The Other Side

Living as I do now, as an American retiree, on the other side of Trump’s much-touted proposed wall between the United States and Mexico, I find myself thinking a lot about points of view.

I remember an exercise I used to do in my college freshman English classes to teach points of view and the importance of sharing one’s own p.o.v. in essay writing, for the benefit of all.

I’d have two student-volunteers stand stiffly, back to back, in the front of the class and describe aloud, in detail, what they could see directly in front of them. One of them, let’s call him “A,” might describe the classroom’s large windows looking out toward the majestic northern New Mexican mountains; the other student, “B,” might describe the white boards along the side wall and the classroom door with its window facing the hallway.

Then I’d quiz the rest of the students: Who is right?

The answer, of course, was “both.” Everything depends on where you’re standing; your stance determines your point of view. We’re all limited by the fact that we can only see what’s in front of us. We need to be supple and open to others’ vantage points in order to get a better grasp of the bigger picture, to try to see the whole truth.

I recall, too, a favorite children’s book I used to read to my daughter when she was a little girl about a funny-looking character – part chicken, part duck, and part other things (I confess, I forget) – shunned and mocked by the other barnyard animals, who used to waddle around singing merrily to himself, “It depends on how you look at things, it depends on how you look at things. Is a hippopotami any handsomer than I? Well, it depends on how you look at things…”

This unlikely fellow became the hero of the story when his bizarre appearance scared off a threatening fox. After he saved their lives, his fellow-farm-animals began, of course, to look at him differently. They changed their point of view.

And how could I ever forget the main takeaway from Peace Corps service? That being plonked in the “back of beyond,” among “poor” villagers in a “third-world” country, to live and work on their level and in their language for two years without payment, changes one’s point of view forever. On the other side of American stereotyping and too-easy labelling (“poor,” “third-world”…), the Peace Corps volunteer ultimately learns to admire and respect the people whom we lived among. “Poor?” I used to think to myself living in the rainforest of Gabon. “Maybe monetarily, but in so many other ways these strong, resilient people are enviably rich.”

Which brings me to the here-and-now of life on the other side of Trump’s dream-wall. Up until now my impression has been that most Mexicans – good-natured and quick-to-laugh as they are — have laughed off Trump and his wall as a big joke. Trump has been held in derision, depicted as a clown:

A segment of wall art (with the sign “No to the Wall”) in Colonia Guadalupe, San Miguel de Allende, MX, where I live

But just yesterday a happy-go-lucky Mexican friend expressed to me his serious shock and horror: “Did you SEE what Trump did at the NATO meeting the other day?! He actually SHOVED another of the dignitaries aside so he could push his way to the front! He has no RESPECT! He is the President of the United States, and he has no respect! Any man here, of any age, even an uneducated man living in the campo [countryside], would not do that to another person. In Mexico from early childhood we are taught to respect others.”

I continue to wonder how anyone can admire a leader who behaves the way Trump does in the United States and on the world stage.


And I wonder, too: What does it take to see things from the other side?

Effort, I think. You have to burn a calorie or three to change places with the kid at the front of the classroom whose view is of sacred Taos Mountain if you’ve been staring at the white board the whole time.

Or maybe it takes heartbreak or even tragedy. I’m reminded of something I read a long while ago that deeply resonated with me then and has stuck with me since: “A liberal is a conservative who’s been to prison” (presumably for a crime he or she didn’t commit).

I certainly don’t have all the answers. I, like you, only have my point of view.