Your Lens Matters

In my experience leaving home gives perspective in a way that staying home never can. Having recently returned from traveling in Spain, I was struck by the difference between the news of violence I’d been absorbing at home about the actions of Catalans to secede from Spain, and my direct experiences in Barcelona and the Catalan area of the Pyrenees.

While in Spain, I thought of the Indian parable of the blind men, who having never come across an elephant before, learn and conceptualize what the elephant is like by touching it. Each blind man feels a different part of the elephant’s body, but only one part, such as the trunk or the tail. They then describe the elephant based on their partial experience and their descriptions are in complete disagreement on what an elephant is.

The moral of the parable is that humans have a tendency to project their partial experiences as the whole truth, and ignore other people’s partial experiences as being truthful at all, instead of considering that each of us may have partial information and be partially right.

Suffice it to say that I what I witnessed in Spain was vastly different from what I’d been hearing while in Boston.  In Spain I observed an expression of differing opinions, but never did I see any violence. We were at two rallies- one in Barcelona, where support was shown for both sides of the issue, and the other in a small town in the Pyrenees, which was a Catalan support rally for their imprisoned Mayor, who is also the Parliamentary leader of the Catalan secession party.

In an effort to share my travel observations I will be writing a multi-part blog series, which will compare and contrast elements that seem to me to be parts of the whole and best seen in juxtaposition, not a vacuum.

This week I will explore US media and news reporting in contrast to my direct experience. Before we left for Barcelona, a number of people expressed concern over our going considering all the violence and political upheaval. However, we weren’t dissuaded and decided to proceed despite my having a lingering reserve of apprehension.

We arrived late at night only to discover that from the balcony of the apartment we’d rented we could see the Sagrada Familia. Amazing as that was, it also meant that we were squarely in the heart of the city, and the reported hotbed of violence. We were there for four days and witnessed no violence. We went to a peaceful demonstration where people were respectful of their opposing views on the secession question. People proudly displayed flags, Catalan and Spanish, and a police presence was evident although simply standing in the background prepared in the event they were needed.

We were amongst the copious amount of tourists exploring the Gothic Quarter, La Rambla and Antoni Gaudi’s art and architecture, as well as students running to and from University classes, locals dancing in the streets, restaurants in full swing, and workers conducting their daily business just as we do here.  Which of course makes me wonder how the U.S. news is reported in Spain? How are the divisions in our country portrayed? What about gun violence and mass killings? What lesions and wounds are reported? How about advances in science, technology and the arts? How often is the focus on societal gains, and how often is it on political dysfunction?

What part of the hypothetical elephant are we touching? What is our takeaway, and how does our perspective impact what we do and say?

Leaving home caused me to return with a different lens. Clearly there is discord here and in Spain, and seemingly wherever humans exist in the world. But there is also compassion and humanity, and people doing what they can to make the world a little better than they found it. If nothing else, no matter the problems we confront, I think we owe it to each other to listen to the parts each of us brings to bear; only then can we hope to have some sense of our wholeness.

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