* Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.
– Marcus Aurelius *
Every time I am involved in a discussion on different perspectives, then be it among a bunch of friends having a furious debate over drinks or a reflective debrief session on an outdoor management development programme, I invariably remember a couplet that I had randomly read during my college days:
Of matters controversial my perception is rather fine
I always see both points of view, the wrong one and mine!
And like a ditty that plays in one’s head for a long time, these lines keep haunting me for quite some time through the day.
And every time I look down from an upper floor balcony anywhere I invariably remember a story told by Mrs. Shobha Bhagwat, educationist, on a workshop that we had arranged for ourselves when, as youngsters, we were working on a children’s outdoor education programme.
Mrs. Bhagwat has been running the ‘Garware Balbhavan’ since decades. It is a ‘well known recreational center located in the heart of the Pune city in India… known for its interesting and meaningful work in the field of child development’. The story narrated by her concerns a teacher who in turn told it to her. I am going to recount it the way I remember it. During a drawing class the teacher had given the students the subject of ‘cow’. When all students had finally turned in their works of art, one sketch submitted by a boy was, well, unconventional. So the teacher called him and tried to explain to him that his figure was ‘wrong’ since it did not look like a cow at all, that a cow has four legs and a tail, etc. I can imagine the boy standing there at her desk, patiently listening to her… and then he said, “But this is how a cow looks to me from my first floor balcony!”
Having sketched on and off all my life, I could immediately imagine what the boy must have drawn, and the power of that image in my mind’s eye and the import of the story told to me in my state of a receptive participant by a personality like Mrs. Bhagwat had such an impact on me that I define that experience as one of the most powerful ‘defining moments’ of my life. And sure enough, I must particularly add here, the ditty of ‘matters controversial’ had started playing in my head like a stuck record!
Note: The illustration below is my sketch, imagining what the student must have drawn.
I have learnt a lot, I mean A LOT, from children. I am not sure we adults know exactly how to relate to them, and I think overall we end up being unfair to them, to whatever extent. Something else that Mrs. Bhagwat pointed out was the ‘child’s world’: how most of the times when an adult talks to a child the child has to look up. That is the child’s world. Look up and communicate with adults. She then encouraged us to take the effort to sit down and go eye-level when talking with a child. I started doing that, and still do it when the situation is right. Most of the times children are taken aback by this strange behaviour. But with children that one interacts with on a regular basis and on an outdoor camp, it can soon become normal behaviour. It is of course a representational act, not really called for on every occasion, for one does not want to discomfit a child during just one or two interactions. The overtones with the adult world with its hierarchy, seniority levels and personality types are quite significant. And the question of us being fair and respectful to each other begs attention.
Any attempt to wrap up this little piece on as complex a topic as ‘perspectives’ with my ‘conclusions’ would be a lame thing to do, and in fact presumptuous of me. It may perhaps make more sense to take refuge in a bit of humour, and in the process take a dig at ourselves…
So, as the story goes, an engineer, a physicist and a mathematician were out for a stroll on paths that traversed rolling hills when they espied a black sheep (!) on a slope some distance away. The engineer remarked, “They seem to have all black sheep in these parts.” To which the physicist responded, “Actually, there is that one black sheep, yes. We can’t say anything about the others.” Then they looked at the mathematician who uttered the ultimate truth, “As far as I am concerned, this side of that sheep is black. We can’t say anything about the other side of that sheep!”
Are mathematicians good at understanding children? Maybe there is some research on it done somewhere…