Thursday, 28 October 2010

Consciousness of blinders (and resulting blunders)

My regulars (assuming such exist) will be aware that one of my pursuits is reviewing books, pre-publication, for Amazon. Handing One Another Along by Robert Coles surely was one of the most thought-provoking books I've reviewed recently. I'll not reproduce my reflections here (those interested can see the review at the Amazon site), but I was spurred, by some of Dr Coles' highly accurate observations, to reflect on how we often do not realise the extent to which we 'fail to hear' those around us because of pre-conceived ideas. These often are so much a part of us that we do not even see their 'editing and censoring' qualities when we truly are trying to understand others' expressions and viewpoints.

Dr Coles book is based on moral understanding through reflecting on others' stories. Much of what is contained in the book is either references to others' writings or to interviews in relation to his own research, for example, societal and historical aspects of such eras as that of the US civil rights movement. A humanist I can well understand, but, since he is also a psychiatrist, he has complications beyond what most of us would face (though he admits this with rare humility, a trait I have not noticed as being the hallmark of those in the medical profession.) Coles mentions how, when he saw civil rights demonstrators in dangerous situations, straight off he was assuming they were 'in denial.' When they explained how incidents in their youth spurred their later action, he assumed that they were speaking anecdotally to refuse to face the current reality. (I know nothing of the social sciences, of course - and I've no regret for that.)

Further, in referring to literature, he makes the very apt point that great writers, when they are writing non-fiction where their usual genres are novels, often fall into a mistake. For all the strong truth of theme, characterisation, and the like which are the hallmark of any good fiction, one used to creating characters, therefore knowing them as one can never know another, can illustrate motives, or describe a facial expression and the underlying experiences or emotions it expresses. Observing another 'in person,' and assuming one knows what is behind his expression, may be far off the mark.

I, of course, would be utterly hopeless in realms closer than the philosophical or literary. :) I have studied (and sometimes witnessed!) a huge scope of human strengths and weaknesses, but remain a total innocent about the world. I'd undoubtedly have Jack the Ripper in to tea were he to convince me he was on verge of conversion. I can be witty or even bawdy, irreverent, cynical, and the lot - but, deep down, I think most of the world is seeking some sort of mystical union with the divine, 24/7.

Yet one of the frustrations in my own life is that, though I'm a private sort and not likely to tell my life story to anyone offhand, it is next to impossible to explain one's own situation if another already is inclined to 'box' people based on what is conventional. (If I recognise convention, I'm apt to scoff at this.) Whatever my weaknesses, I am not deficient in verbal or written expression, but I've had many a situation of explaining matters in detail and having a totally different version created from what I supposedly said (and never would!)

We cut off others the moment we think they have to fit stereotypes. Worse, we can assume (as I would at times - though fortunately I am not in circulation much, and do not have the discernment to ever seek to guide anyone!) that others see things as we do. Last but by no means least, in the religious realm, we can hear 'agendas' so many times that we aren't even conscious of them any longer.

Here's a silly example. I well remember when two friends of mine, both young, unmarried women, attended a social group at their church, intended for single people in their age group. They naturally were hoping this could be an opportunity to meet some nice guys, and I'm sure they were not alone in this goal. Little did they know that, in their diocese at that time, there was all sorts of talk about 'neglecting those in single life,' and recognising it as a 'calling.' At the first meeting, the religious Sister who greeted the group went on about 'single life as vocation,' assuming they felt left out because of the current emphasis on family. (She probably heard this at a 'workshop.') I'm comforted that someone out there is even dumber than I am, because the last thing on the attendees minds, I'm sure, was pursuing 'single life as vocation.'

We cannot help seeing things from a particular perspective - it's much a part of our individual natures. Let's just be sure we are aware of this. Assuming "I know how you feel," or that "all women think this way, and I know how you feel just because we are of the same gender," or that whatever we heard at the latest 'workshop' (or whatever the 21st century counterpart of that venerable institution exists at the moment) is everyone's first priority, can cut off far more communication than it facilitates.

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