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Sunday, June 10, 2007

A Valid Perspective

If we want to strengthen the positive aspects in our lives, we need to cleanse ourselves of the discrimination database we have set up over the years and neutralise our state of mind.

Before we can aim for this state of neutrality, we need to change the way we perceive things. In order to get a valid perspective of our world, we must balance who we are and what we believe with a more open outlook, and not allow our own prejudices to limit the way we view things.

Imagine our belief systems as a largely benevolent bureaucratic force, which attempts to control the myriad cultures of which our world is composed in order to make sense of things. In other words, we try to understand the world not by seeing things as they really are, but by seeing them as we are. But if we can't see past our own discriminations, then we won't be able to see clearly at all.

The Ingredients to Vision

Our eyes are the receptacle that helps us to see, but we don't register what we see with our eyes alone. We label and categorise things according to the way we've been conditioned through our cultural and educational make-up.

In a post last February I had put forward the notion that minorities in a nation are like a window through to that nation, to allow outsiders to look in. This is why I suggested that people should take the opportunity to look at their country through the eyes of their minorities. It gives a person a whole new perspective.

If we extend that metaphor to each perception we hold, then we will have come some way to making our humanity more 3D, too.

The 1981 war movie Das Boot is a good example of being open to different perspectives. Most war films are made from the perspective of the victor, or at least tell an inspirational tale. Few depict only futile effort and inevitable defeat. However, this story of German Second World War soldiers makes the viewer realise that some of the "enemy" were real people with hopes, fears and frustrations, caught up in a war they didn't understand. By seeing through their eyes, even if in a theatrical fashion, we realise that it's war itself that's the enemy. As we humanise the enemy, so too, do we become more aware of our own humanity.

With this new perspective, arguably it is difficult to kill that which we see similar to ourselves. In the same vein, it is also difficult to hate that which we can empathise with and understand. So, by giving our perspective this validity, we are already defusing the negativity in our lives.

Question Perception

We should always question how we perceive things. A good way of questioning our perceptions is by playing a game I call "What We See". It's a mental task I use when I sometimes suspect my own view may colour my approach to a subject. I close my eyes and try to conjure up a mental image of what that subject means to me.

The images that come up can sometimes surprise. As an example, I'm going to play the game here. You don't have to play along to understand what I'm trying to convey, but please do so if you want to.

The "What We See" Game

Close your eyes and try to imagine a picture of a Turkish woman. What do you see? Do you see a representation similar to one of the three below? Now ask yourself why you saw that particular image. Did close contact with a Turkish friend make you envisage a likeness to her, or has your distance from anything Turkish possibly distorted your view?

Click here for the images »
By Izzet Keribar; Turkish lady at Grand Bazaar in IstanbulBy Murat Duzyol; 5th Istanbul Bianel festival in Istanbul 2006Girl with tattoo
Image 1: Turkish lady at Grand Bazaar in Istanbul © Izzet Keribar;
Image 2: Europe's image of Turkey (Exhibited at the 5th Istanbul Bianel festival in Istanbul 2006) © Murat Düzyol;
Image 3: Girl with tattoo © Stock Photos

Let's try again. Close your eyes and imagine some Turkish scenery. Was your mental image similar to the picture below. If not, why do you think that is? Have you ever been to Turkey, or have you been to more than just one small part of the country?

Click here for the image »
By Murat Duzyol; Anzer Valley in Rize, Turkey
Image: Anzer Valley in Rize, Black Sea region of Turkey © Murat Düzyol

Here's a few more: Imagine an image for a Turkish hamam (steam bath), something that represents Turkish nationalism and a Turkish pastime. Again compare your image to the images below. What reasons can you give to explain the differences?

Click here for the images »
A Turkish hamamWorkmen put the finishing touches on a giant Turkish flag painted on stones on a hillside in Kirikkale, Turkey, on Friday Oct 27By Ugur Sarak; Stamp collecting: some old Turkish Stamps
Image 1: A Turkish Hamam © Stock Photos;
Image 2: Workmen put the finishing touches on a giant Turkish flag painted on stones on a hillside in Kirikkale, Turkey, on Friday Oct 27, 2006 © MSN Images;
Image 3: Stamp collecting: some old Turkish Stamps © Uğur Sarak

Note that I have purposely chosen images that will force us to question any standard stereotypes we may have, and to make the point that the windows we look at the world with should be wide open. We shouldn't have the curtains drawn across our view. Only then can we better challenge what we see, and start to see the lines we draw between truth and perception.

Thus when we begin to look with a valid perspective, we'll be ready to combat our own prejudices and look again with an open and cleansed heart.

My Life Handbook: Epilogue: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

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