I have been doing this Photo Inspiration Challenge with Angie McMonigal Photography for more than two years now, and if there is one thing that our collaboration has reinforced week after week (aside from the fact that Angie is an amazing photographer, of course), it is the fact that there are many different ways to see something, that it’s all a matter of perspective.
Take the photo above, for instance. What do you see? Maybe you see a cross or the letter T. Maybe you see contrasting color patterns, shadows of light and dark. Maybe you see bricks and mortar or a specimen of fine architecture. Or maybe you see something else entirely, something that only your mind and your eyes can see.
What we see and how we view something all boils down to the framework of our perspective. And because our perspectives are shaped by a number of things – our experiences, upbringing, family, social circles, DNA, internal predispositions, character traits, and any number of other factors – can any two viewpoints ever really be alike? As the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “There are no facts, only interpretations.”
Or put another way, “One person’s craziness is another person’s reality.”
Yet there is a natural tendency, I suppose, to think that someone else’s “crazy” is just that – crazy. To label perspectives, opinions, and ways of life that are different from our own as wrong or less valid. We get defensive, we argue, we shut down. We make assumptions and rely on stereotypes if someone thinks differently than us, fearing that this difference of opinion somehow calls into doubt the validity of our own thoughts and choices.
Or maybe it’s just me.
Because I’ll be honest, I don’t always have an easy time dealing with differences of opinion. My natural response is often to put on my lawyer hat and debate, to jump in with my list of arguments as to why that is wrong and this is right. Or I might make illogical and unfounded jumps from point A to point B, relying on any number of over-generalizations. Or I might slip under my cape of self-doubt and question my own opinions.
But what I am learning is that there is space for all of these differences, that there is space for these diverse opinions and perspectives and beliefs, and that the differences don’t necessarily need to call into doubt the validity of other perspectives.
I am learning to welcome different perspectives with curiosity and a desire to learn, instead of bristling at the discomfort that is undoubtedly involved with that process. I am learning that I can still love and respect people with different perspectives than my own, that I can hold space open for those differences.
I am learning that there is space for it all.
Well, most of the time.
Because what about those ugly and irrational perspectives that are impossible to welcome, that are impossible to look at with curiosity? What about those abhorrent and hateful perspectives that manifest themselves with violence and discrimination, making it impossible to come up with some kind of justification, impossible to hold open space for them?
For instance, a couple of weeks ago, a group of anti-abortion protesters stormed into a New Orleans Unitarian Universalist church during a worship service, harassing and verbally assaulting the congregants. As a Unitarian Universalist myself, the thought of this happening in my own church – or anyone’s church, for that matter – filled me with sadness, fear, and a kind of blind, unadulterated, body-shaking, heart-racing, fist-pounding rage.
There is no possible justification for their actions, I thought. Their actions were disrespectful, unjustified, unfair, and downright mean. And my first thought was, I absolutely cannot and should not and will not create a space for these kind of hate-filled actions, regardless of the perspective.
But while there may not be justification for the protesters’ actions and, while I don’t believe that we should ever make space for hate or accept violence as an answer, I do believe that if we are ever going to change hearts and minds, if we are ever going to make the world a more peaceful place, then we need to at least consider other perspectives, we need to at least consider the reasons for viewpoints other than our own.
Because as misguided and hate-filled and incendiary as I believe the protesters’ perspectives to be, if I don’t at least try to move past my anger toward them and contemplate peace-filled ways to overcome their hate-filled actions, if I don’t at least try to consider why they might think and act this way, then can I ever really be part of the solution? Or will I just remain a part of the problem, continuing to perpetuate a cycle of ignorance, anger, and disrespect?
Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that we need to justify ignorance and hate. I am not saying that we need to consider other perspectives in a way that accepts violence or discrimination. I am not saying that sometimes opinions and viewpoints aren’t so far out of the realm of reason that the only consideration we are able to give them is an awareness that they exist.
But what I am saying is this: Perspective is everything. Everything. Whether we disagree about politics or religion, parenting or marriage, education or money, where to live or what to eat, I think that we could all use a healthy dose of Atticus Fitch and remember that “you never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
There is space for differences – of opinion, perspective, beliefs, and ways of life. And even when the differences seem so unreasonable, so strange, so wrong, even then there is still space for…something.
There is space for dialogue.
There is space for consideration and respect.
There is space for love, and there space for hope.
Sure, sometimes nearly impossible to find that space, but it is there.
We just need to keep a really big and really wide perspective to find it.
This post is part of the weekly Photo Inspiration Challenge with Angie McMonigal Photography – she send me a photo, I write a post inspired the photo. Make sure to visit her website or Facebook page. Her work is both stunning and inspirational.