Reality itself is infinitely more complex than one's ground-level perspective of it. Yes, I confess my view of reality is that of Anglican physicist Ian Barbour's Critical Realism: Reality concretely is; has its own independent existence despite our slanted and skewed views of it; and feels no need to bend or twist itself to fit our expectations or definition of it.
Steinbeck's "Cannery Row" begins with a gripping opening description of Monterey's seedy Cannery Row. He likens it to a diorama unable to be seen in full but only through narrow slits of windows, each permitting only a slanted view of the few objects visible through it. One takes from that narrow view the misapprehension that what is seen is the whole of things, and that is that. The world is how I see it to be. Other views through other slits reveal other objects and other rooms, and from those multiple other views come multiple other impressions and interpretations of Cannery Row. He describes the Row through the eyes of a Madam, her prostitutes, the cannery workers, the fishermen, the Professor, and others pertinent to the story.
Many characters, many perspectives, no one view of the whole.
No matter how hard we try, not one of us can obtain a view of the whole. We have only our personal experiences with which to patch together a collage of living snapshots. The collage is the whole for each of us and reflects only our individual experiences summed together and seen writ large. Others' experiences are arranged into their collages which are the whole for each and every one of them. And it is precisely here when we try to describe and discuss what's real where dialogue breaks down. And it is precisely here that we need to practice careful nonjudgmental listening if we're going to achieve some semblance of understanding of another.
We need to understand that as we think about our personal histories, we cherry pick from among all snapshots those we think are the most important ones, the ones we think, often wrongly, that shaped us into being the person we have become and, for good or bad, have shaped the world in which we live. Everyone cherry picks from his own collage of snapshots, and dialogue begins when we start talking about and sharing those snapshots.
In our shrinking world, as other ways of thinking and being crowd upon us, we have three choices: condemn the other as wrong and in need of straightening out; seek to expand ourselves to understand the other; take flight into sanctuaries of the like-minded. As we look around, we find all three.
The first is the conceit of the provincial mind proselytizing for his way of being above all others. Doesn't work, and makes enemies. The third is the conceit of the rigid who seek only to fellowship with his mental clone. Doesn't work for long because no one has the perfect mental twin with whom they match up in all aspects of life. Eventually differences crop up and conflicts and splits occur. Search for new twin begins, and begins again, and again, and again. Split after split. That's wearisome and ends in cynicism.
So what's the best answer? How 'bout expanding ourselves to understand the world of the other. We don't have to totally agree with it, but in seeking to understand we might find commonalities of values and activities upon which to build enough of a relationship to interact on not just friendly terms, but on terms beneficial to all.
And those expanding horizons are like one by one seeing through each of the slits in turn in Steinbeck's diorama. Every new view takes us to higher levels and more complete understandings of the whole. As our understandings increase our biases and prejudices recede. Moving from one slit to the next helps us get to know how much we don't yet understand about the whole, and how much more we yet need to know to become well-informed members of the family of man. And it informs us how responsibly to conduct ourselves in relationship with the other members of our extended human family. Isn't that the goal we should be striving for?
Thanks to emeritus California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynosa and his quiet, gently, humbly, forceful life in the law, and in the "world tour" he gave us via Cal State Bakersfield's Kegley Institute of Ethics, we were blessed last Thursday evening to be given yet another view through yet another window on the world: his -- as a Mexican-American child, native born in America yet expelled and exiled to Mexico with his family during the depression when it was argued (wrongly) that Mexicans were grabbing jobs better made available to Anglo's.
Through his activities in the law at every level from field lawyer to Supreme Court justice, the lives led by field workers are now better than the lives his family led when traveling with the harvests up and down the Central Valley. But not better enough. Work remains, it was made clear.
We are all made bigger and better when "other glimpses through other slots" are made available to us by those living with and among us, but of whose stories we know little or nothing. We should all hope that these other stories never stop coming to our ears with the effect of expanding our limited understandings of the world and all that's in it.
Thank you Kegley, and thank you Justice Reynosa -- for your efforts in the law and for your story humbly lived and humbly told. We are all the better for having heard it.
Email contributing columnist Brik McDill, Ph.D. , at firstname.lastname@example.org. His work appears here every third Thursday; the views expressed are his own.