Perspective

7 02 2011

It’s weird to think about, really, how are lives are broken down into minutes and seconds. Planning has been taken to a microscopic level, schedules must be abided, targets must be reached. It’s all good to an extent, because the way or world is set up we must accomplish things to get ahead, put food on the table for ourselves or our families, plan for our retirement. There must be a debt for our mastery/defiance of time and space. The benefits of a global community come at a price.

Waiting to board the plane this morning, I had a conversation with a man regarding the virtues and dilemmas of window, middle and aisle seats. Because I travel often for work, and bring expensive equipment on board with me, I will sometimes prefer a middle seat to an aisle or window if it mean I will be in a better boarding group, thus ensuring bin space for my stuff. With exuberant eyes, he told me how he just loved window seats, how to him they represented mankind’s greatest achievement. By this he meant our ability to go anywhere on the planet in a matter of hours, when long-distance travel use to be considered in days, weeks, or months. Of course, for those who cannot afford or access air travel, this still remains the case.

It made me wonder how being up so high, 34,000 feet to be specific, and looking out of the window for miles and miles, so far that you can see the earth curve away, affects our perspective of life when we are on the ground. How do we relate to distance? To mountains or clouds? To walking? To planes flying overhead? How has our psychology changed since we began to view the earth from such great heights?

One of my favorite professors in college, N. Scott Momaday, was a Pulitzer Prize winning author and a Native American of the Kiowa tribe. With his deep, booming voice, he used to tell us the creation myth of his people, of how his ancestors crawled from the underworld to this world through a log, how they originally dwelled in the mountains, their view of the world inhibited by tree and shade. Some brave leaders ultimately led the tribe out of the mountains to the Great Plains, and there they were introduced to the single most powerful and catalyzing element their society would ever encounter: the horse.

On the back of a horse, a Kiowa could see for miles. They could see herds of buffalo or enemy raids while still miles away. It gave them time to react, but more importantly, it changed their psychology, their world view (on account of actually being able to see the world). It gave them the opportunity to plan, and they became wise to the advantages therein, from making the most of precious few minutes to avoid or prepare for an attack or laying the groundwork for generations to come. Their culture became enriched not only by the deeds of past ancestors but by the promise of the future as well.

There can be no doubt of the benefits of technological advances for both the Kiowa and our culture today, and they parallel each other with the enhancement of long range vision in the literal sense, but in a metaphorical way as well. And while this ability was and is used for the good of the tribe/society, it’s not without its bitter end. The horse brought the Kiowa into its own as a brave tribe, the became masters of the Great Plains and of war, which brought great glory and a heritage as well as the tragedies that go along with it. While, the thousands of flights every day around the world make possible incredible achievements in every profession and help enrich our global community, yet they also pour tons of carbon into the atmosphere, warming the planet, making our future a little less certain, even as we plan for it.

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