What do you see in this photo of apples?
- If you’re hungry, you might see a quick snack.
- If you’re a baker, you might see ingredients for pie.
- If you are an artist, you might pay attention to the intensity of the colors, think about how to reproduce the sheen of gloss with paint.
- If you’re a gardener, you might think of the soil and sun, the season for picking, or the season for pruning.
What we see is tied to our personal experience and view of the world. As a writer, or as an artist, learning different ways of ‘seeing’ is a valuable tool . If I ever feel blocked, or stuck in cliché, questioning my default view opens up a world of complexity.
Challenging our assumptions of our world.
First, we need to identify our assumptions.
Let’s break down this example: “Technological advance = progress. Technology makes the world better.”
I work in the software industry. We’re always being told about the next great innovation that will revolutionize or improve the customer experience. It’s what I’m being sold.
Are there cases where this isn’t true?
People trade in their computers to keep up with technology, and creating tons of electronic waste in the process. E-waste is often shipped to developing countries for processing. How would you view technology if you had to deal with e-waste shipped into your small town from the West?
Companies that rely on computer power use enormous amounts of energy to keep their servers running and cool. What happens in places where energy is scarce? How would you view the demands of technology if you ran the energy department of a country that has to buy electricity from elsewhere?
What about progress?
I watch a lot of the history channel, and I’m always amazed by how much technology people had in the past. Humans have always done the best they could with the resources at hand. People have always been as smart as they are now, though their knowledge base differed. People today can’t always figure out how to reproduce ancient technology. Technology has been gained, and technology has been lost. How would you view technology if you were plunged back in time to ancient Egypt and could watch the pyramids being built?
We are living longer lives thanks to advances in medicine, but also changing our diets and bodies and shifting to a sedentary lifestyle that can also pose complications. Life expectancy has decreased in the USA in the past decade. How would you view progress if you were a doctor?
Traveling can open your eyes, and so can being immersed in a different culture.
I wish that everyone could go on at least one big trip in their lives. There’s nothing more eye opening than ending up in a place where you feel out of your element. It can be stressful to take away the familiar, but also so rewarding to get closer to understanding a different point of view.
Navigating multiple cultures can be like discovering layers of worlds piled up on top of each other, coexisting, but sometimes invisible. The willingness to understand opens up new worlds and sometimes the key to the door can be something as simple as sharing food.
My family has always gathered around food. Births, deaths, weddings, they all revolve around eating. What do you see when a family is gathered around a table? Do you notice if food is heaped onto a table for sharing, or if it’s portioned out plate by plate? Do you see who prepares the food, and who cleans up after? Do people pause to pray before a meal? Is the dining room noisy and chaotic, or quiet and relaxing?
But we don’t always have to go far to learn.
Shifts in culture and attitude can be subtle. In North America alone, there are differences between the culture of the west and the east, the north and the south. It’s in the little things: word choices, slang, accents, expectations about what is rude or polite. And it’s not bad, just different.
Do you see the differences? Do you notice these worlds?
Other points of view to consider:
- Female gaze vs. the male gaze
- Signifier and signified (semiotics)
- Eastern world view vs. Western
- View of the world or world history from a different religious background
- View of the world from someone who has no power
If you’re interested in reading more, I’d recommend the book of essays based on the 1972 BBC series in the same name: “Ways of Seeing” by John Berger.
So let’s get back to those apples. What do you see now?