One recurring theme that I’ve noticed regularly being brought up at university is ‘Perspectives’, how our experiences, culture and beliefs shape our views. Near constantly, the lecturers would tell us that we need to ‘change’ our ‘perspectives’ and become more ‘open-minded’ to new experiences (as if we weren’t already). With the regular reminders, it never really felt important until they decided to test us on our ability to assess situations out of context. If you’ve ever done that before, you know that it could be described like the worlds worst, yet most embarrassing game-show. If you’ve never done it before, then imagine having to accurately explain the scene in a picture without any context.
It was a challenge, a fun yet humiliating challenge. Made all the more embarrassing by the fact that in a class full of students from across the globe, being shown images from around the world, we couldn’t even guess a single one right. Each one of us had to try and explain what we thought was happening and it was amazing to see the variety of answers. It was clear to me at that point that because of each of our experiences, our diverse cultural backgrounds and our personal beliefs, we could look at the exact same images and get completely different answers. Even more shocking was when we were all on the same page, looking at the same image and seeing the same thing.
I’ve always kind of taken globalization for granted. I, like a lot of us, was born at a time when people could fly to any country around the globe and watch/read news from anywhere in the world. As such we all hear the same things “migrant this…”, “corruption that…” and so when it came to an image of what was actually a large group of people shopping on a floating mall in Lagos, no-one considered the image to be anything other than a humanitarian disaster or asylum seeking, because that’s what we’re shown almost every other day.
Needless to say, I was baffled. I used to think of myself as a logical person who wouldn’t jump to conclusions and yet I had in that moment. I turned a completely benign image of shopping, into something more sinister. The problem I realised, wasn’t the media and it wasn’t me, it was just our combined perspectives. As much as we try to, we can’t fully understand what we’ve never experienced and so when we make mistakes (jump to conclusions, make assumptions…), we need to be willing to accept that we could be wrong. We need to be willing to try to put ourselves in the shoes of others.
I thought about that mall, I thought about the people shopping there and like now, I remembered their faces. They weren’t scared, they weren’t angry, they were just going about their business. In that scene, each one of them looked as though they moved with purpose. It’s easy to look at someone in front of us and just make assumptions, “They must be…because…”. When we show that kind of complacency, we miss out on the opportunity to learn from each other. In healthcare we see all kinds of people and it’s so easy to try to fit each person into their own neat little box and categorise them together.
It’s just as easy for each person to look at those who work in health, education, law enforcement, emergency services, government and every other field to do the same. The problem is that when we do that, we stop seeing them as people, as individuals. They become problems that need to be solved, numbers, items on an agenda, countless other labels. They stop being our neighbours, our friends, our family members, fellow people who experience the same range of emotions that we do.
For many of us, we are being constantly reminded to stay indoors, to socially distance ourselves from our family, friends, social lives and, to self-isolate. For many of us, long term isolation can lead to mental health complications. For all of us, our lives have been negatively impacted in some way, whether it’s financial, emotional or social. It’s easy to think that going out and being active outside…(going to the beach, park or any establishment that’s still currently open) would be so easy and shouldn’t have been banned.
However, before I indulge in those thoughts, I think of my family and friends. The people I care about; the people in my life who are at high risk and I imagine how empty my life would be without them. Normally deciding whether or not to go outside shouldn’t have such serious connotations and yet at this moment it does. This is our current reality, this is the new normal. We all have those we care about (whether or not we’d like to admit it); it’s part of what makes us human, forming connections is part of our shared experience.
To those of you staying inside or going to work and struggling with trying to cope, keeping yourself and those around you safe in the middle of a global pandemic, Thank-you. Thank-you for seeing us as not just another statistic, other number or name. Thank-you for thinking of us as the people we are at the moment and the people we might one day be. Because as you do this for us, I’d do the same for you.