Sometimes, smart people confuse me. Maybe it is because they are too smart for me and think of smart things I could never come up with. And because I do not foresee myself ever becoming as smart as they are, I doubt I will ever be able to share their thoughts or follow their line of thoughts – they are beyond my comprehension!
So, what I cannot comprehend, I consider non-perceptual, i.e., I cannot sense them, even if they actually exist. And what I consider non-perceptual, I eliminate from my world, i.e., I forget they exist. Be it conscious or not, I dismiss their thoughts, and by so doing, I ignore their presence. I call them “people,” but I do not categorize them as the same beings as me – to my eyes, they appear as creatures from another world!
“Smart people… they’re out there, way out!” I say to the person next to me who is also not as smart as they are – someone who I think I can comprehend, so I consider perceptual, and therefore, acknowledge the presence and feel I can share thoughts. And as a proof of reaching a common understanding that we will never know what it is like to be them, we roll our eyes and shrug our shoulders together.
Maybe you will, too, if you were there (unless you are one of those smart people, that is!).
Maybe we will alienate them without feeling much guilt or shame, and have no compassion for how they would feel being treated as aliens.
Maybe we excuse ourselves for behaving this way by thinking, “smart people only think and don’t feel, so why should we care about their feelings?”
But what if, in place of “smart people,” I say “people of a particular background (or lack thereof)” or “people with a particular ability (or lack thereof)”?
Can we treat them like aliens and have no compassion for them, and ignore their presence because we will never know what it is like to be them?
Or should we at least try imagining? We are, after all, the same human beings, with mostly the same physical features. We all have eyes that function the same way, so even if we cannot know exactly what it is like to be them, maybe we can still simulate what it is like to see through their eyes?
In my sophomore year of college, I read a paper by a very smart person, an American philosopher T.N., titled “What is it like to be a bat?” I believe his argument was that you could never know exactly what it is like to be a bat, no matter how precisely you imitated its physical features and mimicked its behaviours (have wings and fly or hang upside down in caves, have echo-sonar organs and “see with ears” to catch and eat bugs), because there is more to being a bat than just these – you do not have the mind of a bat to fully experience and comprehend being a bat.
To be honest, I could never understand why he chose bats to be the subject of this paper… I mean, who wants to know what it is like to be a bat, anyway?! Too smart for me, I guess.
But I respect him deeply. Not because he is so much smarter a person than I am for coming up with such a unique thought beyond my comprehension, but because he is so much better a person than I am for exploring beyond his comprehension to find out what it is like to be something alien to him.
Maybe I do not foresee myself becoming a smarter person no matter how hard I tried to think like smart people, but I can clearly see myself being a better person by trying hard to see through others’ eyes.
Today is World Autism Awareness Day… maybe today, I will try seeing through the eyes of autistic kids, and their caretakers, and wonder what it is like to be them.
Light It Up Blue!