Quote from Hecktic Travel's post 'The Way We See The World' - read here
I’ve written in the past about what I love and hate about being an urban planner. If you like, you can read about it here. I’ve also been thinking about why I write, particularly as I am off to a blogging workshop next week and want to make the most out of it.
Although it’s not always the topic of my blog posts, one of the main reasons I write is to turn what can sometimes be a frustrating career into something more positive. I write to work out how make the world around us interesting to others, and to see whether I can spark an interest in those reading this to think differently about their local neighbourhood and their bigger city or regional context. And to do that, I need to recognise the importance of the perspectives that everyone brings to any issue.
The eyes have it
When I was very young, I had problems with my eyes. I had a condition called ‘exotropia’, which basically is the opposite of being crossed eyed. You probably wouldn’t have noticed it when when looking at me, however it made it really difficult for me to bring images into focus, particularly when they were closer to me, and that creates a lot of challenges with coordination, reading and so on.
My parents and I spent several months doing my eye exercises to see if we could strengthen the right muscles naturally. This was not much fun − I found my eyes got tired and watery really quickly and I became angry that I had to do these exercises (I remember a particularly bad evening where, in a bad temper, I’d snatched the pencil I was supposed to be focusing on, and somehow stabbed myself in the eye with it. Tears for everyone, although it wasn’t too bad – slight bloodshot eye for a few days).
After that, it was decided I would need surgery to correct it. So, as a six year old, I had some eye muscles tightened and some loosened (probably not the correct terminology) and, after a night spent in hospital, returned home with my eyes almost aligned (with scope for the last correction to happen naturally – avoiding going too far and making me cross eyed was the aim). And everything is good now, except when I’m tired when I read with one eye closed.
This experience made me wonder how different people see things – and whether we in fact see the same thing, or interpreted the same thing. I was always interested in colours and words and whether people saw or interpreted them the way I did. For instance, discovering people saw colour differently was an eye opener (in more ways than one). This explained a lot, I thought, about why some people chose to wear clothes I personally wouldn’t have – and equally why they were not always as enthusiastic about my choices. We see things differently.
We see the world in many different ways
It’s not only what we see, of course, that helps us make sense of the world (or not). It’s how we interpret what we see − what context we bring to it – and how what we see is presented *. And we bring our other senses to bear too. We absorb what we hear – what’s said and left unsaid – what we feel, what reaction we receive, and so much more.
And so does everyone else we interact with.
So if we think there is only one way to view things – that things, experiences, events, are always black or white, we are kidding ourselves. In a lot of cases, the world is grey – or multicoloured. It’s interesting, but it’s complex. Scrub that – it’s interesting, in part BECAUSE it’s complex.
The world is not flat
We planners love simple drawings – plans, or spatial representations of the connections between places or activities or different groups of people (grouped into categories), shown in flow charts. And we come up with nice diagrams showing how the world will work. Except people don’t always decide to conform to our plans – and, in fact, sometimes they don’t even support them (which can be frustrating because – you know – we’re the experts and so EVERYONE should agree with the propositions we put forward!).
Annoying though it can be at times (when we’ve been working on something for SO LONG and it’s abandoned for reasons we don’t agree with, for instance), we do need to accept that we don’t all share the same views on everything. And that’s why it’s so important to recognise different perspectives on right and wrong, on what’s important, on the way we express issues that matter. It’s easy to react against someone else’s perspective.
What if we took the time to think about the reasons behind another person’s perspective? By looking from their point of view, we might we might express or show things differently, or maybe reach a middle ground. Even if we don’t – we might still disagree – we might avoid the antagonism that can be such a feature of urban planning.
The role of story and seeing the world from other people’s perspective
I heard Maxine Benata Clarke, a writer who gave the key note address at this year’s Melbourne Writer’s Festival, interviewed by Fran Kelly last week (you can listen here – it was a good interview). One of the things she said really stood out to me:
‘For me, story is the start of all empathy … when we read things to our kids …we’re teaching them to empathise, to imagine the other, to put themselves in the shoes of that character … it’s the way we show them the world.’
Empathy is something I believe we can never have enough of, and it is something we can always try to spread further. Stories to improve understanding is therefore so important.
Written or spoken word is one way of telling a story. Illustrating – by whatever media – is another Observing the way another person acts, thinking about some of the possibly reasons for their actions, and trying to really listen to what they say, and what sits behind what they say, is yet another.
Our environment has such an impact on our lives in so many ways, and decisions are constantly being made which change it. These decisions are being made by people, with a range of views, and as a result of a range of influences. We can all be influencers, for the things that matter to us. But sometimes we don’t see that – we haven’t seen things from that perspective.
Writing to make things clearer, to share thoughts and information, and to hear different viewpoints in response, is one of the reasons that I write this blog. If I can have an influence on how people understand their impact, and value their surrounds, I’ll feel I’m succeeding. And so I’ll continue to look for the stories, and the perspectives, that are important in understanding how our urban world is shaped. And I’ll continue to share them.
If you are a blogger or writer – or an artist of a different kind – what motivates you?
Or – if you are a reader (or both), what do you find appeals to you in what you read?