It’s the very last statement in an excellent article about the Paris that we don’t hear about, read about, or exalt in our storytelling. It’s the description of a suburb just beyond the ring, or “Périphérique.” It’s a lesson in how to look at things differently.
The sentence essentially says: The future is on the periphery. And while the context concerns the ongoing development in the neighborhood of Pantin and other diverse areas outside the City of Light, the larger meaning of the words should not be lost on us.
How often do we not look beyond what sits right in front of us? How often do we challenge ourselves to view situations from a different perspective?
What if we’re so used to the ways we do things automatically, the way we perceive each other and ourselves, the inevitable execution of “we don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are,” that we don’t get beyond our own usual closed-off sphere of comprehension?
Beyond Paris, Suburbs Offer Lessons
“The Other Paris, Beyond the Boulevards” describes the richness of a thriving largely immigrant community and its positive examples, as seen through the eyes of the writer who lives there. Appearing in the New York Times, this opinion piece reminds us that progress is made organically, often where we aren’t explicitly looking for it.
Mira Kamdar writes:
My neighbors come from around the world; legal or illegal immigrants from Africa, South Asia, China and Vietnam. Most of the white faces I see are Poles, Ukrainians, Russians and Serbs… My neighborhood is changing… Construction is booming…
Pantin is… home to a green school, which produces more energy than it consumes. It hosts a collective that delivers local produce by barge several times a week along the canal. It sponsors a jazz festival and a film festival…
Ms. Kamdar notes the dynamism of her neighborhood, and concludes: “The future of this great city is on its periphery.”
Out of My Head, Out of My Own Way
An acquaintance commented on my schedule recently, recommending that I build in more down time. I agree. She remarked that if I could find a way to unwind – meditation or something like it – that would do me good. Again, I agree.
“What does get you to stop thinking about work (or writing)?” she asked.
“Walking,” I replied, “although often my head stays in the work or the words, and if anything, I resolve an issue as I move. So I’m not accomplishing the desired state of stepping outside of myself for a broader or more relaxed perspective.”
“Don’t you ever get out of your own head?” she persisted.
“When I’m in France,” I said. “I have to leave the country, feel a different rhythm, become a different self.”
I love the anecdotes to do with “seeing an elephant” in this article on creativity and changing perspectives. The blind man who feels the elephant’s trunk imagines one animal; the blind man feeling his ear imagines something else; when they listen rather than feel, their experience changes their impressions. A seeing man walks by and informs them they’re blind.
They wouldn’t have known, otherwise.
Changing perspective helps us solve problems. It is essential to creativity, to innovation, to empathy, to greater expressions of our humanity.
It’s also fun.
Rings. Peripheries. Borders.
They keep us in, they keep us out. They keep others in and likewise, out. They separate a confined or constrained space, physical or metaphorical, which may seem gem-like to some (the heart of moneyed Paris?) or chaotic to others (the noisy, working class suburbs?); from each vantage point, the other side of the border is “beyond.”
The future is on the periphery – that which we dismiss because we’re too close to our problems staring us in the face, too wedded to our immediate short-term objectives, too bogged down in our daily worries or bustling routines. Our heads are in the game in extremis, as is mine – so much so that we dwarf our vision in the process. Options, solutions, discoveries. All may be missed if we can’t see beyond our own narrowing spaces.
I may realize that I need to extricate myself from the habitual – and do so geographically – in order to free something in myself. This is one of the reasons I’ve always loved travel. My problems shrink, my perspective grows; I see things differently.
And yes, I relax.
How to See Things Differently
I remember as a small child how much fun it was to stand on my head and appreciate the effects of what I saw, or simply to curl my body into a pretzel-like form and then look up.
I always experienced something new.
Children, in their freedom and unfettered imagination, are able to conceive of incredible creatures, concoctions, and constructions. Anything goes, the rules of physics (much less propriety) don’t apply, and the possibilities are endless.
Children – and some adults – are more able to see things differently, to step into other perspectives, to perceive boundaries not as obstacles that fence us in, but markers of potential beginnings, opening out into unexplored territory.
I was raised with the expression that the future was on the horizon – that we should look outward, though somehow in a single direction. Whatever we would make of our lives was, nonetheless, ahead. But the double-meaning of Ms. Kamdar’s statement, its circular and expanding sensation reinforced by the very notion of a ring or periphery, feels more open, more promising.
How much would be possible if we stepped outside our own experience, our own cities, our own countries, our singular set of views?
The future is on the periphery. Perhaps we should turn our gaze.
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