The Earth Is Not A Sphere In Everyone’s Eyes
Illustrated by Catherine Zaloshnja
Recently I posted a comment on social media about a celebrity. I mentioned that he had behaved in a way I didn’t think was right. The outcome: many of his fans reported my post and my account was blocked for 10 days.
I felt surprised and helpless. I was surprised that my thoughts, which I had reflected on seriously, could arouse the uncontrollable anger of his fans, who seemed afraid that my sentiment could spread. I asked a few friends who had read my post; I wanted to understand where the problems were, if anywhere, in what I’d written.
After an endless conversation, the answer became obvious: his fans were looking at what I’d written from a completely different angle. Their perspectives on what I had depicted in my post were very different than mine, and not all of their views were lovely. I didn’t know as much about the celebrity as his fans did, so I tried to understand their perspective, which felt like exploring a new land.
There is a Chinese saying: “He who travels far knows much.” As we travel through life, gaining experience, we develop ideas—theories—about life. Those theories, in turn, guide how we live, even as our theories continue to develop with each new experience. These nuggets of theory and experience that we accumulate form a reservoir of knowledge that we bring to every moment and that gradually become our perspective on the world.
What I find interesting is that over time, our perspectives tend to become more stable. Perhaps it is because we begin to rely on them in order to live—in order to determine how to treat people and what to value. They become the lenses through which we look at everything, measure it, and execute it. A trade-off of this stability, however, can be a loss of flexibility. We become less interested in learning and developing our perspectives and more interested in reinforcing and defending them.
My mother was recently suffering from a divorce proceeding, and at first she refused to sign the paper. She had watched almost every popular TV show and book, most of them talking about love and relationships. But before my father, she didn’t have much experience in romance. He was her first love. There is one thing I still cannot believe, which is that she never goes out with any friends; indeed, she has no friends to hang out with. For the past year, she has continued asking me why people would do this and that to her, and many of her questions have seemed a bit childish to me. I have thought to myself that hundreds of millions of books only work when we carry the knowledge from them on our travels—that is, when we are open to shifting our perspectives, which may mean shifting both how we think and how we behave.
My recent experience on social media, as well as watching my mother, show me that not only do people sometimes see things in radically different ways, but that we can also get fixed in our ways of looking at things. It is a challenge to form a perspective while also leaving it flexible enough to continue to develop, so that we can contemplate not only our own perspective but the perspectives of others as well.