We look through narrow windows. On the countertop we see the detritus of a long day: eggshells, a drift of flour, crumpled paper, the slithering drip of candlewax. We draw a conclusion; the room is a mess, the life is a mess. We forget the restrictions of our view. Our window doesn’t show us the well-laid table: the golden tower of a soufflé, the gleaming crystal and china, the glowing candles. Someone else peers in through the dining room window; he sees only the feast, none of the labour. He surmises a life of privilege and elegance. Neither view is whole.
I forget this sometimes. I forget that we only see into the lives of others through small windows. Sometimes the other person restricts the view, sometimes we forget to walk around to see if another window is open. I forget that even with the people closest to me, those whom I believe I know best, I am granted only a limited view.
I think that as a society, we’ve been fooled into believing that the window through which we peer represents the entire view. A tabloid photograph, the image of a moment, has come to represent an entire person, as though we could distill a complete and complex life into one frozen millisecond. The thirty second sound-bite purports to give us all the information we need. One sentence becomes emblematic of an entire career. I wonder how much this problem is exacerbated by our constant, yet cursory feed of information. How do text messages, Facebook, Tweets, and blogs influence our views into the rooms of others?
I am an admitted text junkie, have a mild Facebook problem, and obviously I blog. I haven’t found a use for my Twitter account yet. As much as I find these methods of communication compelling and addictive, I wonder about the effect on my relationships. I know firsthand how easy it is to narrow the window to an arrow-slit via text message. I wonder what anyone would conclude about my life by reading my Facebook status – probably that some form of medication is definitely in order. I use these media regularly, and I enjoy their use by others, but I know that I manipulate my windows to suit my needs and I’m sure others do as well. I think the danger lies when we are seduced into believing that the fragment we see is the whole.
The danger is real. For too long now, as a collective, we have been far to willing to be fed the picture. We don’t walk around the house, look for the other view, check to see what’s hiding in the corner. As long as we stay glued to our narrow window, those with designs on power, or interest in manipulating a situation can feed us whatever picture they desire. Look at recent events: senators, entrusted with selection of a Supreme Court Justice, base arguments not upon her record, but upon one sentence in a speech; town hall debates on health care are disrupted by cries of "SOCIALISM!"– insurance companies claim that they are sending “talking points”; senators cleared of any ethics violation are admonished by the Senate for failure to avoid the appearance of misconduct. In high school, I had a history teacher who used to tell us “perception is more important than reality.” Perception has become the all. Even when presented with the reality, people cling to an initial perception. Seriously, are folks still debating President Obama’s citizenship and religion??
“Talking points,” bullet points, slogans, and rallying cries have supplanted informed debate. In California, a cry of “no new taxes” has snarled the budget into a hairball of previously unseen dimensions. Now, I will admit that I do not love giving chunks of my paycheck to the government. I don’t know anyone who looks at the withholdings on a paystub and smiles. (If someone is out there who does this, get help, get help now.) However, I recognize that an economy is like a biological system. Each component depends upon the function of the others for survival. In a body, a deficit – of red blood cells for instance—results from two factors: increased consumption and decreased production, basically from the inability of the supply to meet the demand. The fix for a low red cell count is two-fold: find the source of the loss and stop/slow it, increase production. Now, if I were to look only through my own window at the state budget, I might see a place of excessive spending, where more of my income than I would like is diverted to services that I will never use. I hope. And this is why I walk to the next window. How far are my worries about giving more of my income to the government removed from worries about not having an income with which to feed, house, or clothe my family and thus relying upon the government? The distance between views is shorter than we would like to think. Additionally, when services are cut to the most vulnerable, the overall economy suffers. If a family receiving medical assistance is suddenly forced to divert a greater percentage of their income to medical care, that money will not be spent in the larger economy: they won’t buy those back-to-school clothes, forget eating out. In turn, the store clerk loses a job, the restaurant loses income, and the server loses tips. The government loses sales tax revenue. And the health care system? The family will pay what they can; when they can pay no more, hospitals will be forced to eat the bill, and the burden on emergency rooms will increase. For a system to function whether it is a body, a society, or a government, all organs must be healthy. We can’t afford to narrow our view to our own interests. John Donne had it right. We are “each a part of the whole a piece of the main.”
What can we do? For my part, whenever I catch myself thinking, ‘why would anyone do that?’ I’m going to try to remember that that person has portions of his or her room that I cannot see. When I listen to a news article, I will ask myself what lies in the corners of the room. I will try to look through even the windows that make me uncomfortable, that may prove me wrong. And, I will try to pay more attention to the views that I give to others. Maybe I’ll pick up some glass cleaner and new curtains.