Open, it’s a matter of perspective

I’ve come to the conclusion that trying not to look foolish is ultimately futile. There are just too many ways, too many opportunities, too many situations where one can feel … foolish. Often, it’s a matter of perspective that does us in.

Once upon a time — for one day — I was a substitute teacher at Detroit Southeastern High School. The class was composed of black students who came from neighborhoods foreign to my small town perspective. It was a class in “Family Living” and a movie had been scheduled, an 8mm black and white production common at the time. The movie’s theme was boy meets girl. Different personalities in different social settings were presented along with the social challenges one would expect.

All the actors were caucasian, all wore clothing endemic to suburban teens, the settings were all suburban, the cars new, the lawns green, and the leading young lady had long blonde hair. The film was calculated to give guidance to the resolution of social challenges. At Detroit Southeastern High School it failed to achieve its goal.

Upon the movie’s conclusion I asked a young man for his input. The response he gave is not one I can share with you in this family newspaper. After he spoke, I looked at that class of black kids staring back at me gauging the reaction of a white guy who didn’t have a clue concerning their reaction to a film that didn’t have a clue. Then, they went back to their perspectives. I have never completely returned to mine.

Years later while serving as a family judge I had a probation officer transport one of the court’s charges to a facility in mid-Michigan. The young man remained silent as the trip progressed. It was only after passing through the villages of Fairview and Mio that he made an observation: “Alpena’s a pretty big city isn’t it?” This 15-year-old boy never had been out of town.

My friend, Judy Patterson Wenzel, taught high school in Milan Federal prison. Her book, “Light From The Cage” describes perspectives there. One was that of a young black prisoner who recalled a grade school field trip to a pumpkin patch: ” There was nothing but pumpkins wherever you looked.” he said.” I’ve never seen anything so beautiful in my whole life.” Judy asked him how many times he had been out of Detroit, “Only that one time” he replied.

How can a city kid with a perspective of only once being out of Detroit — that one time landing in a pumpkin patch — communicate with a kid only once out of Alpena who thinks he’s from a big city?

Thousands have died or been imprisoned suffering from opioid addiction, a perspective fueled by the excessive distribution of millions of pills. Both federal and Michigan laws substantially shield the drug industry from criminal and civil liability. It’s a politically secured shield that cost that industry millions to acquire but has provided it with a comfortable perspective. Owners and executives have earned millions — none have gone to jail.

In the the civil war novel Cold Mountain, a young confederate soldier, Inman, shared his perspective concerning plantation owners:

“Inman looked at the lights in the big houses at night and knew he had been fighting battles for such men as lived in them, and it made him sick.”

There is a gap between the perspectives burned into the consciousness of destitute immigrant children fleeing violence — the experience of fear and isolation from their parent’s imposed disappearance — and the vested perspectives that allowed such cruelty to occur. As a society, I wonder how much of our humanity has fallen into that gap and how sick the loss will make us.

Occasionally, I look back at the limited perspective I had in judging some young people whose lives provided them with only limited perspectives.

Sometimes, it makes me feel foolish.

Doug Pugh’s Vignettes runs bi-weekly on Tuesdays. He can be reached via email at pughda@gmail.com.


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