A New Perspective, a New World
I was helping some middle schoolers with geography when one asked, “Why is China called the Far East when we go west to get there?”
I smiled because this student had unearthed something that I’ve always been fascinated with: human perspective. “Because,” I explained, “the term came from centuries ago, before the Americas were ‘discovered’ by Columbus, when Europe was the hub of civilization.” I put quotes around “discovered” because the people who lived here already knew it was here. “At that time, the only way to get to China was to travel very far to the east.”
Humans have always considered themselves the center of the universe. I suppose it’s only natural considering we’re the only sentient species we’re aware of, but the centrism pervades our thinking to a greater extent than most people realize.
Let’s look at a map of the Earth, for example.
We’re used to this view of the world because it’s the one we are constantly shown. We are conditioned to think of north as “up” and south as “down”. Technology grew fastest in Europe and so the majority of us look at the world from a European, or “western” point of view.
But let’s play a little thought experiment. What if modern civilization sprang from Australia? Our normal view of the Earth might look like this:
Great Britain and Scandinavia might be known as “Down Under” and the Americas might be the “Far West”. South would be thought of as “up” and even our notion of months and seasons would be opposite of what it is now. November, December, and January would be thought of as the hot months, while June, July, and August would cast our minds to cold and snow. Carried even further, clocks might run the other direction (based on the way sundials operate in the southern hemisphere) and we would think that draining water and hurricanes spin backwards in the northern hemisphere. How many other ideas we take for granted would be affected by such a shift in perspective?
As a writer of fantasy and science fiction, I constantly challenge myself to think from different perspectives. We all view the world from our own set of eyes and it’s difficult sometimes to imagine the view from someone else’s because we bring the totality of our personal experiences with us as we move through each day. Everything we see and do is influenced by our education and our past. Take a moment as you walk down a street today, or drive in your car, and notice the strangers who you pass by and will likely never see again. What did they do today before your paths crossed? Has it been just a regular day or did something extraordinary happen to them earlier? Where are they headed? What things have they seen in their life that you can only imagine? Lastly, remember one more thing about perspective:
To them, you are the stranger.