I was watching a YouTube video where Trevor Noah was being interviewed and he made a very serious point (even though he dressed it up as a joke). What he said was really simple yet apparently difficult for people to get their heads around.
The point he was making was that our perception of the world depends on our experience of it. So far so obvious – right??? (At least that is the point I think most people in the audience would have thought he was making.)
Maybe it is just me being me but I found a deeper point in what he was saying.
The deeper point I found is as follows – our perception of the world also affects how we talk about it. Apart from that – it can appear as though we are speaking in two totally separate languages (even though both people in the conversation might be speaking English for example).
Allow me to give an example which I personally find extremely annoying.
Imagine you and I meet each other and you reach for your glasses saying “I am blind without my glasses”. (When we met your glasses were not on your nose – they might have been in your pocket, etc.)
What you mean is “I can actually see without my glasses but – on this occasion – my eyes need a little extra help in order for me to achieve my objective”.
Depending on my mood at the time my next question will probably be something along the lines of “what’s your prescription?” (Or – if you weren’t doing anything “dangerous” like walking when we met – I might ask how far you can see without them.)
Be very careful how you answer either of the above questions.
Your definition of being “unable to see without my glasses on” and my definition of the same phrase are probably worlds apart. Put it this way – my definition means that without my glasses on my nose I am either a danger to myself and others or I am rendered completely immobile. The furthest I can see clearly without my glasses is approximately 3 centimetres from the end of my nose – any further than that and life is literally a blur.
Why am I telling you this?
I am amused by the recent discussions about how different groups of people are treated by other different groups of people. Racism, sexism, discrimination against (and abuse of) different minority groups, etc, are things which we are all affected by – either as perpetrators or victims (sometimes even both at the same time).
However, there is something which (to my knowledge) none of the various sides in the various debates has admitted yet. Nobody has said “I know you will never be able to share my exact experience of this situation – so we need to find a way of me enabling you to understand in a way that is accessible to you not me”.
I could bore you to sleep about my sight and the challenges I face as a result of it. Until you get to experience life in my shoes you will only have “textbook” knowledge of them. (If you look at A Taster Walk you will get more of a “practical” feel of what it is like for me walking around in “wall-to-wall” sunshine.)
I am not a member of the BAME population, my only personal (practical) experience of “disabilities” is due to my sight. For this reason I wouldn’t dare to tell anyone how they should treat the situation they find themselves in. To me that would be like me speaking to you in Dutch knowing full well that you can only understand English – you wouldn’t have a clue what I was saying and you would think I was being extremely rude.
Don’t misunderstand me – I support people who fight for equality. My problem isn’t the fight itself – my problem is survivors of racism, sexism, etc, telling their own stories in their own words and expecting those of us with no prior experience of the situation to understand their view of it as well as fighting it in the same way as them.
That is also the problem I have with the “privilege” banner which is sometimes hoisted as an answer to legitimate argument. I cannot argue with the fact that I am a white human. Nor can I argue with the fact that me being white can get me certain “privileges” which members of the BAME population cannot get.
What I can argue with is the idea that the best way to get me to join your cause is to use my “privilege” as a weapon against me. In fact, it is the worst way (unless you would like to be accused of subjecting me to the exact reverse of what you are accusing me of – as in discrimination).
If I could have any influence whatsoever on the various debates regarding discrimination – I would love to ensure that we all understand exactly how the different groups are feeling. I would also make sure the language we use is inclusive (as in – we all understand the meaning behind the language as well as the actual words used). Finally I would make it crystal clear that everyone has a different experience of the subject and they are all valid and they can all contribute something to the debate.
I saw a picture on Facebook of a mug with the words “I am Dutch – let’s save time and agree that I am always right”. Unfortunately – the debates we are having in society right now appear to be a case of “just replace Dutch with whatever cause you are arguing for”. (I don’t know if you have ever tried arguing with a Dutch person but – trust me – it is one of the most useless pass-times ever invented unless you come up with a cast iron reason for them to change their mind. Take it from someone with over 30 years experience in this. My Mum taught me very well.)
We need to be very careful otherwise we will just get nowhere fast.