Thursday, August 20, 2009

coastlines and perspectives


It is best not to argue,
But if you do at all,
Never do so with a fool.
A fool can defeat all.

He does not care for the facts.
He does not know debate.
He’s a stranger to reason.
Logic he can negate.

In the end the fool will win,
His logic is so strong!
Decides what he does not like
And then it must be wrong!

It’s better to keep quiet
When challenged by a fool.
Else, to prove his own wisdom,
He will make you a tool.

It is hence my policy
To not respond to those
Who ask questions not to learn
But to be bellicose.

• Written in abcb, 7-6-7-6 syllabic format.

M C Gupta
25 October 2008

A problem I always had: "Who's the fool?" (fearful subtext: "Is it me?")

Whose demand is unreasonable? Who is selfish--the one requesting, or the one refusing? When is a request a request, and when is it a demand? When is it reasonable to 'expect' something,and when is it not?

It's a peculiar Gestalt--flipping back and forth from seeing the Vase to seeing the Face. Who am I?

Julia wrote a very thought-provoking post at Glow In the Woods last week called "Duty". She had received some implied criticism from a friend. A mutual friend in their group had been making remarks that repeatedly were "hitting my open compound fracture"--the raw wound of the loss of her child. When Julia protested she was later admonished that she should take into consideration the feelings--of the person who'd been hurting her.

It's tempting to oversimplify the question into a 'who's right/who's wrong' frame.

My historical default has been to "I'm wrong". As I began inching toward the possibility that maybe the troubles in my life weren't all due to selfishness (mine)--and if I couldn't see my fault it was because I'd so skillfully rationalized it out of view--I asked Sharon, my counselor, about this. How can I honestly evaluate where entitlement lays? What can guide my choice as to what is reasonable, my own point of view, or someone else's?

Sharon said one guide was which point of view included more perspectives.

I've just begun to read a book called The Secret Teachings of Plants/The Intelligence of the Heart in the Direct Perception of Nature by Stephen Harrod Buhner. I'm on page 25, and can't go further right now as I try to digest a rich concept. The chapter is called "The Nonlinearity of Nature."

In considering a coastline, we see where land emerges from the water. What is below is now manifest above. In mapping land masses, geographers measure this line formed at the intersection point. They calculate distance, and area from this measurement.

Where and what do they measure? As Buhner points out, "When you approach a coastline, what you encounter is a ragged edge, some portions of which protrude farther into thewater, some less. To measure this ragged line,Euclidean geometricians 'round off' the ragged-coastline in order to allow the complexity of a living coastline to fit into Euclidean space so that their model, their way of thinking, will be able to measure it. But always, it is important to remember, this is only an approximation. It is never real."

To get a more true approximation, one must shrink in size in order to enlarge perspective. If one measures a coastline from the road, then much of what's real is 'rounded off'. If one walks the coastline there is a limit to how close one can get, and how closely one can follow the twists and turns of where water and land meet. Buhner suggests taking the perspective of a mouse, in which case the curves and indentations can be more closely followed. Eventually, the mouse becomes too large to follow the real line closely enough, and perhaps an ant's perspective is still more accurate. Perhaps a microbe's. And so on.

For the convenience of measurement, the ragged edges are "smoothed off"--and those edges are important.

I remember reading a book on the theory of Chaos a few years ago. Though I mainly floundered through it, one understanding I took away was that minute differences in initial measurements translate to vast discrepancies the further downstream one moves from the initial starting point. I'm reminded of this in considering possible consequences in 'ignoring' the edges for the sake of convenience.

The 'coastline' of an ant is much longer than the coastline of a mouse, a human walking the shore, a car driving a coastal highway. What I can negotiate in one step may take an ant hours.

My cousin Sheri pulled a Tarot card for her Intuitive Tuesday series a couple weeks ago. In the discussion that followed she used Google Maps as a model: zoomed in (on our lives' moment-to-moments) or zoomed out (a larger context of a Life, our own). I thought of this as I was reading the coastline metaphor in "The Secret Teachings of Plants". I also saw that sometimes there is misunderstanding when two people at different scales meet. We may think we're talking about the same thing, but if I am "zoomed in", and I'm talking to someone who's "zoomed out", what I am referring to may be invisible to them. And what they're referring to may be non-existent to me. Yet we each try to find a frame of reference to fit what we're hearing from the other into the perspective we have in front of us.

Is my focus too narrow? I don't know. Does their perspective ignore too much? I don't know.

I'm thinking perhaps in Julia's case, of her friend's being offended that she, Julia was hurt and naming it, maybe the coastline analogy applies. Julia's coastline is far more ragged than that of her friends', and it's imperative that she walk each step of it; follow each convoluted turn. And, as Buhner says, when approached in this way, the 'length' of a coastline approaches infinity. This is a problem for a system of thought that seeks to impose order, to measure, and therefore arbitrarily chooses what to ignore. (And that choice reveals a bias). Julia's friends have needs too, and they have feelings that friends are invested in taking care for. When tragedy has mutilated the lives of one of our friends, we forget sometimes that while we all seem to be moving from point a to point b in our lives, that our babylost friend is traveling an infinite distance between point a and point b. We make the step without thinking about it. It's a tortured journey for our friend. Perhaps compassionate reason dictates the onus is on us to be generous. After all, if I am backpacking with a friend who is carrying 100 pounds, while I have 20, do I ask her to carry something of mine? It would certainly be cruel for me to 'smooth off' the fact that she is carrying a load 5 times greater than mine--and to expect her to act consistent with that smoothing-off--for my own convenience.

Like a coastline, I am completely intrigued by the implications of this insight. I may need to write some more about this.


Sheri said...

Thanks for mentioning Intuitive Tuesdays.

I loved the depth you gave to the map/Google metaphor and how perspective can depend on how zoomed in you are in comparison to someone else.

I also liked your insights on the details of the coastlines...again perspectives.

It's easy to fall into the perspective of seeing things only one way -- MY way. Not because I think I'm right, but more because I think I see it as it is and you must be seeing the same thing.

It's a good reminder to slow down and put my perspective into a larger scope and realize that others have just as valid perspectives.

Ailey said...

That is a tough one. I like Sharon's response about the point of view that is more likely to contain truth being the one that contains the most perspectives....a challenging question to answer I think, often times. What immediately came to mind with mention of the many perspectives was the debate over Healthcare reform....the same thing that came to mind when I read your opening poem about "the Fool"....

As for your friend, and applying Sharon's idea, I don't know how one analyzes who's point of view contains more perspectives in such a circumstance. I am with you on that one and appreciated both your backpacking and your coastline analogies...I would hope that compassion for the person who is grieving such a heartbreaking loss would win the day....I mean...I'll leave it there as tact has just abandoned me completely.

Lastly--I love reading your writings. Thanks for sharing your thoughtful and heartful perspective on things.

with love.

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