On Giants' Shoulders

Monday, February 07, 2011

How Do You See the World

A little over a week ago I had to go to the eye doctor to get tested for new glasses (old ones had a broken ear piece). It was an interesting process, new eye doctor, computer mapping of the inside of my eye, etc. At one point I commented that with my alternating eyes I didn't have very good binocular vision, and the eye doctor corrected me, "you don't have any binocular vision." It's really odd because I see the world differently than people whose eyes work together apparently. I have pretty poor depth perception as a result. So it's hard to park a car, sometimes hard to even thread a needle. However, I see, well, the way I've always seen. I didn't know for years and years and years that I didn't see just like everyone else. It causes all kinds of odd problems. I have a very difficult time reading a number that has multiples of one digit in a row. The other day I was trying to type out an e-mail address and had a terrible time figuring out if it had two lls in one of the words. I sometimes have to take a pointer and point to each separate letter. It's the reason I can see the ends of the lines of the eye chart and not so much the letters in the middle.

I think that sometimes the way we see the world in other ways can be just as deceptive. Our culture teaches us to see the world from one perspective, a Muslim culture, or a truly Christian one would see it from a very different perspective. Now the dictatorship of relativism would say that all of these ways are just different ways of seeing that there is no one true right way. Yet the serious Muslim, the serious Christian, or even the serious atheist would disagree. Either some of these things are true, or they simply are not. My way of seeing with my eyes is a distortion of what is really there. It isn't that my way of seeing is just as valid as anyone else's way of seeing. I am at a disadvantage because I can't tell whether there's enough space to park between two cars, unless there's actually more than enough space. I'm at a disadvantage because trying to back between two cars in the driveway inevitably brings me too close to one in an attempt to avoid the other.

In the same way, if the way we are seeing the world philosophical is flawed it may have even more eternal consequences for us.

I've been involved of late in a difference of opinion with some people. It doesn't matter how logical my argument, we just come at it from two different points of view. A lot of the time I feel like my pragmatism is battling against a warped sort of idealism. I think I'm seeing clearly, but so do they.

The way we are seeing, and whether we are truly seeing clearly makes a big difference. From the outside no one can tell that my depth perception is absent. It's not like my blind niece, who clearly can't see (although sometimes one would think she could, with all that she's able to do). I wonder whether the same thing is true sometimes with people who aren't able to "see" clearly on other issues. Perhaps there's a sort of depth perception missing. Or maybe it's me that's lacking binocular vision there as well. My family gets pretty sick of my lousy depth perception. People get really tired of having to do things like back my car out of a driveway crowded with vehicles. I get pretty tired of having to ask for it. I get pretty tired of having to explain a legitimate factual point over and over again to someone who's holding onto a prejudice. Patience is a virtue, however, and sometimes it takes a lot of patience to help someone see a different view of the world or to understand their's. Sometimes, someone just has no binocular vision.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

No Doesn't Mean You Weren't Heard

My granddaughter is only talking a little bit at this point. However, she has a very strong sense of what she'd like to be doing at any hour of the day. She tries to communicate that as best she can. It's very clear sometimes that she thinks she's not getting through to us. Sometimes she has a "melt down" in frustration when the plan she has for the next span of time isn't what the grownups choose to do. We find ourselves trying to explain that, yes, we know she wants to climb the stairs again, or that, yes, we know she doesn't want to get in her car seat, but that she is going to have to follow a different plan than the one she has in mind.

What I suspect she believes to be a break down in communication, since her needs have been pretty thoroughly met up until now, is actually not that. The big people in her life have agendas that she can't necessarily understand and those agendas may mean that she has to conform to their plans. That's not always a happy moment for a little person.

Now we do try as much as possible to allow her plenty of stair climbing, and her parents do try to avoid any more car trips than necessary (she isn't just riding around in the car so that her mommy can indulge in pleasure shopping at the mall). However, at some point the stair climbing has to stop for the day, and at some point she does have to get into the car seat to go home, or go to Mass, or even go to the store.

As kids get older and more communicative, they sometimes still have the sense that the grownups don't understand. Now it's not necessarily the words the grownups don't understand, but the depth of the need they are expressing. After all don't you need the same can-can petticoat (a total need when I was about 9) that all the other girls have? Don't you need to wear a pencil skirt when everyone else is (even if you are only 8 and pencil skirts don't really allow for playground activities)? Don't you really need an I-pod if all your friends have one? Don't you really need to wear a skimpy bikini, or hang out with your friends in questionable places? On and on it goes. Answers of practicality, expense, age appropriateness, or moral values tend to land on death ears sometimes. At that point, sometimes the only thing a parent can say is: "yes, I've heard you, yes, I do understand, but the answer is still no."

Teenagers in particular can argue that the family budget would stretch to allow for the I-pod, the cell phone, the Kindle, the new computer, the latest video game console if only the adults would give up their Dunkin Donuts coffee habit, or waste less money on gasoline, or stop buying the daily paper. However, the adults are not very apt to sacrifice their small pleasures in order to satisfy the grasping appetites of a teenager whose "needs" will doubtless be influenced in a week's time by the newest fad that everyone "must have. It isn't that the teenager isn't being heard, it's that the judgment that's being made is that the family budget won't stretch far enough to satisfy all of his whims.

As grownups we don't ever exhibit that sort of behavior, right? We don't ever throw a temper tantrum of sorts when we feel that someone isn't really hearing us because we aren't getting what we want. Well....Not exactly. We complain that the government isn't doing things our way. We complain that the bishop isn't handling things the way we think he should. We complain about the parish priest who's choices are contrary to what we think they should be. And in some cases our reaction isn't terribly far off from a toddler's temper tantrum. It may have a more adult look to it, but the emotional value is much the same.

Recently, I've watched a battle unfold in an organization. People are screaming and yelling in internet communities that they aren't being heard, they aren't being respected, they aren't getting the things they need. The leaders at the top of the organization on the other hand have rather thrown their hands up in despair because the messages they've sent downwards haven't been heard either. The resulting fiasco has been anger, hurt feelings, fear, and stomping off in a very good imitation of my three year old years ago, whose jumping up and down tantrum failed to get the desired results.

What I've realized in looking at the two ends of the spectrum, my little granddaughter and these grown ups is that the problem is that frequently we take a no answer as an indication that the other person didn't understand us. In fact, they may have understood us perfectly, but the answer may still be, "we need to do it this way for the greater good, even if it makes you unhappy." That is not an answer that a 20 month old likes to hear. It's not an answer that a 12 year old likes to hear, and it's not an answer that a grownup likes to hear. Sometimes as grownups we think that if we argue convincingly enough we'll change the course of things. Sometimes we actually manage to do that. However, sometimes we simply are not looking at the full picture any more than my granddaughter is looking at the whole picture when she's unhappy to get plunked in the car seat. Frequently we see things from our angle, and fail to see the other factors that are being considered. Sometimes we can't even see as far down the road as the people in charge, anymore than my granddaughter always understands that at the end of the car trip is something she's really going to like (an opportunity to play on a slide, a chance to play with Anders, a weekend at Grandma's house). We frequently want the end defined for us, even when that's not even totally predictable. Now sometimes, it's true, the people in leadership are being selfish, they are being corrupted by power,sometimes they've been influenced by the wrong ideas, sometimes they are being corrupted by being treated to perks. If those things are true, we may well be correct in trying to change the situation. However, we need always to be careful that we are actually judging the situation correctly. Sometimes it's simply that they aren't doing things our way. We may well have been heard loud and clear, but the answer may still be no.