Many have heard of the story of the three blind men faced with an elephant. The first approaches and, touching the tail, declares they have found a broom. The second approaches and, touching a leg, declares they found a large tree. The third approaches and, touching the trunk, declares they’ve found a snake. There are many forms the story can take, including variations on the exact lesson to be found. Whatever the differences, the central issue is an appreciation for how perspective rules our lives.
Perspective is more than what happens in front of our eyes or even the central story we tell about our lives, that fascinating thing we dubiously refer to as “I.” The whole of one’s perspective encompasses sight, but more so it includes the identities one has chosen and the worldview operating as a holding construct. The three can be considered as interlocking variables in the building of a perspective. There’s sight or that which connects us with the world, the viscerally physical aspect of our existence. Identities serve as interchangeable lenses to be placed within the ocular device that is our worldview. From eye to lens, fitted within the glass frame, our perspective sharpens our focus on certain things, even as it diminishes focus on another.
For those wearing glasses this may come easier. There’s that initial shock at how much better one can see with a first prescription, making glaringly obvious how much we can get used to seeing things badly when we don’t know better. The frames themselves serve as boundaries of the new vision, requiring a great deal more movement of the head than before to focus the new lens on an object of interest. The degree to which this can be used as metaphor is stupefyingly huge. Is everything lost that was once seen when one lens is exchanged for another? How does a lens shift when placed within a new frame? How important is the original physical sight to whether some lens will work better than others? Suffice to say that even prior to glasses there are the original lenses of the physical eyes and those never go away, so each and every change with a new set of lenses or a new frame will still take into account the original work of your body.
All perspective is limited. To see the limits requires a degree of introspective skepticism that does not come naturally and all too often is looked upon as wrong to pursue. When caught up in a singular identity or when working hard never to question, the limits are hazy or distant or even denied. Such is the power of social labels. The more strongly dedicated to a particular identity, the more the limits of it lay about unseen. Most disturbingly, dogmatic adherence to some can make those mental exultations or eureka moments of subversive new insight become something to be afraid of rather than rejoiced in.
In a world of political loyalty agreements, where even the slightest deviation from the holy writ of proscribed ideology can have you cast out, when the slightest change in opinion gets used to declare that most heinous of sins called hypocrisy, there’s little wonder people hold onto their labels/identities so strongly. The bubbles of floating disparate and separated individuals hover around, afraid to touch lest they be tarnished, all the while completely blind to the fact that they themselves float in a sea of larger and more encompassing spheres.
Amazingly such narrow adherence is looked upon as a positive character trait. Leaders are considered steadfast and strong if they’ve never wavered in their convictions, blithely ignoring the reality of all our childhoods when errors resulted in an increased understanding of our existence. We do not learn by always being right, the very notion is so utterly foreign to the reality of shifting and flowing states of energy that when uttered it should sound like the adults from a Charlie Brown cartoon, a mass of garbled inarticulate sound.
Our dedication to a singular identity, often constrained even further by a narrow or dogmatic frame/ worldview, seeks to find order out of chaos, not through understanding but by falsely limiting the degree to which we should inquire into our lives. Any time someone expends a lot of energy noting allegiance to a primary identity, such should be looked at with wariness rather than respectful awe. Any time an ideology is considered sacrosanct, one should look for the hangman’s noose slowly working its way around the mind. No one lens can see everything, particularly when paired with an ugly frame.
The fight over labels/identities is easy, but it constrains us, limiting our understanding and inadvertently leading to furthering the very chaos that such dedication sought to control. An identity should be a window to further inquiry, a means of ascertaining how and whether a worldview helps broaden what is seen. A healthy perspective is one that seeks its limits, happily dwells in its insecurities and engages with others in open inquiring dialogue. Such is the road to seeing the beauty in seeming chaos and finding peace in seeming crisis.
© David Teachout