While you read this column, over seven billion people are not. On Oct. 31, the United Nations announced our planet’s population has capped seven billion. The world population is impossible to know exactly, but roughly seven billion are not reading this column. Maybe that seems obvious once you think about it. They are living their seven billion separate lives. They are experiencing their seven billion distinct stories. They are creating their seven billion unique sets of memories.
How many of them do you know?
I want to share a secret. When I get bored in a crowded place sometimes, I role play. It’s an intentional out-of-body experience that can get surreal if you have a strong imagination. The point is to see from another person’s perspective. This view-taking can be thoughtful or merely what a room might look like from another vantage point.
Pick a random person while sitting in the Hixon Union Building. Now observe the area around him or her and specifically which direction the person is facing. Think about what is in the central point of view and what hovers in the unfocused periphery. Visualize what his or her physical perspective is at that moment. Close your eyes and take a moment.
This exercise isn’t trying to figure out a stranger’s thoughts, fears, and dreams, but it’s surprising when you open your eyes that your own perspective has changed. Your awareness has stretched to include one more person other than yourself. The world can be seen through another set of eyes, a person like you despite countless differences.
In a song by Matthew West, he describes the limited perspective of “population: me.” The chorus of “My Own Little World” asks,
What if there’s a bigger picture?
What if I’m missing out?
What if there’s a greater purpose,
I could be living right now
Outside my own little world?
During a Core lecture, a couple hundred sets of eyes are watching the speaker, reading notes, glancing at a cute girl in the next row, or maybe closed in sleep. A couple hundred faces fill the Robinson Teaching Theater. Most are recognizable only from passing by on the Hello Walk. My memory will associate few with names. Yet each face masks a story. They have families and friends I’ve never met and never will. They go places after school I have never visited. These passing faces have lives apart from mine. While I’m wrapped up in graduation, they have hopes and fears I cannot understand.
And it doesn’t stop with Core. This world has over seven billion people with their own lives and stories. At least at Whitworth, we can know faces.
I often hear from students who feel judged by others on campus for not conforming to the Whitworth norm. These students don’t dress the “right” way. They don’t agree with the “right” beliefs. They don’t act “right” to fit in. I haven’t personally experienced these peer judgments. In fact, I’ll be the first to admit I blend into the Whitworth backdrop. From my viewpoint, Whitworth could hardly have a friendlier, more accepting atmosphere.
But maybe my viewpoint is the problem. If my viewpoint doesn’t stretch enough to include other perspectives, how can I tell when I’m alienating others? How do I make others feel loved if I don’t take the time to see their hearts?
Young children assume other people think and feel the way they do. They have trouble differentiating perspectives. If they know something, they believe everyone knows it. Sometimes I wonder if there are adults who slip into this state of mind. I wonder if I do.
Brandon Heath’s song “Give Me Your Eyes” expresses this need for a wider perspective in the style of a prayer. The third verse says,
I’ve been there a million times,
A couple of million eyes
Just moving past me by.
I swear I never thought I was wrong.
Well I want a second glance.
So give me a second chance
To see the way you see the people all along.
With seven billion planet-mates, we can’t afford to isolate ourselves. What could you be missing by using only your two eyes? What else might you see from another perspective? A wider perspective just requires paying attention to those around you. Ask the personal questions and listen without interrupting.
The world changes when we open our eyes.
By Emily Roth