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What can two simple exercises tell us about the value of perspective?

Stereo pair 3d example

First Exercise:

View the aerial photo above in 3D by crossing your eyes slightly until a third white dot appears between the two. The center image that forms will be in 3D! (Don’t worry if you can’t get it to work. My husband has never been able to get these hidden images to cooperate.)

Another quick little experiment:

Just for a moment, close your left eye.

Look around with only your right eye, and see how things look different.

At first, nothing much seems to have changed. Objects in your surroundings still have the same shape, color, and location. Although you can’t see quite as much on your left without turning your head, the image that you see out of your right eye looks remarkably similar to what you saw with both eyes.

If you get up and try to walk around, however, you will soon notice that you are having to try a lot harder to coordinate your movements. Throw a small ball or an ink pen high in the air and try to catch it. You might still manage to catch it, but you weren’t as confidant that you would be successful, were you?

After looking through just your right eye for a while, it strikes you that the image you see with one eye could be perfectly replicated by any flat television screen or photograph. It looks correct, but it is missing information that would more accurately depict your surroundings.

What you see lacks depth. Because it is, essentially, a less accurate picture of the reality you are experiencing, it is easier to make missteps, harder to keep balance, more difficult to judge where you are exactly and where other things are in relation to each other.

Open your eye again. Isn’t that a relief?!

Yes, but what is the point?

These little experiments illustrate for me the paramount importance of striving for a well-developed sense of perspective throughout ones life. They demonstrate the value of putting together what you learn from various viewpoints, to develop a more realistic and accurate understanding of what is going on around you. This is one of my primary goals in facilitating my children’s learning.

Think about it for a moment. What do children and teenagers often lack that causes adults to cringe at the decisions they make? Some would say that they lack experience, and this is certainly true, but what does experience do for us? It creates a context, a broader, more accurate perspective from which to base our future decisions.

Teenagers tend to feel invincible because they haven’t yet developed the perspective to know how vulnerable they are, and how important the decisions are that they will make. They don’t naturally comprehend the concerns of the elderly or even the middle-aged, because they haven’t yet lived enough years to realize just how quickly time goes by, how quickly lives can change based on a few careless moments. It is as though they are going through life with one eye shut; then at some point (if they live long enough), that other eye begins to open.

The eye analogy is, of course, a gross simplification of the whole process. It would be more accurate to imagine that we have thousands of eyes, and that we begin life looking through just a few. As we learn, both from our studies of the ideas of others and our own experiences, we open more and more eyes. Our ability to judge where we are, to discern how things relate to one another, where they fit, and how they apply to our lives, gradually begins to sharpen, to focus, to come closer to understanding how things really work.

That’s not to say, of course, that all eyes have equally good vision – no doubt, many lenses will be distorted or misleading. All the more reason to seek to see through as many eyes as you can! Through learning and experience we can develop a picture that has a good chance of being accurate.

This is why I find it important to expose our children to world history, great art, music, and stories of cultures around the globe. While I do not want to dump the weight of the world on them at a young age (quite the opposite!), I do want them to have the opportunity to begin to realize that there is a whole lot of world out there beyond our own limited experiences in North Carolina. That in fact, the world does not revolve around our little townhouse. That the experiences that they are privileged to enjoy as modern-day middle class Americans are not the experiences that others around the world and throughout history have encountered.

Next month, my church will be hosting their annual Hunger Banquet. At this event, each diner will be randomly given a ticket assigning them to a particular economic level. The tickets are distributed proportionately to the actual global distribution of food. A certain percentage will receive a gourmet meal. A larger percentage will receive a simple but adequate meal of beans and rice. A still larger percentage will stand in line to get a small ration of food. This exercise seems like an effective way to adjust our children’s (and our own) perspective of how the rest of the world experiences eating, and I am looking forward to participating.

An example from my (homeschooled) childhood

The single most formative intellectual experience I can remember from my own childhood was reading a series of children’s biographies of famous Americans when I was about 11 or 12 years old. I first read the exciting story of Chief Crazy Horse, following his adventures as he grew from a young boy named Curly to a great leader of his people. I was distraught to read of the persecution of the natives at the hands of American soldiers, and by the time I finished the book I was quite loathe to read the next volume, about General George Armstrong Custer. I actually remember putting it off for quite a while, but one day, when I was out of other good reading material, I decided to give it a chance.

Imagine my surprise to discover that General Custer, too, was once a little boy with hopes and dreams of his own. He, like Crazy Horse, was a real (imperfect) person, and I was unexpectedly saddened when the book concluded with his death at the hands of Crazy Horse’s warriors in the Battle of Little Big Horn. The whole episode was not as simple as I had imagined it to be through my limited previous perspective.

Ever since I had the experience of reading those books, I have been struck by the desire to understand why people do the things that they do, how they come to believe the things that they come to believe, and how their perspective influences their decisions. I have found it necessary to respect even the people with whom I disagree, because I know that I would probably think differently myself if I’d had their experiences and lived their lives.

I have also been struck by how often I continue to be tempted to willfully shut one eye, in order to make things simpler, to make things fit what I thought I had figured out, despite knowing how that behavior distorts my perception of the very complex, rich, reality that we all share.

What do you think?

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3 Comments, Comment or Ping

  1. Excellent post! Perspective is SO important in life. And, as you mentioned, it’s one of those things we can only gain with time and experience. I sure needed this reminder, as I seem to think my kids, at 14 and 13, should be able to see things from MY perspective. Which they rarely do. But they don’t have the additional 30+ years here on earth that I do.

    Thanks again! :-)

  2. Interesting post – I enjoyed it. I know my perspective has changed a lot with my experiences.
    best wishes, Julie.

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