Thursday, June 16, 2011

Expanding Points of View

I recently finished Christiane Bird's Neither East Nor West, a story of her travels in Iran. Her book reminds me of one of my favorite blogs, Seeing Red in China, by an American named Tom about his view of China on a daily basis. What these two things have in common is a desire to look beyond the very narrow, news-oriented point of view of daily life in Iran and China respectively and offer their readers the opportunity to see life in places they may otherwise never have the opportunity to see. Frankly, it is people like this that help to bring the world closer together and make it, hopefully, a better place for everyone.

And while my commentary may be directed more at Westerners (and Americans in particular), it is by no means limited only to them. Misconceptions and generalizations about others has no limits nor boundaries and they are rarely positive. The only way to overcome those misconceptions is to truly live some place else and recognize that life in the US is really not that significantly different than it is in China or Iran or anyplace else. This is not to suggest that there are no differences but to point out that we tend to have a very limited perspective when we think of others. For example, we tend to view Iran as a misogynistic, radically religious, fundamentalist nation that is bent on acquiring nuclear weapons and imposing a radical view of Islam upon the rest of the world. Yet few Westerners realize that there is a great deal of diversity within Iran, that they actually do have elections (perhaps not to the standard that we have in the West but certainly better than any in the Middle East) and that there is a long line of Persian history, art and culture to which they are the inheritors. The same goes for China. To hear China in the news, it is often in regard to their rising economic status, their belligerent behavior in the South China Seas toward their neighbors, the rising number of protests in the countryside or their human rights violations (see Liu Xiaobo, among others). Yet very little street-level discussion is provided to offer the full context of life in China - much of which revolves outside of the limited political view with which it is held in nations outside of China. Indeed, I have always found it interesting that Chinese often knew more about US politics (although often negative or bad things) than most US citizens. In reality, it could be argued that the majority of people in both Iran and China like the US, if not necessarily its government or policy decisions. But then again, there is a sizable portion of US citizens who have problems with its government and policy decisions, so there may be some validation to that particular argument.

Perhaps not everyone has the opportunity to travel to these places and see things for themselves but they should, at the very least, avail themselves of the opportunity to read about them beyond the limited scope of what they see/hear in the news. Expanding one's horizons and perspectives can only be to the benefit of not only the individual but potentially even rising to higher levels of policy making that can allow nations to work together to solve problems for the mutual benefit of more than a select few. Perhaps this is a simplistic and naive point of view but everyone should dream about making the world a little better else nothing will change. As the saying goes, think globally - act locally.

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