Point Of View


POV. In a film script this can indicate the camera position or the viewpoint of a character. In a recent screening of an episode of “24,” the TV series featuring Kiefer Sutherland, the President of the United States and the Vice-president vehemently disagreed on whether or not to retaliate with a nuclear strike against a middle-eastern nation for a nuclear attack on Los Angeles.

The president wanted to wait for proof that the enemy was this particular nation, but the vice-president was eager to strike back as a show of strength, saying he had enough proof. We viewers knew the truth, that terrorists from two other countries were behind the bombing, so we were pleased when Jack Bauer overcame the terrorists and secured the bombs. After watching this drama unfold, it was abundantly clear that a simple but profound characteristic of human consciousness made the difference: their point of view.

What we see depends on where we stand. And we act according to what we see. To a man barely surviving due to circumstances beyond his control, a social welfare program can be a matter of life or death. To a rich man that same program may seem like an unnecessary tax burden. In thinking about this, I realized that no two human beings see through the same eyes. No matter how close or related we are to another, we see the world from our unique point of view. And we don’t  share identical interpretations of what we see.

For instance in this image you may see a pensive old Native American woman, but because I knew her as a young and vibrant white woman who played the piano like a rock musician in her modern, upscale house. One thing that makes the difference in perception is information. The more information we have and share, the closer we can come to agreeing upon what we see. For instance, this woman’s husband would have an even better perception of her. Then too, can anyone really know the truth of another person? Do we even know ourselves that well? Even my perception of myself is a point of view, an opinion that’s constantly in flux.

Our point of view develops when we first open our eyes. And due to the circumstances of life—age, ethnicity, geography, relationships, education, experiences, values and so on—we construct a gestalt, a “world view,” that constitutes our personal reality, the truth of how things are for us to us. Curiously, the tendency is to think that our gestalt is better or more accurate than most people, at least for ourselves.

A related phenomenon that’s a consequence of our point of view, is the way we reach out to verify the truth according to us and shy away from anyone or anything that’s in conflict with our perspective. And there are degrees of this. For instance I read science books by authors who don’t believe in God or an afterlife. I stick with these books, in spite of my beliefs to the contrary, because I appreciate the science. But recently an author writing about quantum physics kept beating the drum to prove his anti-spiritual point of view. I eventually had to put the book down, not because of the difference in our world views, but because he kept using physics to discredit my belief. Actually, I like for an author to state his or her personal perspective; it helps me to know where they stand. But for me, proselytizing goes too far.

Point of view is a fascinating aspect of human consciousness. We’ll defend it to the death—as if it’s The Truth, rather than a personal truth, which is dynamic, ever changing. Even confronted with this distinction, dictators and tyrants have rationalized unthinkable acts against humanity with the conviction that their truth must prevail. “My way or the highway” is the ultimate statement of self-centeredness and ignorance—not understanding that living systems grow and thrive as a whole as a consequence of right relationships among their constituent parts.

Evolution is a bottom up process, like a pyramid. The same is true of social and biological systems. When a multitude of cells—figuratively at the bottom of the pyramid—are functioning in balance and with reciprocity, the result is a healthy body. On the other hand, when a cell or group of them become greedy or goes rogue, looking out for themselves alone and believing that their truth is the only truth and it must prevail, the inevitable result is systemic breakdown.

In these days of political turmoil and uncertainty at the national level, I am heartened by those who work with the light of intelligence and wisdom (journalists, comedians, authors, storytellers, scientists, religious leaders and others) revealing untruth, factual inaccuracies, disinformation, false news, deceptions, ignorance and greed. They perform a healing service for the social body simply by identifying the cells that are causing a breakdown, and helping us to understand points of view—perspectives—that are toxic with respect to the whole body, so we can adjust to change appropriately—toward the maintenance of health and well-being.

The most fatal illusion is the settled point of view. Since life is growth and motion, a fixed point of view kills anybody who has one.

Brooks Atkinson


Title: Kiva Woman

File #: 622-C3

I visited the woman in this photograph. Her husband was Beaumont Newhall, the notable photographic historian. They lived in Sante Fe, New Mexico where I had been invited to give a talk on The Higher Potentials of Television. While there, I had a chance to present a portfolio of my photographs.

On our walk up the hill from their house, a modern structure with mostly glass walls to take advantage of the mountainous  landscape, we came upon this old kiva. I asked my friend to pose for the camera and it was as simple as that. At the time, from where I stood, what was important to me photographically was the relationship between the woman and the kiva. From where I stand at the moment, I am more aware of the significance of my point of view.


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