Widening the Lens

The Nacirema are an interesting tribe.  In every Nacirema home, there is a black box, a sacred altar, that the Nacirema gather around nightly.  The black box is a central focus of Nacirema culture.  In fact, the black box is so valued that Nacirema homes often have several black boxes.  Indeed to be without a black box is to be truly cut off from Nacirema society.

By now, perhaps you are suspecting that Nacirema is American spelled backwards and that the black box is not an altar but a television and that when we discuss American culture the way we often discuss indigenous cultures, American culture can look just as exotic, strange, primitive, and superstitious as our portrayal of other cultures.

But there is an antidote to ethnocentrism and it comes in the form of a lovely magazine called Parabola.  If we want to understand others, we have to walk among them.  We have to listen to them and learn from them.  We have to widen the lens of our perception to begin to recognize how others view the world.  This widening of the lens leads to an expansion of consciousness.  We begin to see the world from a multiplicity of perspectives.

One of the gifts of volunteering for Parabola Magazine is having access to the magazine’s archives.  Of course, if you can afford to buy a complete set of the back issues of the magazine, it is one of the greatest gifts you can give to yourself, your loved ones, and particularly your children.  In the back issues, you will find many remarkable perspectives and stories.  Of course, in the current issue, Burning World, there is a wealth of brilliance too!

But I will share with you one particularly lovely article from the Clothing issue of Parabola.  In this back issue, the author examines Gandhi’s transformation of consciousness through the transformation of his clothing.  From the proper English barrister to the man in the garb of the peasant, Gandhi’s clothing was an outward expression of his inner change in consciousness.   Of course, anyone who has read Gandhi’s autobiography or any of the countless biographies on Gandhi knows that Gandhi was always in search of truth.  And in that search for truth, he was willing to adopt new attitudes and lifestyles.  Indeed this incredible flexibility of consciousness led the great man to once state, “It is not consistency I seek but truth.”

In the Clothing issue of Parabola, the man and his transformation of consciousness is examined through the fabric of his garments.  How brilliant an analysis and where else can such brilliance be found but in Parabola.

So, what does this widening of the lens through Parabola have to do with the classroom?  Well, particularly, in the World History classroom, to truly understand the tides of history, we must delve into the consciousness of culture and to delve into the consciousness of culture, we must have the courage to leave the shore of our certainties and swim out into new perceptions and new seas.

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