered by fiction are very real. . . . at every level—physiological, neurological, psychological—the emotions are real, not pretend. . . .

But the idea here is more interesting than that--it is that even once we consciously know something is fictional, there is a part of us that believes it's real. . . .

I also like this, simply because the type of source is so different. From On Being a Master Storyteller: Concrete and vivid stories exert extraordinary influence because they transport people out of the role of critic and into the role of participant. The more poignant, vibrant, and relevant the story, the more the listener moves from thinking about the inherent arguments to experiencing every element of the tale itself. Stories don’t merely trump verbal persuasion by disproving counterarguments; stories keep the listener from offering counterarguments in the first place.

And I simply can't consider these topics without being reminded of a favorite song, one that I've shared before:

It's only water
In a stranger's tear
Looks are deceptive
But distinctions are clear
A foreign body
And a foreign mind
Never welcome
In the land of the blind
You may look like we do
Talk like we do
But you know how it is

You're not one of us
Not one of us
No you're not one of us
Not one of us
Not one of us
No you're not one of us

There's safety in numbers
When you learn to divide
How can we be in
If there is no outside
All shades of opinion
Feed an open mind
But your values are twisted
Let us help you unwind
You may look like we do
Talk like we do
-But you know how it is

You're not one of us
Not one of us
No you're not one of us


And, yes, I realize I haven't named any of the books I'm quoting as sources. That's because I'm hoping you might be intrigued enough to follow the links to see the full posts about them in the hopes of leading you into the web of thoughts and associations informing me that is my perspective.


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