August 1, 2003

Stephen writes, as part of a larger discussion:

“The more and more one focuses on daily life, the less and less one sees of the greater picture. It’s kind of like falling into a rut, eventually you don’t see very much at all because you’ve got dirt walls on both sides.”

I have to disagree with this on some level.

Daily life is life. The “greater picture” – and I don’t know exactly what Stephen means by the term – is, at best, only a reflection of how we want life to be.

There’s a grave danger in focusing on the bigger picture so much that you do not live your daily life to the fullest. And that is one of the greatest tragedies of human existence.

The “greater picture” is a phantom. It’s a fantasy. It can be a very good fantasy, and a vital thing to have. But it is far less important than living life in the present.

To go off on a tangent: I think that “big picture” thinking is often the cause of gross misperceptions of other people. To use Stephen’s example: “the popular perception of the middle east as being populated by culturally backward sand dwellers.” (I’d add the word “exclusively” in there; certainly, the Middle East has at least some culturally backward sand dwellers, just like America has culturally backward or culturally overforward dwellers.) People have ideologies, grand visions of the world. And when they begin focusing on them, they begin interpreting the real world according to those visions. We’re at war with Iraq? Iraqis are the enemy, so all Iraqis are backwards, racist hatemongers. President Bush stated as fact a piece of intelligence he didn’t know was fact? Everything he says is probably a lie. Jesse Ventura was a professional wrestler? Professional wrestling is silly, so he’ll be a terrible governor. Reagan had an uneven voice and appeared physically weak? Then he was a doddering old fool.

No. Ideologies are fine, to a degree. But don’t let them shine so brightly that real people are dim by contrast.

(Not, of course, that Stephen believes what I’m arguing against. He just brought up a point, which I may be interpreting in a way that he didn’t intend.)

“For thousands of years, Zen masters have plumbed the secrets of the universe while wearing comfortable clothing. Now you, too, can learn the wisdom of the ancients and win valuable prizes.

“It may be easier than you dare to imagine. Don’t you already spend a good part of your day sitting and thinking about nothing for hours on end? That’s Zen! You’re already doing it!”
— Stanley Bing

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