I live in a very personalized age.

I ordered checks last night. (Should've done it a couple of weeks ago. Why do I always put off this simple task until I'm down to about three checks left in the checkbook?) Ordering checks is a long and involved exercise in "personalizing." What do I want them to say? In what font? In what order? Personalize them with a logo of some sort? Matching cover? Personalized notes with that? (Fries? Coke? Cinna-sticks?)

Marketing in a "market driven" economy is all about an appeal to the person who wants to be unique in the universe - but not too unique. (What a silly thing to say! "too unique" - it is or it isn't the only one of its kind, right?)

What if it's not the right bit or bobble (or huge motor vehicle or sprawling McMansion) in the vast hierarchy of Conspicuous Consumption? What if other people do not perceive my object as an Object of Envy? (What if the other kids laugh at me?) We want the cool stuff, but apparently we want it personalized. It looks a lot like coloring in the pictures on your own Pee-Chee. You do, of course, have the Pee-Chee. Everyone has the Pee-Chee. Yours is scribbled on in your own way, though. It's all yours. It's unique. It's personalized.

Within this adolescent Please Please Call Me Cool Too culture, we seem to be looking for ways to personalize the right cool stuff even when we're in our forties - or fifties or sixties. That's evident. But I think we are doing something else too. I think we are also looking at our relationships from the wrong end of the binoculars - or is it the rear view mirror?(Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear.) Our perspectives on our own lives become detached from the rest of the world when we get too personalized -- or ... perhaps it's not too personalized, but personalized outside of a context. We start to act as if the scribbling is the thing. So we scribble on everything and not just our Pee-Chees.

Instead of asking ourselves, "Who do I love?" (which is how we experience the Pee-Chee years), it might be quite revealing to ask ourselves, "Who loves me?" What happens when instead of saying, "What do I see?" or "What do I want?" or finding new ways to scribble on our own Pee-Chees (folders that are just like everyone else's when we first buy them), what happens if we ask, "What do other people see?" and "What do other people want?" ... What if we take into consideration the vistas and views of the people who are all around us?

Taking this wider view shows us our landscapes in a completely different perspective.

Whereas recognizing our own attachments can show us our own perceived values and tell us who we think we are, recognizing what sorts of people are attached to us - or what others see when they see us - requires us to get out of our own way for a moment. It gets us to stop covering the lens. To take off the lens cap or to get our thumbs out of the picture, and then to look around. This is a mirror that will show you yourself from the perspective outside your own accustomed place. It's a way to proof read one's own life.

Writers who want to be published have to do this, of course. One can always write the most meaningful, emotive, sincere, earnest pages in the world, but if it only means something to the writer, nobody's going to buy it (or even read it, unless you can coerce them into doing so). It has to communicate something to other people, and it has to be something other people can hear and understand. Publishable material has to have a place in the perspectives of other people. It's okay - helpful, even - if it's something folks haven't been aware of before, but it's not okay if it's just personalized scribble. Everybody's got a Pee-Chee. Scribbling on it doesn't make it interesting.

Here's another example. Have you ever watched Stacey and Clinton "from TLC's What Not To Wear" TV show? The hosts bring the makeover participant to New York for a few intensive days of learning to see self and clothes and personal image in a new way. One of the first things the style makeover duo does is to put the clueless person in front of a 360 degree mirror, in a favorite outfit, to explain and comment on the outfit and what the person thinks it looks like while she's standing there, wearing it - what the wearer thinks it says about her - the image it projects or the places she would wear it.

Then the hosts open the back of the box, and step in, and say things like, "Are you kidding me? You look like a disco ball!" Or, "what year do you think this is?" Or, "how old are you again?"

It's a very uncomfortable moment to be standing in, I'm sure. It's uncomfortable just to watch it happen to someone else. But it is also obvious that the perspective of the person in the disco ball dress, or clothing bought in the kid's department, is so limited that reality can't find a place on the horizon. What needs to happen here is the addition of incoming perspective. The attachments, viewpoint, experience, and feedback of other people don't mean that you don't dress in a way that shows your own personality - such additional information means that you show your personality as it really is, in a way other people will be able to understand. The wider perspective shows the individual her (or his) truest self, and then shows the person how to express it well.

Fashion and style may be less essential to life than other things, but it sure works as a metaphorical and actual example of how people work. Humans really cannot see themselves accurately. From inside the car, behind the lens, in a unique viewpoint, we cannot see what we ourselves are. We have to have each other. We have to have others we can trust.

I've been thinking about this lately - for a lot of reasons. I've been thinking about how important our families are to us when we choose a lifetime's partner. (Do you think you're in love? Do you think you could marry this person? Ask someone who really knows you and loves you - then you'll know the truth of your own perspective.)

Without the perspectives of other people - people we know love us and really know us, or really know about life - we end up believing ourselves fat when we are thin, or thin when we are fat. We marry people who reflect back to us a self we see, not a self who is really there. We put on clothing that doesn't suit us or tell the truth about us, and we take up careers that slowly kill us. We send troops into battle in places where older, wiser nations have realized outsiders cannot fix insider problems. We start cults that morph into untold cruelties. When we cut off the wider perspective, when we only ask ourselves, "What do I want?" and stop asking the question, "Who loves me?" we stop being fully human.

No comments: