I picked up my new glasses today with my new prescription in them and while everything looks exceptionally big, clear, and close, it is also highly disorienting. Apparently, improving your vision makes the world a confusing place.
I think this might be a decent metaphor for a more generalized point about perspective. Many authors have played around with the implications of having a character who is far or near sighted and what this says about their ability to “see” their world. Are they near-sighted? Their missing the “big picture.” Far-sighted? No attention to detail. We get super comfortable with not seeing correctly. That is, we get used to our skewed perspectives. For us, it is normal. What I hear less about is the fact that once we get a handle on how things could look with some corrective assistance, we are flummoxed. Thus, correcting our vision is confusing. Suddenly, we see. But epiphanies are disorienting.
Walking out of the eyeglass shop, I took an enormous step off the curb and stumbled out toward my car. If I move my head or eyes briskly, I experience a drunken sensation that is as bewildering as it is exhilarating. Did they make my glasses wrong? Possible. But this is also how I felt when I first got the last pair. So, you know, probably not the problem. Probably the adjustment needed is on my end.
In the bigger sense, it seems like people experience this kind of confusion when they start to reevaluate how they “see” others, maybe because of race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. Those are common issues for people. They start to realize that their ideas were unfair to a given demographic. Maybe after realizing that a child is gay or gender nonconforming, a parent starts to reconsider thoughts about what it means to be gay, trans, etc. The parent starts to understand that their previous notions about the LGBTQ community do not seem to apply to their child. Of course, not every parent takes the time to reconsider old prejudices, but it happens. Many people start to recognize the ordinariness of the person, seeing them as an individual, not a political agenda. They start to see the genuineness of their child’s experience.
However, I would suggest that we might need to explore those around us for other, smaller reasons too. We perceive such small parts of the people that surround us. Hopefully, we grow deeper connections and understandings with our partners, best friends, and others we are close to–but what about the rest of the people we regularly interpret. Perhaps it isn’t necessary to amass knowledge about the barista that regularly waits on us, but at least we can refrain from assuming we know anything about this individual. Sure, they seem upbeat and outgoing. That might just be them performing well at their job. Maybe your doctor seems super serious, but at night she is laughing with a bunch of her buddies, drinking a few beers and playing Cards Against Humanity. Who knows? The point is, you don’t. And that’s fine. The problem is in the assumptions. Know that you don’t know. Understand that your view is partial, obscured by circumstances, etc.
I often have the urge with my closest loved ones to know them completely. It’s an impossible, idealist, romantic notion. I will know and understand their totality. I will not reduce them to my ability to perceive and understand. It’s never going to happen because that’s not realistic, but I keep grasping for it. I still want it. And wanting it motivates me to open my mind and listen, to keep trying, and to love them completely despite my own limitations.