Each one of us has our own unique and subjective view of reality. While this view is widely held by educated people and sometimes by uneducated people it is too rarely practiced as fundamental to engaging in day to day life. Nearly all of us assume that what we perceive, experience and feel as we go through the day is the same as everyone else or that we understand how others perceive existence. This assumption leads to profound misunderstandings and often to grave wounds. This assumption is also a great pacifing force in society. The topic of subjective reality is far too big to delve into in any depth right now, but I intend to explore it further as I write.
It is crucial to our development as both individual human beings and as communities of human beings that we be willing to cross boundaries.
Before I continue, I would like to make one thing plain: although I write these entries in a tone that suggests what I say is true it is possible that it is only partially true or perhaps even wholly untrue. I encourage you to challenge me and in doing so we can help one another attain deeper understanding.
Crossing boundaries is the deliberate choice to attempt to understand someone else’s subjective reality or to share your own subjective reality with them. To put it another way, it is choosing to receive ideas and/or share ideas with another person. It goes beyond a literal exchange of information and promotes a deeper understanding.
It is surprisingly difficult to do because our frame of reference is ourselves and that continually gets in the way. Here is an experiment that you can try that will demonstrate this difficulty. In the very next conversation that you have with someone make a conscious choice to only listen to what they are saying and do not formulate your answer until they are done. Consider their tone and their choice of words. Do they mean something particular by each word? Were you able to let them finish before you started your rebuttal?
I had had at least three interactions on my journey back from PyCon that were crossing boundaries. The first was the conversation I had with the woman who sat next to me on the plane. It started as just an exchange of information but after learning that she had studied history and was involved in the interpretation of the exhibits at her musuem I decide to explain the concept of Seattle Saturday House. This led to a long interaction about subjective reality, community, and sociatal ownership (or “social responsibility” as she referred to it.) While I know our communication was imperfect I believe we both came away encouraged and hopeful because we had participated in real interaction in the present. The second interaction was sparked by the first as the person next to her joined the conversation. There was some simple information exchange but there also was some deeper communication going on.
In these examples crossing boundaries provided a way for the subjective realities of three individuals to overlap for a time and be influenced by one another. This is a profound event. So much of our lives is spent in the literal even though a fairly small gamble may lead us into something far more profound. Making the deliberate choice to cross the boundary from our subjective reality into someone else’s is one of the foundations for a vibrant community.
The final interaction I want to talk about was with the cab driver on the way home. I was tired, my flight was late and I was just ready to be home after ten days on the road. However, when I got in the car I immediatly had a sense that my cab driver had an outgoing demeanor and if I talked to him a little bit he would probably open up quite a bit. He described a lot of things I had never considered about being a cab driver. For example if a crime was committed in his cab (such as a drug deal) he was resposible to report it to the authorities or else he could be held liable for it as well. This is a hard place to be if you think about it. He went on to describe some very bad experiences he had had with african american passengers ditching out on paying for their cab rides. What surprised me was that although the cab driver was a minority himself he had generalized this behaviour to decide that Obama was not a worthy candidate for president.
This is in my mind a failure in crossing boundaries. He neglected to look beyond those bad experiences and refused to engage with the person of Obama because of the color of his skin. I should note that it is possible to cross boundaries without being in person but it is generally not as profound.
As societies or communities we tend to believe that we understand other societies or communities but unless we actively interact with them we do not understand. It takes effort go get beyond ourselves and to really understand other people, other communities and other societies.
It is easier and more comfortable to remain in our own subjective reality and to assume that our crystalized snapshot of the others we know and our assumptions about those we don’t know are true. It is easier and more comfortable but it is not fulfilling. Fulfillment requires work, requires action and it is never found in what is simply comfortable.
I know that I do not cross these boundaries as often as I could. It is a personal goal to grow in this area. There is a fundamental truth to realize too: all people want to be understood and known and if done with sensitivity nearly everyone will respond positively.