Thursday 5 February 2015

Perspective: New Eyes

How much can we understand when we can only see what we see?

I watched a movie, as a teenager in the 80s based on the life of Joseph Merrick called The Elephant Man and was not surprised to find it referred to in a more recent book called Wonder by RJ Palacio. August's story will, I'm sure, teach a lot of young people a lot about themselves as The Elephant Man taught me.

I was especially struck by Via's lack of awareness of how her brother looked to others until she spent some time away from him and came to him again with fresh eyes. She grew up with him, becoming used to what others turned away in shock from. He was her brother, that's all she knew and saw. Then she stayed at her grandmothers for a number of weeks and when she saw him again she had some inkling of what it was like for others to see him for the first time.

A colleague of mine came back from travelling after four months surprised to hear how strong my Irish accent was. He had become used to it in the years we had worked together but when he had a break and came back to it afresh, it seemed surprisingly stronger, as if he were meeting me for the first time again.

So to see or hear or feel what others see or hear or feel,  or to shake up our perception must we extricate ourselves from the familiar? Must we take a break from our habits of perception? Whether it is by stepping out of our shoes and donning anothers' or by removing ourselves completely for some time. Is it enough just to step out of our own shoes...must we also step into anothers'?

Atticus told Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view--until you climb into his skin and walk around  in it."  Is this true? 

Can we not empathise with someone without having to go through what they went through? Can't we understand someone's pain or joy without experiencing it?

If we can read a book or watch a movie and feel tension or suspense and care,  and we know it's fiction, then we certainly have the imagination to understand how someone is feeling in a real life situation.

As Proust said:
"The real voyage of discovery consists of not 
in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes."

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