The 2016 presidential primaries and general election in the United States were a showcase for seeing events, issues, and people very differently. Not only did the candidates see things differently, but the electorate did as well. The mudslinging, vicious attacks, shouting, pronouncements of greatness, inappropriate behaviors, and clever manipulation of facts that took place reflect something deeper than a candidate trying to win an election. They reflect diverse ways of understanding and interpreting reality.
There were very few words of wisdom uttered to reassure the electorate and make people feel connected as Americans, let alone connected to the global community. If this raw wound is left open without some kind of treatment, these misunderstandings can cause irreparable damage to our democracy, and to open society.
The earth-shattering event of the 2016 U.S. election—as well as many other recent events—has inspired us at the Center for Global Awareness to channel our decades of educational experience into encouraging greater understanding of the differing viewpoints around the world. The program we have created, Gather, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, is a conversation and study program of self-organizing groups of concerned citizens. This program uses a holistic approach called SEEK—See, Evolve, Engage, and Know—to study and talk about issues. Participants go beyond learning information to seeing different perspectives, evolving compassionate attitudes, and actively engaging in creating positive change.
I will explain the See Dimension in this blog article.
We define the See Dimension as the skill to view a concept, situation, person, or group from diverse points of view. We see global topics from a wide range of perspectives. The limitations of an individual viewpoint become clear when events seem incomprehensible. Why, for example, are many countries in Europe lurching to the political ultra-right, or why is the Middle East in a cauldron of discontent and uncertainty?
The See Dimension is about understanding that each one of us filters events, issues, and people through particular lenses or perspectives, which shape our interpretation. We would need to understand over seven billion different lenses to accurately comprehend how each person sees the world—an impossibility, to be sure. Added to the complexity is the fact that each person has multiple lenses that act as filters to reality, creating even more confusion and misunderstanding. It’s a wonder that we can get along at all!
CGA encourages us to take a big-picture look at the See Dimension. We will have to be comfortable with many generalizations in order to communicate about this vital-but-slippery concept. But we must also realize that below the generalizations are real people facing real anxiety and uncertainty. As a nation, we seem to be missing the point of what unites us. We have elevated the tools and techniques for dividing, condemning, differentiating, and attacking each other, but our toolkit for understanding, compassion, and empathy is at an elementary level. It is far easier to attack and belittle than it is to support and nourish. It is far easier to dismiss the opinions, hopes, and fears of others than to reach out to understand them and relate to their situations, or feel for their plights. The art of negotiation and compromise has given way to standing for our principles in a stoic way, without acknowledging that compromise is crucial in every moment of our lives.
We think it is essential to include the See Dimension in our Gather program for an adult audience. Adults have more varied life experiences and will be able to quickly grasp the concepts and appreciate the benefits of integrating it. The See Dimension has been developed to try to make some sense of the multiple perspectives that are expressed by each person. Although the different “modes of seeing” we explore in the See Dimension will not give a complete picture of reality, as this is impossible anyway, its purpose is to give an overview of several different lenses through which reality is perceived.
The notion that we are rational creatures who objectively analyze information to arrive at the “best” solution has given way to the reality that we are complex humans with hundreds, if not thousands, of different lenses through which we perceive reality. I believe there is an urgency to connect with our fellow citizens locally, nationally, and globally in order to further a more democratic, equitable, and peaceful world. We believe that understanding and practicing the See Dimension in the Gather program can contribute to realizing this goal.
Questions to Consider
- Have you ever encountered a person with a different perspective from you on an important issue? How did you handle it?
Dr. Denise R. Ames is a long-time educator and president of the nonprofit Center for Global Awareness. The Center for Global Awareness develops books and materials with a holistic, global focus for adult learners and educators. In January 2018, the CGA will launch the Global Awareness Adult Conversation and Study Program, or Gather. In this unique program, adult learners form small study groups to launch conversations about pressing global issues, seeing different perspectives, transcending deep political and cultural divides, and engaging with others to create positive change. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.global-awareness.org for more information.