POV — Point of View; or, The Lens Matters
As I’m sure you know, I start the externally-focused part of each day with the news. (Prior to that is my time for spiritual practice, but that’s another essay.) This morning’s offerings struck me upside the head with the notion of POV — point of view.
In fact, I might go so far as to say that the entirety of journalism is an exercise in point of view. Here are some synonyms in no particular order: belief, view, opinion, attitude, feeling, sentiment, thoughts, ideas, position, perspective, viewpoint, standpoint, angle, slant, outlook, stand, stance, vantage point, side, frame of reference. I could go on, but you take my point.
In the articles I read this morning, I started to count points of view. Here are some: medical, epidemiological, political, personal, global, financial, economical, professional, educational, psychological, emotional, physical, numerical, spiritual.
Instead of points of view, however, let’s call each one of these a lens, a lens through which to view and opine on the Trump Pandemic and its cause the coronavirus.
The lens, Beloved, matters.
Here’s one: A Florida pastor, Rev. Rodney Howard-Browne was arrested after defying local orders not to publicly gather. Patricia Mazzei writes, “The sheriff of Hillsborough County said the Rev. Rodney Howard-Browne, a Pentecostal pastor, endangered the lives of his parishioners by holding services on Sunday.” That’s one spiritual lens.
Here’s another: Paul Krugman writing in “The Land of Denial and Death,” says, “Thousands of Americans are dying, and the president is boasting about his TV ratings.” That’s a numerical lens.
How about this? Also from Paul Krugman, “About denial: Epidemiologists trying to get a handle on the coronavirus threat appear to have been caught off guard by the immediate politicization of their work, the claims that they were perpetrating a hoax designed to hurt Trump, or promote socialism, or something.” That’s an epidemiological lens in political clothing.
I could give you example after example of each of the lenses through which we are all viewing the Trump Pandemic. Each one is, in its own way, valid. Each one supports an ideological point. As a rule, writing teachers insist on a point of view from their authors for good reason — it makes for coherent narrative.
For that column, that article, that opinion piece, that conversation, sure, but, overall, does a single lens make sense?
The Narcissist-in-Chief was quoted as saying on a conference call with America’s governors this week, ““Be nice. Don’t threaten. Don’t threaten. Be nice.”
Be nice?. We have a five year old at the head of the federal government. And, for the record, who’s being threatening? Not Governor Gretchen Whitmore; she’s just trying to learn her new job.
Partisan politicking is raising its ugly head as the federal government is denying virus hotspots much needed medical equipment. I don’t like them, therefore, their constituents can die?
Let’s look at each of these lenses and what their perspectives do to the narrative of the coronavirus.
Medical: An invisible virus is attacking our populace. We need supplies that are in dangerously short supply. Frontline health care workers are getting infected and dying.
Epidemiological: Epidemic experts are tracking the numbers, the hotspots, and doing what they can to forecast the future path of the threat.
Political: In Bret Stephens’ words, “But for the time being, Cuomo is playing the part of the president we wish we had — compassionate, well-informed, firm, but also flexibly responding to changing conditions — as opposed to the irascible, ignorant and self-infatuated president we do have.”
Personal: It is up to the individual to discern the facts from the fake news, and take precautions to protect themselves and their loved ones from potentially risky behavior.
Global: The coronavirus has caused a worldwide pandemic; no one is immune. The patterns of infection from China and Italy can help us manage what we’re doing in the United States.
Financial: There is a faux opposition that has been constructed between the public health and the function of the economy. Government has stepped in to fill the gap till Americans can go back to work — far less competently or completely than anyone wants or needs.
Economical: The markets will be able to sort themselves out after the threat passes; so who cares if small businesses tank and unemployment reaches thirty percent? The omnipotent market will prevail.
Professional: People who are sheltering in place are being expected by their employers to work from home as if they are in their offices with their work colleagues. Zoom, anyone?
Educational: The same folks who are working from home and have children are expected to morph into professional home schoolers so that their kids can graduate to the next grade.
Psychological: In the words of a conversation between Bret Stephens and Gail Collins,
“Bret: The inability of so much of the public to remember what Trump was saying just a month ago suggests that, in addition to the coronavirus crisis, we’re also experiencing a national amnesia pandemic.”
“Gail: Maybe it’s just national attention deficit disorder. People do hit a point where they just can’t cope with coronavirus discussions 24–7.”
Emotional: Ars Nova is an incubator for emergent theatre artists. They have canceled their season and committed to paying the artists who would have had work during that time — because they can. In the words of Artistic Director Jason Eagan, “I mean, you calculate the risk, and then you do what you can — but you do everything you can. The right decision for us is leading through our values, following our hearts. It sounds cheesy, but it’s the whole reason we exist.”
Physical: No one is safe from this virus. How can we keep ourselves going in the face of the threat? In the words of Jason Farago, writing about Saint Rosalia who saved Palermo from the Plague, “In grim times you have to believe — if not in saints, then at least in art. All it can offer, in good times or bad, is a view of the world we want to live in rather than the world at hand. It can affirm the human capacity for invention even when death is stalking your studio door.”
Numerical: There are polls, statistics, models, projections, factual numbers of people infected, or dead, and numbers of those who will likely succumb. Each is a lens.
Spiritual: Andrew Warren, the state attorney for Hillsborough County, reprimanded the Florida pastor, “I’d remind the good pastor of Mark 12:31, which says there is no more important commandment than to love thy neighbor as thyself. Loving your neighbors is protecting them, not jeopardizing their health by exposing them to this deadly virus.”
This is where the rubber meets the road. Oh, not that we’re to love our neighbors, but, really, what do we mean when we claim that protection is necessary?
Each lens purports to be a form of protection, Beloved.
Which one is right? All of them, and therein lies the rub.
Viewing reality through lenses is the only option we have. Think about that for a second. You always see your life through your own eyes. I see mine through mine. There are no other eyes I can look through, even if I mean to be empathetic and considerate of another’s POV. I still only have my one pair of eyes.
This is why there is a saying in metaphysical circles that reality is one hundred percent perception. Or, the lens matters.
In addition, Albert Einstein, and his notoriously capable brain, posited this: You cannot solve a problem from the level of mind that created it.
So what to do?
Become aware of the lens you’re looking through, especially as you read news reports. Lenses, like it or not, mask hidden biases.
Even benevolent ones.
Who wouldn’t want to protect their loved ones?
But is that a viable option?
I would submit to you that protection — especially from the facts of what’s actually happening — is dangerous, and terrifyingly overrated.
Back to St. Rosalie. The artist who painted her was Anthony van Dyck. “Having endured a quarantine which shut down his international career, having survived an epidemic that could have cost him his life, van Dyck crafted in Palermo an incarnation of beneficence in chaos. Plagues are random. They are merciless. They are, I’m now learning, most terrifying for their uncertain duration.”
Beneficence in chaos.
That’s a lens that appeals to me.
Beneficence — the OED nails its definition — doing good.
I’m with Jason Eagan, “I’m finding myself mostly thinking about resilience,” Eagan said. “And how do we come out the other side of this.”
Beneficent lenses lead to beneficent ideas.
Beneficent ideas lead to beneficent words.
Beneficent words lead to beneficent actions.