Monday, June 15, 2009

As Promised...

Ok, so here I am again. Finally with the time and preparation I wanted before I started this in earnest.

I have terrible grammar, and spell checking is one of my best friends, so please be forgiving of technical errors as I try to explore my thoughts in an electronic format...

I mentioned "Individuality vs Generality," in my last post, and that seems like a good place to start here.

Let's start with a visualization. Picture yourself being a very pretty piece of crystal. You have random geometrical edges, light filters through you in an appealing way. You feel valuable, important somehow.

Next to you are your friends and family. Each of them is also a crystal, just like you. Unique, beautiful, and important.

At a glance you can recognize the difference between you and your parents. You have more sides, for example, or your parents are more transparent than you. Details are easily determined.

Now imagine that everyone sees themselves and their loved ones the same way. Billions of us, all crystals, and unique and important...

Imagine a camera looking at you and your fellow crystals. It is on a crane, and begins to back up and away from you. Farther and farther it goes until you see all of humanity and recognize us no longer as individual crystals, but now we are seen as a whole... as a beach.

A grain of sand is a very tiny piece of (usually) quartz. Under a strong microscope it is quite pretty, and its unique traits are easy to see.

From our perspective a single grain of sand is barely noticeable, and a lot of sand blends together to form a single, smooth image.

Individuality would be a single grain of sand. You. Not you in how you are related to someone else. Just you. (Not Mrs. so-and-so, or so-and-so's son, for example.)

You see things from a completely unique perspective that might be partially shared with those around you, but never completely repeated by anyone else. The further a person is from your life, the less their perspective has in common with yours.

On the other end of the scale from individuality is generality. A perspective made not of individual details, but of broad strokes, estimations, and "the big picture." From this perspective we can recognize that there are billions of individual grains of sand on the beach we are at, but they are not important to us, except as a whole beach.

The properties of each grain of sand are irrelevant to us. Our questions regarding them are always as the entire beach of them.

For example, "Is the sand hot?" Sand being used as a singular, despite being a question about billions of different grains.

Why is this? (By the way I love the question, "Why?" and I will ask it a lot. It usually has a myriad of correct answers, but for this post I am going to focus only on one.)

Why do we see ourselves (and those we know personally) as the important grains of sand, but when we step back to look at all of us, we only see a beach?

It's because we have a very limited perspective. If you could see each separate grain of sand in detail as you glanced at a beach it would be billions of different packets of information for you to process all at once. So, instead, we gather all those packets into one we call "estimation," or generalization.

It's just easier that way. In some cases (like at a beach) it is not necessary to know all the unique information provided. We just need to know if the sand is hot, are there rocks to worry about, and how are the waves are looking.

In other cases we must make the effort of avoiding generalizing. Especially when dealing with our own species. Each of us know we are unique. We know that our family and loved ones are unique. We even know the jerk who makes obnoxious jokes about us at work is unique. We can see all of those details. Never once would any of us be fooled if someone in their life was replaced by another person...

And yet, most of us don't recognize that people from outside our very tiny perspective are also unique. They may share some common details with those they are closest to, and they may even (almost) completely oppose your unique viewpoint. I use "almost" there because if we look at all the details, we find that even completely opposing groups still share some of the exact needs in their individuals.

(We all have to eat, right? Water is important to every single human, even the "bad" ones. Prick any one of us from anywhere in the world, and we all still bleed the same blood...)

"They," aren't a collective singular like the word implies. They are countless individuals that are as unique and important as you or I.

And just remember this: "You and I" literally means something different to every single human being on the planet, but "they" is always the same.

...I am running long on this already... I will continue again at a later time.

No comments: