How do we view the world? How do changes in our perception occur? How do those changes affect us? These are all questions that I’ve thought about recently, in various ways. When I think about the ways that we view the world around us, I always return to a passage from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Nature where he talks about the ways that “a small alteration” in our perspective changes the ways that we view the world. Standing on the sea shore provides a distinctly different perspective than bobbing up and down in the water while in a boat anchored in the water off the shore. Viewing one’s neighborhood while walking is different than viewing it from the inside of a vehicle. Looking between your legs turns the world upside down, the sky becomes the ground and the ground becomes the sky. As Emerson writes, “The least change in our point of view, gives the whole world a pictorial air.”
Think about flying. When you’re up in the air, your perspective changes. You see the layout of the ground from a different position, seeing the ways houses, roads, and other structures are laid out. You see the vastness of forests. You see the vastness of the oceans or lakes. Imagine multiplying that perspective and seeing the same thing from space. In Terraform: Building a Better World, Propaganda writes about the “overview effect,” the awe that one experiences seeing the planet from space. They see clouds, the movement of hurricanes, the lights of cities dotting the landscape, the movement from night to day and back again. They see the interconnectedness of the planet, and interconnectedness without border, without labels, without differences. They see it as a singular entity.
As Propaganda writes,
Something else that becomes more clear from the vantage point of space is that, of course, the names of the states are not written across the land. California isn’t written on the top of California, and it doesn’t say across the span of Africa A-F-R-I-C-A. Why? Because borders are something that humans created. Seeing if from space, you get the sense that the globe is just one thing. It’s one living object. And we are literally in this together. Like it or not, we are all we got.
When we look at a map, we see the labels that individuals have put on the land. We see the ways that Europeans carved up Africa at the Berlin Conference in 1884-1885. We see the start of the conflict in Palestine and Israel. We see the formation of nations during the postcolonial period. In essence, we see the creation of differences. When we realize that this is what we see, we realize the power of words and ideas in the continued subjugating individuals. When we shift our perspective and realize that this is what occurs, we will begin to think about the ways we all coexist together on this fast moving sphere we call Earth.
The perspectives of our families, communities, schools, churches, and more mold us in our formative years. These perspectives, in many ways, insulate us, causing us to constantly put up barriers that we must eventually break down. These perspectives limit our views, making us myopic, focusing our sight on a narrow sliver of what exists around us. In this manner, the perspectives cause us to block out anything that runs counter to them. As we grow, we either reinforce the barriers or we begin to see cracks. We may peek through the cracks, catching fleeting glimpses of what exists outside of our insulated perspective. We may even begin to chip away at the cracks, hoping to encounter a wider view of existence.
Instead of buying into overly simplified narratives that position one side in direct opposition to another, we need to think about the ways we perceive the world. The world has never been merely a two sided affair, no matter what those sides may be. Rather, we exist within a nuanced and multifaceted world with beliefs, ethics, cultures, that overlap and intersect with one another devoid of man-made boundaries. We all sprouted from the soil. We all contain, within us, ecosystems that work to sustain us. We all traverse this earth, moving from place to place. We all coexist on this sphere as it hurtles through the solar system. When we limit our perspective, when we forgo nuance, we we shut down when presented with anything that runs “counter” to our beliefs, we dismiss that we are all in this together. We privilege ourselves above the collective. However, we must also know how to parse that information, to examine it and determine its validity.
Until we move past the binaries, we will continue to suffer the consequences. We must change our perspectives, learning to see the world from different positions. When we do this, we will succeed. At the end of each chapter in Terraform, Propaganda challenges us with different Terraforming Projects to help us think about the ideas he discusses. When we think about perceptions, one thing to do is to change the way we look at the world around us on a day-to-day basis. Change the roads we drive down everyday. Change the stores we visit. This is something I’ve done, and it increased my perceptions of my community.
One of the Terraforming Projects that Propaganda suggests really stands out to me. Entitled “Remove Your Privilege,” Propaganda challenges us to remove at least one privilege from our lives that we take for granted. He suggests doing without our home internet and having to find access, removing our personal transportation and relying on public transit, or removing access to our appliances. What would these activities do to our perceptions? How would the affect the ways we view individuals in our communities? What if we looked at the world through the lens of someone in a wheelchair, paying attention to ramps, handicap parking spaces, and other things? How would that change our perceptions? What if we frequented spaces where we are in the minority? Where we don’t hear English? How would that change our perspectives?
Instead of making our way through life with a myopic view of our surroundings, we need to look at the world in its fullness, from a wide perspective, taking it all into our field of view. In doing so, we will connect with those around us and realize that are all in this together. We’ll realize that in order to prosper, we must be conjoined not merely in our biology but in our vision as well. We’ll realize a better world for those who come after.
What are your thoughts? As usual, let me know in the comments below, and make sure to follow me on Twitter at @silaslapham.