The Useless Art of Blindness – how to improve relations in our lives
I am a dog, with a doggy brain. It is nowhere near as big or brilliant as yours. So when you read my thoughts on here, especially those about what people are thinking or feeling, you have to understand that those thoughts were very hard to come by! It’s not like I just happened to understand these things. I had to work super hard to figure them out!
And yet, almost every day, I see a human, blessed with the most amazing brain in creation, proudly choose to remain ignorant about other people. To refuse to see what someone else’s feeling or experience is. And that just makes the hair on my neck stand straight up. What a spoiled bunch some people are!
Where I see this the most, especially lately, is in disagreements. Now of course, people disagree on things all the time. That’s part of what keeps life interesting and fun – arguing about who the best basketball player is or what the best movie was, or even who said what to whom when (a game many married couples play for decades!). But I’m talking about bigger disagreements.
For example, as I’m sure you all know, Egypt had a revolution a couple of years ago, and voted in a president who carried the world’s hopes on his shoulders. Whether it was his fault or because the job was impossible, over time his administration had a lot of problems which angered a lot of people, and eventually the military of the country took over, apparently to prevent another revolution from ruining everything. Now the Egyptian people have some very understandable reasons to argue – Was he too lenient? Was he too harsh? Was he too religious? Should the country have an even more religious leader? Was the military right or wrong to do what they did?
The problem I’m seeing (at least from overseas) is that this isn’t being discussed in a calm, respectful way; people are fighting and dying in the streets over these debates! It’s horrible. And I think that the main reason for all this fighting is that neither side is willing to look at, listen to, and acknowledge the other side’s arguments. They’re just yelling that each other is wrong, and fighting it out.
Well of course, nothing can improve in Egypt until that changes. You can’t build a unified government when no one’s listening to each other. So here’s a wish for improvement there.
But oh I wish it were only there! In my country, the United States, our economy has been hurt for years by the people in our government refusing to act together in our best interests. And just this last week, there’s been lots of fighting about the results of a complicated murder trial. Now I’m not here to pretend my little brain understands much about the details of economics or law. But I can tell just by looking that lots of people are yelling and not listening! Some people are yelling that we need laws to protect people from racism, while others are yelling that individuals have the right to protect themselves. But when I try to tell them that they’re both right, they just hear barking, so they both yell at me to shut up! And that makes me angry – and you know why? Because I’m not being heard!
The problem isn’t that they disagree. The problem is that they’re saying that the other person’s viewpoint has no validity. And unless you believe that the world has been hit by mass insanity, that is completely impossible! Of course the people who disagree with you have a valid belief. Just like the squirrels on my roof have valid reasons to run there, no matter how mad they make me. Everyone has their reasons, and everyone has their arguments. And the only hope anyone can have for any resolution is if both sides try to see the other’s point of view.
And of course this doesn’t only happen in major political conflicts. It happens between individuals every day. Little disagreements blow up in to big fights because neither one will try to see things through the other’s eyes.
So why don’t they try to see each other’s viewpoints? Well, I guess sometimes it’s because they’re too dumb. But I think most of the time, it’s because they believe that seeing it would make them weaker. For example, if I’m arguing with Handsome that I should be allowed half of his ice cream, and he says it might give me indigestion, and I say “Well, that’s probably true, but…” that means I will lose the argument, right?
Well, actually… Wrong!
See, here’s the fuller version. If I’m stubborn, it goes, Me – “You should give me half your ice cream.” Him – “No, it’ll give you indigestion.” Me – “That’s ridiculous! You’re an idiot! You should give me that ice cream!” Him – “No! Go outside, you’re being obnoxious!” And the door’s slammed in my face.
While, if I’m not stubborn, it goes differently: Me – “You should give me half your ice cream.” Him – “No, it’ll give you indigestion.” Me – “Well, that’s probably true, but the joy it gives me will be worth it to me. And I’ll sleep outside tonight in case I get sick at all, so the house won’t get messed up. And you know it’s not good for you to eat all of that fatty sugary treat either, since you want to look good tomorrow night for that date!” And guess what – by listening and acknowledging his viewpoint, I win! And get a full scoop of Black Cherry Swirl… YUMMMM!
You see, it’s not just that acknowledging the other person’s point of view helps the discussion move along logically. It’s also that everyone – dog or human – just hates not being heard! So now let’s imagine that the argument I described above ended with Handsome saying “I know you really want this, and you’re willing to put up with some indigestion; but there’s also chocolate in this ice cream, and chocolate is really bad for dogs, and could even shorten your life, and I love you far too much to take a chance on losing you. So while I know it feels bad tonight, I have to say no, because you mean the world to me.” Well, I might still be hungry, but there’s no way I could be furious or hate him, because I’d feel fully heard. And cared for!
So imagine if some politician on television said something like “We understand those who want a government run more by the laws of the Koran, but we have to find ways of merging those traditional moral views in with the ideals of our new democracy, in order to succeed in the modern world” – that might sound pretty good. Or “We understand the need for Egypt to modernize and work as a healthy democracy, but we also don’t want to lose our traditional values and character, and lose our nation’s soul in so doing.”
Or, closer to home, “I hear your pain at the racism that has never left the American experience, and we want your help to keep finding new ways to fight it and move on, but we want to make sure we don’t give up on the individual rights everyone needs.” Or, “I understand the fear people feel when you think you’re not allowed to protect yourselves, but I need you to understand that we people of color feel that way all the time, and need laws to give us protection from being treated as less than others.” Talk like these might calm some people down. Way down. Because everyone would feel heard. And it wouldn’t weaken their arguments at all. It would strengthen them.
In fact, I think I could argue that the biggest problem in the world today is those who Don’t See. Who are so insistent on believing that they’re right that they refuse to look at how someone else sees the world. Whether about religion, politics, race, justice, or even smaller issues.
Let’s say a couple goes to a party, and the girl talks with a few flirtatious boys, and her boyfriend gets upset. They argue – him saying she was disrespecting him, and her saying he’s trying to keep her from having fun with friends. Well as long as they insist they’re each right, the only place this is going is to BreakUpVille! But if they tried to look at it through each other’s eyes, maybe they could arrive at a compromise (like where, when boys are flirting with her, she invites him over to join the conversation, perhaps?).
It’s a basic rule in life: Try to see the other person’s point of view, and there’s a possible future. Not doing so leads to nowhere. It’s that simple.
Again, I’m not saying you have to agree with anything about that other person’s point of view. You just have to be willing to see it. That’s the place to start a real discussion about what to do with the differences. In fact, it’s the only place a real discussion can start.
About seventy years ago, there was a group that was enormously proud of their ability not to see the points of view of others. They thought they were so much smarter and better than anyone else, that they had no reason to look or listen to others – because others were less than them, and even evil. They believed their power was in their sureness of their superiority. And they took those who weren’t like them, and stuck them in detention camps, and deported them, and murdered millions of them, proud not to look to see how those people saw things. They were so sure they were better than anyone else that they started a war to take over the world, which killed more people than any other war ever. And in the end, do you know what they won? Nothing. They decimated their own country, lost their own power, died horrible deaths or lived in shame for the rest of their lives, and became a name forever of a pathetic evil and failed group.
These arrogant fools, I’m sure you’ve heard of. The world has scorned them ever since for their blindness and cruelty.
They were the Not Sees.