Marolt: Reconciling pieces of the same reality
What’s your impression of India? Yeah, mine too. So, I was surprised when I looked through a photo album of the country my friends put together from a recent visit there. Impressions are not reality. It’s more like reality is complex and our brains lean toward a filtered version. It depends on which senses are stimulated.
I looked through the photos in awe. I sent an email back: “Wow! India is beautiful!”
I didn’t get an immediate response. I don’t know why I expected one, people are busy doing things besides monitoring their inboxes, but I did. When the reply didn’t come I felt as if I said something I shouldn’t have.
It wasn’t that. I caught them off-guard. After my response, they went back and looked at their own photos again. Scrutinizing them in the clean comfort of their own American home, they, too, recalled how beautiful the country they had just returned from is. From the countryside to the way people dress to much of the architecture, India is a stunningly beautiful place. It just wasn’t completely apparent when they were actually there.
I’m sure when you visit a place like India your senses are taxed to make rhyme and reason out of the poverty and filth and tightness in the everyday living scenario. It is what you are forced to deal with when you are on the ground. From the comfort of my living room chair and my iPad screen that is limited to presenting refracted light in phenomenal high-definition color and clarity, what I saw wasn’t influenced by the not-always-objective lessons of experience.
I wondered if the opposite goes on here in our mountain paradise, where there is so much obvious natural beauty along with physical comfort to view it from that it obscures the suffering going on constantly around us. Then I reflected, of course it does.
As soon as Apple invents the device that delivers odors, textures and a visceral sense of the uncertainty of the moment to come, the world will truly shrink. As it is, we have to be content with the piece of the planet we are everyday-comfortable in, where we can fill in the blanks with bits and pieces we are sure, from experience, will fit.
Even then, we will see what we want to see. Aside from survival, that may be the strongest natural inclination we possess. It is what makes a large part of the world see us scornfully as ugly Americans, while we proudly see ourselves as a model society. Would either side accept the impressions of a completely neutral observer, if one could be found?
It gets more local and personal than that, though. To an unaware being, either impossibly asleep for the past hundred years here or more impossibly born on another planet within traveling distance of Earth and arriving here for the first time, our tree-stripped mountainsides might appear as an atrocity on the natural beauty of the land our ancestors rightfully (wink) claimed ownership of from the true natives who held it for us until we arrived. To us they are carefully created ski runs waiting to receive bountiful fresh snow that we hope to slide down on sparkling mornings in January before our neighbors get to it. It’s a beautiful thing!
It’s not solely an us-versus-the-uninformed thing, either. Where we took measures to ban the sight of a few obtrusive monster homes on a hillside, we then cut scars across them and called them recreational trails that we celebrate for the opportunity allowing us to cross the countryside on mountain bikes. Nothing wrong about that; it’s what the majority wanted and they raised the money to make it happen. It was a few dollars from many against big chunks from the few. That’s what made it palatable, even though the final sum was about the same. It’s right because that’s the way most saw it, even though a completely objective person might say a permanent scar on the land is a permanent scar on the land, either way.
It’s not about right and wrong outcomes or just and unjust judgments, although there certainly are both in this world. The point is that we way more times than not operate using incomplete information. What we need to consider is that a future generation might look around and wonder, “What the heck were they thinking?” Whatever we do today, there is no guarantee that future generations are going to see things the way we lived them. And, their picture will likely be clearer.
Roger Marolt wonders what skiing will look like to people in a thousand years. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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