Sense of Now and the World§

writer: russell j.t. dyer; posted: February 23, 2007; revised: August 31, 2017; readers in past month: 512

Most people seem to have a very narrow sense of now and of the world, but they assume it is a complete sense of all of modern time and all of the world. For instance, in the U.S. many Christians are very supportive of prayer in schools. They assume that almost everyone is Christian and all should be if they’re not, and they assume that school prayer will naturally mean Christian prayer. They cannot invisage their child being in a classroom in the morning, and all of the students begining to pray in Hebrew. They cannot imagine that school prayer might mean that their child will be expected to keep a mat in his desk so that he may pray to Mecca several times a day. Nor do they think that their daughters might be expected to move to the back of the classroom during prayer time to separate themselves from the boys. Because everyone they know is Christian, they assume that everyone is Christian and therefore Christianity by default should be promoted. Little do they realize that most of the world’s population is not Christian, nor do they understand that their seemingly pleasant Christian attitudes is offensive to others.

The reality is that when we think of everyone that we know, including casual aquaintences, it’s not many people at all. If I count up all of my relatives, including those who are married into my family in some way, I can think of maybe two-hundred people. If I throw into the total my friends, co-workers, neighbors, and people who work at businesses that I go to regularly, that’s another few hundred, making my total something in excess of one-thousand people. If I figure into the number of people I know, all of such people that I used to know, but no longer see (going back over my life time), the list gets much longer. However, that still probably is only a few thousand people. Let’s be generous and say that there are ten thousand people that I know or have known at one time in my life. Last I heard, there are five billion people in the world. That means that I only know or have known, .00002% of the world’s population. That five billion count is a little old, and it doesn’t include all of the people that died in the last forty-five years that I’ve been alive. So, the percentage of people that I know and have known in relation to the number of people that are alive or were alive in my life time, is much lower. And yet, I make assumptions about people as a whole based on such a small sampling of the world’s population. And I’m moderately friendly and have always had a decent level of popularity. Imagine people who live quiet lives with no friends or relatives.

As I encounter more of the world, people from different cultures and see them in their native cultural environments, I realize how few people I know and how little I know about people. When I’m back in the U.S. and I hear people discuss life and people and so forth, I can see that they are making conclusions based on the thousand people that they know at the moment and the ten thousand that they have known. Many are also making judgements based on what television and movies tell them about people. But those programs are primarily making assertions based on the writers’ and directors’ perception of how people are and what they generally perceive about themselves and others. It’s quite ridiculous.

As I said at the outset of this musing, I’m starting to realize that most people take their narrow perspective of time and extrapolate from that a sense of all time. I saw this when I was more involved with the Catholic church. Good catholics would tell me the way the Church is, the beliefs of the Church, the doctrine, and quite often they were wrong about these supposed facts even in the current time. They would say something they thought that the Church believed always, not realizing that it’s a doctrine that has been around for a short time, or one that has been eliminated by the Church long ago. Still, they think it has always been a certain way and it still is that way.

For me, having read extensively of books written over the last couple of centuries or more, as well as being a little more aware than most (or at least I like to think), my sense of the now seems to be for a wider range of time than many people. So, when a young person acts like there has always been divorce and single-parents are natural, I am easily aware from my personal experience that that’s not true. When an American makes a comment Italian Americans have always been accepted into the American society and never treated badly, I know that’s not true and have a clear sense and memory of sorts when it wasn’t so. For me, the acceptance of Italian Americans is like a new development within my life, within the current time just as it is for an African American in his sixties.

I have no real point. This is just a musing. My intention is not to say that I’m smarter or more perceptive than everyone else. I’m merely observing that from my limited experience, although my experiences of people and cultures seems to be wider than many, and my perception of time seems to go beyond my direct experiences and life time, I realize that my experiences are very limited and incomplete. And yet, like many others — I can only imagine that perhaps everyone else — I have strong assumptions about people and life. Maybe I’m silly that way. I suspect that these assumptions are necessary or natural in part for psychological survival. Meaning, we cannot possibly know everyone, so we come up with conclusions and prejudices to be able to interact with others, to be able to function. Otherwise we would either go insane trying to understand everything or we would hide at home to avoid misunderstandings and the madness of society. Of course, animals function just fine without much thought or analysis of others.