Developing My World View

Perspective is the key to perception. If a poor man steals from a rich king to feed his family, he is a good man. When a rich king works fifty years to earn a fortune that he intends to reinvest in his country and is robbed by a man of all he has earned, the King is a victim. Which one is true? Both. The good guy and bad guy are not clear because perspective determines the reality. 

My friend Colleen and I were walking through the Berlin Holocaust memorial. Colleen wondered if the college kids have full understandings of the gravity of the memorial. I said I didn’t think so, but that I do not think we have full understanding of the gravity either. Full understanding is not possible. Colleen has interviewed a survivor of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen and that conversation deeply changed her perception. So when she walks through this memorial, she empathizes with those who are gone and those who had to watch them die. I imagine that German citizens are reminded of the shame they must feel for this past. I imagine that citizens of other countries that have committed genocide must feel a twinge of shame and guilt. I imagine that Jews feel sorrow for all those they lost. I imagine that other groups of people who have been persecuted and viciously murdered are reminded of not only Nazi Germany but of the experience their culture went through. As an American citizen, I was reminded of the cause we fought for and felt pride my country was on the good side. I was  reminded of all the genocide of slavery and thought about how no group of people are without a bloody past. Then I felt fear, fear for the hatred I see in our country. Fear for the lack of knowledge and understanding that leads to fear, that leads to hate. No one can attend this memorial and understand every perspective of this terrible conflict, but it can give you a new perspective on history and the present.

Later in Paris, my phone was stolen. I put it in my pocket, which is really stupid and I know better. I reported it and headed to a taxi to return to my AirBNB. As we drove away, I started to cry over the loss. Stopped at the red light, I noticed there was a family of five gathered under what looked like a beach towel, trying to sleep on the sidewalk in the rain. They were Syrian refugees. In Paris, there refugees were everywhere, and what made it truly gut wrenching was it wasn't just one or two adults; it was families huddled together begging for anything you could spare. I felt like a materialistic prick as I watched this family from the cab and immediately stopped crying. Perspective. I realized things were fine. I felt guilty about feeling so sad over a stupid phone. When I got back to the AirBNB, I used my iPad to tell my family what had happened. But before I could message them, I saw that 20 people were killed in Orlando in a club shooting. My gut fell, and my urge to rant about my silly problems faded. By the end of the night, we knew that it was more that 20 people. And once again, I had a new perspective.

During the week after the Orlando shooting, the people I met would offer their sympathies to me when they discovered I was American. They sincerely felt for my country and for me as a part of it. The Internet was filled with LGBTQ community members refusing to respond with hate, instead responding with love. Love for people and love for the world that hates them. As the Muslim community was attacked, I saw posts from members of the LGBTQ community standing up for them. I saw the Muslim community responding with wisdom and grace. I saw these two groups that are constantly treated cruelly have the perspective to know to unite in love rather than divide in hate. The world had shown me a beautiful perspective of strength in the face of fear and chaos.

In Senegal, I had the pleasure of being there for the start of Ramadana. Dakar is about 95% Muslim and 5% Christian. When we were at the store, my friend Anna, who lives in Dakar, bought some baskets for her neighbors. The baskets were full of dried milk, cheese, easy things to eat quickly without refrigeration. She explained to me that Christians give gifts to their Muslim neighbors to encourage them during fasting. The Muslim neighbors send down plates of food from the feast after dark to the Christian friends as a kind way to share in their rituals. On Christian holidays, the roles are reversed. This concept blew me away and made me love this community in a way I didn't know was possible. The kindness and understanding and love in honor of difference was remarkable. I gained perspective on what it means to love your neighbor.

As I continued my journey across Europe, I saw rainbow flags everywhere. I have no idea if they were already there or if they were specifically for Orlando. Either way, they showed love and compassion for the loss of American citizens. I read in the papers as I left London that there had been a large rally in the city to support Orlando. In Edinburgh, I passed a large rainbow sign that said, "Edinburgh stands with Orlando." I was struck by how much these people took notice of a country across the pond, and I thought about how little I notice what is happening in parts of the world that don’t affect me. I have such a sheltered perspective on what it means to be a global citizen.

As I attempted to find out more about the world events, I found sadness. I learned about a shooting in Germany, bombings in Istanbul, and bombings in Iraq. The more news I read, the more devastation I saw, and the more I learned. This world seems bad. People kill, politicians lie, and thieves steal cell phones from tourists.

By the time I flew to Amsterdam, I had acquired a new cell phone. As I deboarded the plane, I had so many things to carry that I left my phone in my seat. I remembered the phone when I reached the lobby with a touch of panic, but then a hand touched my shoulder and a man handed me my phone. He ran after me to make sure I got it. This world can be good; there is love from all people for those who die and suffer, there are people who dedicate their lives to making the world a better place, and strangers chase you down to return your cell phone.

So which is it: good or bad? The only answer comes from perspective. There will always be good and bad things. There will always be endless points of views. The negative feelings I have felt over the summer were fleeting, but the feelings of love and support are still with me. I still feel the awe and joy of those moments weeks later. I think knowledge is acquiring as many perspectives as possible and taking them all with me. So how do I acquire new perspectives?

On my last day in Germany, news reached me that two black men in separate incidences had been killed via police brutality. The killings had been video taped, and based on those recordings and witness testimonies, there appears to be no sensible reason for these deaths. I am struck by the feeling of not knowing what to do, say, feel, post. The next morning I woke to find that at a peaceful Black Lives Matter rally cops were shot and killed. My heart sank and fear filled me for my friends I knew would be attending rallies back home.

If Germany has shown me anything, it is that indifference is unacceptable. Throughout Berlin, there are monuments and plaques that are dedicated to this concept. As I watched my newsfeed fill with anger, fear and sorrow, I see a post that speaks directly to white Americans who want to help rid our country of inequality and racism but don't know how. The author said your sorrow and guilt doesn't help, help by having conversations with people, put yourselves in communities and environments that push your comfort levels, but allow you to see the world you are not forced to live in. He is talking about gaining new perspective, and he is right. Because of my experiences that have given me new perspectives, I see the world, I talk to people, ask them questions, and really listen to what they have to say. 

I will never fully understand the world, but I will keep trying. There is too much to see, too many cultures and communities, too many stories to hear, too much diversity. Our world is beautiful. I firmly believe the good outweighs bad because I see individual acts of cruelty met with a thousand acts of kindness. I refuse to allow my perception of the world to turn negative because hate and fear will not win, at least not with me.

FEATURE PHOTO BY STEVEN LEWIS VIA UNSPLASH