When I went to the Columbus College of Art and Design (CCAD), my classmates and I were welcomed and illuminated by the president of the college, Joseph Canzani. "We will teach you to see what you've never seen before!" My classmates got years of humor from his pompous and pretentious speech, but there was some truth to it. If you really want to understand something, you've really got to look.
I know we've all seen the inside of a tomato. Maybe you've studied it a little. The act of reproducing what we see forces us to study it quite a bit more. We think we know what it looks like, and what we think we know can overshadow what's really true. We have to be willing to let go of what we think we know in order to truly learn what is.
For instance, I "knew" tomatoes are symmetrical. They aren't. They're approximately similar from side to side. They have veins. The seeds aren't mathematically perfect. The inner jelly is an alien mix of red, brown, purple, and phosphorescent green. I could go on. Get to know your own tomatoes. See what you've never seen before!
Once you've studied all of the wonders of tomato-ness, what then? Do you share your new-found tomato awareness? Don't get stuck on the tomato example. Whether it's a tomato or listening to the other side of a political argument, have you truly looked at the issue, or are you just operating on your assumptions about it?
This week, I've been watching the Public Broadcast Service's (PBS) documentary on the Vietnam War. I lived through these events when I was a child, and I've always been aware that the war greatly effects my world view. I'm watching the series to get another look at those times. In essence, to test my assumptions about the tomato.
The other night, I watched a Buddhist monk set himself on fire and burn to death. Imagine what that was like when I was a small child. I saw other children crying, old people crying, soldiers crying, houses burning, piles of bodies, stacks of coffins, mutilated POWs.
This Ken Burns series is excessively long in my opinion, but it's nothing like my childhood when tv was war all the time. It wasn't like 9/11 when people acknowledged the PTSD generated by one day's footage. People, especially kids, got counseling. In my day, kids didn't have any real thoughts or feelings to worry about. They'll grow out of it, and counseling is hippy dippy crap anyway.
There were some positive things that came out of all this televised violence. I understood people of different races and places had feelings. They bleed, they die. Old white guys in government can be dead wrong, self-absorbed, and power hungry. The war made me more empathetic and a committed pacifist. In some ways, maybe it would be better if we still showed the sins of war on tv? Maybe we'd stop the wars we're currently fighting and put that money into health care and education.
Watching the show is unpleasant for me, but I think there's a chance that it will let me see those times more clearly, to see as I've never seen before. Though I have to admit, I'd rather study tomatoes.