During one of our sessions a few years back, my therapist informed me that at some point in my childhood and teenage years, I’ve constructed a worldview for which has guided my life up until that afternoon.
She then affirmed that if I am to understand how I see and react to the world today, then I need to dig deeper into that childhood and map out each perception to an experience I’ve had. Once I do some good level of mapping, I’d understand myself, my decisions, responses, and personal struggles a great deal.
Made total sense. What’s my worldview then? How has it changed over the years? Am I content with it? What were the elements that always stayed?
The process continues till date.
Yet, at some point there, I got curious about how my evolving understanding of my worldview would alter the way I empathize with people as well as the degree it can better help others to empathize with me.
Through my deliberate or spontaneous attempts to spring conversations, I observed that once I’m able to uncover the dominant lens the person I’m conversing with has, the closer I would be able to discern their point of view on a singular subject. I believe consciously or incidentally, everyone can have different lenses yet there is one, in particular, we can’t let go of, it dominates this worldview each of us has and becomes an invisible force that drives us. In many cases, it blinds us too, as it can fog our perceptions in a deceiving manner rendering contrasted statements/stands we end up making.
What follows are my observations around how I think world-views become and the interplay they inflect on our interactions with each other.
A compass that binds and divides
Growing up, we all develop a moral compass that is part genealogy, part upbringing, part cultural, and part own experience. This compass drives the reactions we experience, the stands we take, and the actions we make when we witness a different moral code to ours. In sharing a moral compass, we do find comfort in a common understanding of the world. We grasp at the opportunity to belong and be. A seemingly secure safe space where we permit ourselves to get validated within its walls. Whoever is outside of this shared worldview gets to be labeled “them”.
They’re not just everybody else. They are whomever you believe is significantly different from you. It could be whole peoples and nations, followers of a religion, a political belief, another race, a social class, a specific gender, sexual orientation, or anyone whom you can assert clearly as one who sees the world so differently than yours.
As individuals belonging to a wider mass under any group identity, each self-defined group of “others” rides the high horse of moral values they think defines them as an elite breed of humans. An entitlement of getting it right, life that is.
-Those like us…
No other sentence can deliver a sense of relief, a feeling of support and belonging than this one. I for one see it as a dangerous comfort zone that can bring those who utter it some false sense of safety from one hand and isolation from the other.
Is this righteousness well deserved? True, some group identities are more inclusive and more life-loving.
-Those like you…
Behind the surface, there always comes a moment where this righteousness instigates a form of nullification of some other in the name of a higher truth.
We do use those sentences every day, with our dear friends with colleagues, as we keep up this dance between what binds and divides.
Someone you meet would break down their identity as follows:
Arab, Jordanian/Palestinian, Moderate Muslim, Middle Class, Straight, Male, Father, Technologist.
Some of us would group him as a moderate conservative Arab or traditional Arab immediately yet nothing within this mix can tell us how he treats his wife or sister? That his best friend is a Christian guy? That his daughter is taking music classes. That his wife is Syrian or that he grew up in Beirut where his mother lived.
Once we get to know him, moderate conservative Arab might escape us completely and we’d be lost as to where we can place this nice guy on the group identity spectrum!
Those different group identities most of us claim to belong to can actually be as many as the number of identities an individual can hold.
For that, I’d like to argue that there is enough to make a case for one not to take themselves too seriously and get locked down within any. Just go on at picking the flavor of the moment as we all do.
We all become Muslims when talking to a French woman bragging about burqa law. We all become Palestinian when we see a group of tourists from Tel Aviv in Athens trying to strike a conversation with any of us. We all become human rights activists when a queer self-identified Arab woman gets oppressed, violently attacked in detention, and end up committing suicide a few years later. Maybe that’s pushing it a little too far?
I for one, see the real beauty of pluralism is the one that is within, usually obscured yet if teased deliberately it can force us to understand the pluralism outside of us. Lay bare the conflicts in the world as a larger manifestation of the conflicts within us. It makes a whole lot of sense in comparison to this endless struggle to digest and react to a lot of the collective insanity we absorb every day.
So what’s the point of all of this? I say let us think of a less intense stand at those we think are the devious “them”. They too are struggling to make sense of a world every time it comes crashing with their own worldview. Bring a basic level of compassion at a conversation, listen, and think beyond making a point to disturb but more of where on the identity spectrum we both can meet and spring forward that conversation of ours.