[A poem] is made of action because you’re giving your whole life to it in that moment. And then the poem — you give it to everyone. Not that we’re going to change somebody’s mind — no, we’re going to change that small, three-minute moment. And someone will listen. That’s the best we can do.
A year has passed since Darren Wilson killed Michael Brown, military equipment met protesters in Ferguson and, less signficantly, I applied skeptic philosophy to my media work. I wrote about the limits of creating windows to the experiences of others, and those limits discouraged me. However, I have since expanded my view.
Progress is possible…
It’s impossible to know what it’s like to be another person, but I do have hope that I can empathize in breakthrough moments when I invest in the experience. I think those moments are meaningful because they advance strangers toward understanding. My friend Chris even suggested these connections are fundamental to being human.
This week the image of a dead 3-year-old boy brought attention to the international migrant crisis. Although the pain and sadness I feel when I see the image are not the same that the boy’s father experienced, I think those emotions bring me somewhat closer than I would have been had I not seen the image. News organizations made multimedia presentations and games to portray the migrant experience during the four years Syria has been at civil war, but the image of Aylan Kurdi generated unprecedented awareness.
… but it’s hard
While I began to recognize how people can empathize, I also found how difficult connecting with others can be. It’s hard to look at the Aylan Kurdi photo because it challenges my emotions. Maintaining friendships requires my intention and time. I have to leave my comfort zone to get to know people.
Leaving the comfort zone is hard. In the book “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” Daniel Kahneman describes how rarely people focus and experience “cognitive stress.” My brain, Kahneman writes, is often in autopilot, making decisions based on my biases. Reading this, I worried I would avoid situations that challenge my worldview because they require me to focus.
Applying these concepts to the modern “filter bubble,” I think digital media consumers and the algorithms that serve them tend to default to “easy” content – things people already “like” – rather than choose things that challenge their perceptions. I think the problem for online media is to convince audiences to invest their resources to engage and care.
Concepts in art!
As I grappled with these ideas over the past year, I found examples in Kendrick Lamar’s album “To Pimp a Butterfly” and the film “Interstellar.”
For me, this Kendrick line demonstrates how respect can make progress. Kendrick also mentions the pain he has caused in the same poem, which I think shows the limits of windows to others.
In Interstellar, (SPOILER) the lead character makes a ~~love connection~~ with his daughter through spacetime. It is tragic that they can’t actually be together, but their small connection basically saves humanity.