The Bigger Picture
“One of the great lessons of the history of science is that reality always turns out to be more encompassing than anyone imagined.” So writes philosopher Jim Holt in his book, Why Does the World Exist? (The book is a bit of a hard slog, but challenges one to contemplate ontology, nihilism, and the traditional concept of God.)
Let’s paraphrase and scale down the above quote to: One of the important lessons of reality is that the whole story is generally more complex and expansive than at first glance. Holt notes one scientific dictum which proffers that the simple explanation most often trumps the more complicated one. That point is debated by some, but quite often it doesn’t apply to the realm of human behavior.
Illustration. 13-year-old Amber’s grades are in the tank and she is often a disciplinary problem. She is generally uncommunicative, exhibits a sullen demeanor, and regularly spurns authority. Her primary teacher, Mr. Bullhead, knows that she lives with an elderly aunt who he views as incompetent and unsupportive. Since the gentle, caring approach has not produced significant changes, Bullhead goes all out with ruthless punishments meant to produce the desired changes in Amber. If that doesn’t work in short order, expelling her to who-knows-where will at least get the little wench off his hands.
The history of which Bullhead has no idea is that Amber’s mother committed suicide when she was eight and her father, currently serving 25-to-life in a federal penitentiary, had been sexually abusing her since she was nine. Presently she has a relationship with an 18-year-old street bum who pimps her to his buddies.
Human beings are all too often all too quick to judge without knowing the more encompassing reality. Parents don’t know that their child is mercilessly bullied at school. A son wonders why his dad acts certain ways but knows nothing of what he experienced as a soldier in combat. An employee resents her female supervisor’s sometimes-harsh comportment without knowing that the latter is struggling with her husband’s rampant philandering. And so on.
The world, even one’s personal one, would be improved if we took the time to explore and consider the complex, expansive whole story. Doing so will likely lead to increased understanding, empathy, and a caring approach to whatever issues with which others might be dealing. Jumping to conclusions is often the deleterious approach. Considering the big picture can produce much more constructive attitudes and actions.