A Paradox of Perspective

This past weekend was the first time in a few weeks I was able to walk to the local park.  As usual, I went with a book and a journal.  However, I ended up not doing much reading or writing and spent more time just looking around as I sat on a bench near the fountain.  There were a group of Middle Eastern women and their children sitting on some blankets and drinking tea nearby.  Throughout the 30-45 minutes I sat there, a steady mix of whites, blacks, Latinos, old and young people, gay and straight couples, all walked by.  While noticing this mix of people, I also thought of the nearby surrounding area where I grew up: rural, conservative, and mostly white.  As I dwelt on this it reminded me of one of my favorite aspects of living in the Champaign-Urbana area.  Thanks to its size and status as the home of Illinois’ flagship university, it has a diverse population.  Yet it is too small to have the level of segregation that is seen in larger cities.  Meanwhile, just a few miles outside of the city limits are conservative rural communities.  There is so much diversity of race, culture, and political thought all within a 25-mile radius.

To me, this is a wonderful situation.  Almost every interaction here is an opportunity to learn and grow, assuming we are willing to consider different perspectives in good faith.  It does not mean we have to change our mind, or assume superiority or inferiority, or come together and sing kumbaya.  It simply means that after having an interaction with someone with a different perspective, you give them the benefit of the doubt that they are a well-meaning human with their own experiences that has shaped their point of view.  Then you can say, “I can see why you think that.”

This concept of “walking a mile in another man’s shoes” and looking at things from a different perspective is one of the most fundamental skills I’ve tried to develop in myself, and tried to instill when I was teaching government class.

As such, I fell like I have developed this skill of being able to see and give credence to both sides of almost every issue.  While I have my own strongly held beliefs and opinions, I can understand why well-meaning people might think differently.  That is simply part of being unique humans.

But, as much as I pride myself on seeing things from different perspectives, somewhat paradoxically there is one perspective I can never understand… close-mindedness.  By consistently trying to see things from different points of view, I cannot take on the mindset of someone who rejects other viewpoints out of hand.  The paradox could also be considered in this manner: I am close-minded to close-mindedness.  I’m not sure how to work around that.

I don’t understand someone that automatically assumes their way of life and culture is superior to all others, without bothering to fully learn about other cultures.

I don’t understand how someone can stay in their echo chamber and not have any degree of humility that they might be wrong or any curiosity as to why someone else might think differently.

When I hear people dismiss liberals as hating America and wanting free handouts, instead of trying to understand their perspective of wanting government to make amends for social injustices and providing for the most vulnerable; I don’t get that dismissive mindset.

When I hear people dismiss conservatives as backwards and selfish, instead of understanding the background of likely coming from a culture that values tradition and self-reliance; I don’t get that dismissive mindset.

Pretty much every issue you can think of, social spending, abortion, racial justice, law enforcement, taxation, health care, whatever is extremely complicated and has a lot of nuance.  As such, there are multiple perspectives that need to be considered and approached with respect and common purpose of improvement.

We need to get away from the arrogance that our viewpoint is indisputable and anyone that disagrees is either evil or stupid.

If your positions on most issues are beyond reproach and you are absolutely certain of their infallibility, why are you even concerning yourself with our minor political squabbles?  After all, since you are obviously God, shouldn’t you be busy with the whole universe?  At least that would explain my paradox, because I cannot begin to understand the perspective of God.  But that’s just me.