What’s Your Perspective?

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I believe that a person’s world view is their perspective and it is this which infringes on how they approach people and places. Through this fellowship, I have met such a wide range of persons, not only within the fellowship, but also outside the fellowship via Acumen’s contacts in New York, and now in Delhi.

Often there are conversations about Delhi, debates about loving or hating the city or the age old comparison between Delhi and Mumbai. Where would one want to live? What can be done about Delhi’s pollution, overall dirtiness, beggars, cows in the street, etc? Where does one get a good glass of wine?

I sometimes tell people that Delhi is the best place I have ever lived overseas for amenities and activities. (I also believe it is a dynamic city in its own right.) Often I get a look or comment of disbelief. Yet when I begin to rattle off the other places I have lived (Jalalabad, Afghanistan; Akhaltsikhe, Georgia; Kokand, Uzbekistan; Ziway, Ethiopia, etc.) then they begin to nod their head.

What I find most interesting is the first gut reaction that people have to my statement. Delhi can’t possibly be the “best place”, as in their frame of reference it may be compared to NYC, London, or even their home town. Never the places I mention, which to be fair, most people haven’t heard of any way.

Perspective plays such a large role in how a person approaches living in and relating to people from another country. One hears various assessments of a country based on this perspective, opinions that range from being extremely open and accepting to downright ignorant and immature, in other cases.

This world view also seeps in to the work that we do. Are we still playing the age old game of Us vs. Them, Colonial vs. Native, or West vs. East? Observing another culture, whether in the workplace or outside, is one thing, but commenting in a non-constructive way begs the question…Isn’t it all just subjective? What is being said about this country and people can also be said about one’s own country and in the same tone and manner.

Is it possible to take one’s critical eye and turn it in on oneself and one’s own country or can it only be done when a person moves to another place and then all bets are off? At that point, everything can be reviewed, assessed and critiqued.

For those that have a narrow perspective, I hope that when they return to their countries they use new eyes and new perspectives to view their own homes in such a light and work towards the same improvements that they may wish upon their current hosts.

Perspective can make the world one way or the other, good or bad. For myself I strive to continue to widen mine, as through that I learn new ways of approaching life itself and that, to me, is priceless.

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4 Responses to “What’s Your Perspective?”

  1. Joanna Says:

    Soph – your post for me further emphasized Karthik’s point on how this Fellowship is so much “Beyond the Work”.

    When I first arrived I met a Swedish aid worker who told me ‘you can never really understand your home country until you leave it’. I nodded my head vigorously….but how much of this comparison is useful and works to expand our world view? I think his comment can be a true statement as long as we challenge ourselves to keep an open mind, and to recognize our own biases, which (I believe) are almost always present in our perspectives.

  2. Premal Says:

    Hi Sophie,

    This is a great post. Thanks for writing it. I agree it is very easy to get carried away by what you hear, see, read and interpret about a place and form biases against the places that you visit.

    A lot of times I have heard people say hey you are going to India you must read this book. For example, if you were going to Bombay then you must read Maximum City . This would be the worst book to read about Bombay for a person who has never ever lived in Bombay , simply because it talks about the underworld, Bollywood and it’s working, etc. which to a person visiting for the very first time has no bearing whatsoever. To me I grew up in Bombay and that book seems a little over-rated. And guess what, you form your biases about Bombay – it’s a dangerous place, so much of crime, it’s filthy, etc…”. Another example would be the recent movie that got rave reviews “Slumdog Millionaire”…if I had the skills and money I could make a movie like this about New York City’s underbelly – imagine shots taken in Bronx, homeless shelters and people begging around the entire city, etc….

    I wish that there were books, classes or resources that one could have access to before they visit a country to get them “culturally oriented”. For example, when I was moving to USA for my masters program we had got some cultural training about USA . It was very helpful. Similarly I wish the fellows were also provided this cultural orientation about the countries they were being placed in during the NY stay. I’m sure it would have helped immensely.

    Thanks again for the post.

  3. Heidi Krauel Says:

    To Premal’s point, it often surprised me how little people know about or takes seriously poverty in the United States. Working with Pacific Community Ventures for nearly five years to address the issues facing the working poor in the United States was certainly empathy-building. While circumstances are less severe than what I saw in India, similarities exists around limited access to affordable healthcare, quality housing, quality employment, the prevalence of the poverty penalty. I remember how struck I was when Price Charities helped to build the very first grocery store in rough part of Southeast San Diego. Imagine living in a thriving metropolis in the U.S. but having to pay to get on a bus and travel just to find fresh food.

    Certainly these US domestic issues are interestingly and painfully depicted in Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx — a story that impacted me much more than the $5 Field Day exercise we did in the Fall. The question whether suffering can or should be measured on a relative basis still goes unanswered for me. What I do believe is that any life that is lived without hope or dignity is a tragic, lost opportunity. That was definitely a perspective I took with me on my travels to, through, and then back home from India.

    And, as for the comments on Delhi as a city, it was my experience that that criticisms more often came from Indians themselves rather than its visitors. I guess opportunities to broaden one’s perspective about one’s own and other countries, as well as about other people and where they are on their own personal journeys, are just universally valuable.

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