essays by shé

Essay #33: perspective

“What your father sees and hears is not what you see and hear.” –Terry Pratchett, Mort

And vice versa. Consider the physical perspective: Dad is taller, so his eye-level is higher. We see different berries on the bush. Wheelchair-user Nancy Mairs wrote Waist-High in the World, which explores this very thing.

Experience also molds perspective, which molds further experience. My island friend hated to drive in L.A. She’d end up in the valley instead of Beverly Hills because she didn’t understand the freeway system. “In Hawai’i, every road leads to the ocean,” she said. “You can’t get lost.”

When I expect you to see what I see, or hear what I hear, I am often surprised. Even relying on a common language could be a mistake. If I think your first language is not English, as mine is, I don’t expect you to understand me immediately. I communicate more carefully and patiently. But if I think we share a language, I expect you to understand me instantly.

“What part of Please pass the salt don’t you understand?”

I think I’m being clear and direct, but there are many reasons you might not get me. Maybe there’s no salt to pass. Or maybe salt is bad for you, and thus, you think, for me. Maybe the radio is on or your hearing aid is off or someone you adore just walked into the room. Maybe I spoke too quickly or softly.

It’s amazing we understand each other at all. And complex ideas – how do we get those across? Is my blue the same hue as yours? Do hot and cold feel the same to our different bodies?

Yet another reason to keep speaking up and out. What has kept me from doing so before is believing that my perspective is not important. But who decides value or worth?

Martha Graham told choreographer Agnes de Mille, “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work.”

Who am I to disagree with Martha Graham? My job is to communicate the view from here. You cannot see it through my eyes, but I can try to describe it to you.




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