The only vantage point from which we can view other people is the vantage point that our own experiences have supplied. But when we look at entire cultures and religions, we are not judging one individual based on their values. We are forming opinions about millions, even billions of people because we have been taught to believe that they are the same. We allow ourselves to be blind to diversity. While it is human tendency to focus on difference, it is also human tendency to assume that all people with the same skin color have the same personal traits, that all people with the same type of dress have the same morals, that all people that speak a certain language are the enemy — this tendency is a deep human fault that may be impossible to fully remove. By imposing our beliefs about a group of people onto individuals, we allow our own limited experiences to take precedent over the true reality, therefore alienating people by denying them of their individuality and independence. We strip people of their identities by relying on assumptions. In allowing ourselves to do this, we not only enforce false perceptions, but we also misrepresent others, causing problems for them due to our ignorance. Our beliefs cannot be isolated from the world around us, so our ignorant assumptions are not simply opinions — they have implications for every other person on this earth.
I have explored the erasure of identity and the denial of individuality in ten creative responses to readings that have major themes ranging from family to freedom. I have seen that each of these works, while they are all unique, is united to the others by the ideas of individuality, identity, and independence. These ideas form the basis of our lives: The search for individuality is the reason why some people go to school for excruciatingly long decades. The search for identity is the essence of the question we have all asked: “Who am I?” The search for independence is also the search for self-reliance, dignity, and respect. No one wants to be viewed as if they are exactly the same as everybody else. When we make assumptions about other people, we hinder their searches for individuality, identity, and independence. In my responses, I have engaged with the idea of diversity in these three areas and what it truly means to be accepting of others.
Components of Perception
I want to establish a few things I have learned about people and experiences. There is a process that turns a seemingly insignificant event or piece of information into knowledge that can affect other people.
The first aspect of perception is perspective, or the way in which we view the world — this affects how we receive information and react to events. Perspective is the beginning of all human experience. Our perspectives are influenced by our cultures, our communities, our individual values and morals, and our experiences, so it is absurd to expect that any two people have exactly the same worldview. However, it is important to remember that it is not absurd to try to understand other people’s worldviews.
A recurring theme throughout this seminar was the idea that people can have vastly different interpretations of the same occurrence or message, but differences in interpretation are not harmful until people begin to force their interpretations on other people. This was a lesson I learned time and time again from the readings as well as in class sessions. Especially in the case of Islam, which is misunderstood not just in America but around the world, I wish that people would realize that there may be one Koran, but there are many Islams. These Islams are united only by the idea that certain symbols have some kind of significance in the lives of people who call themselves Muslims — everything else is dynamic. Islam is neither a violent nor a peaceful religion — it is people who are violent, it is people who are peaceful, and it is people who establish religious values.
Representation and Portrayal
After interpretation, the spreading of information gives way to even more variety. The presentation of information after it has been interpreted is an essential element of perception because the message that is conveyed can have a profound effect on other people. The purpose of communication is to introduce something new to others, and this could not be done if worldviews and interpretations were all the same. Representation and portrayal of information that has been interpreted allows new understandings of old knowledge. In this way, people enlighten each other. Communication is the aftermath of perception.
Beauty in Religion
What is beautiful about religion is that there is diversity in interpretation and consequently in portrayal. The artwork that we have seen throughout the semester is a wonderful example of this. Through song, poetry, and art forms such as dance, calligraphy, and sculpture, people express their deep reverence for their religion. Religion is powerful because people are comforted by it, because it makes people more cognizant of their decisions, and because they can feel a sense of belonging while still having individualized beliefs.
Women in Society
When discussing religion, I feel that it is always important to discuss gender roles. Women are half the world’s population but are the victims of patriarchal societies. Major religious texts separate people based on gender and establish expectations for two or more genders in regards to family and societal roles.
Gender is a big part of my life, and whenever possible, I try to enforce the ideas that there are more than two genders and that gender is not a black-and-white concept. In society, anyone who is not male is at a disadvantage because of their gender. It is so important to read novels written by people who are not male because it gives people of all genders a voice in society. I am so glad that I have been introduced to authors such as Aminata Sow Fall, Marjane Satrapi, and Rukhsana Ahmad because it seems like everything I have been reading about culture comes from a man’s perspective, and it is so eye-opening to read about culture when it is presented by women. I have engaged deeply with the idea of feminism in a few of my creative responses, and I look forward to reading more from authors such as these.
As the last part of my introduction, I would like to thank Professor Asani for such a wonderful, engaging, and eye-opening experience. This seminar was the highlight of my week, and every discussion was amazing. I knew I would learn a lot, but this seminar opened my eyes more than I could have known, and it magnified my love for learning about culture.
Professor Asani, you are such a kindhearted and insightful person, and I look forward to more semesters with you. Thank you so much for introducing me to so many new concepts and such wonderful authors.