The following is the draft of my Frame of Reference Paper (see "Sarah's Frame of Reference: Draft I") that I actually submitted.
This is maybe a more telling account of where I think I am in the universe and how that couches everything I do or say.
Deciding how to approach this paper has been difficult for me. Opinions and metacognition both come easily (they comprise the bulk of my daily thinking), yet I am on my fourth draft of this frame of reference paper. I am afraid, it seems, of coming across poorly. I don’t want the readers, the receivers, to think that I am not introspective or humble enough, nor do I want them, whoever they may be, to think that I am not critical enough of my own assumptions and stances. I do not have terminology with which to label my perspectives or modes of thinking; this, too, I find is delaying the completion of this assignment. I want to tap into the well-developed areas of thinking, to clearly identify what movements or modes my perspectives and habits fit into, but I don’t have the vocabulary on hand. And at present, I’m either too lazy to determine what the soft-scientific names are for my ways of thinking, or I secretly believe that labels are typically pigeon-holing and cheap, easy to cast aside when the next wave of deterministic thinking comes in.
What I do know is this: I think I’m right. I always think I’m right. Even when I’m going to say something that I think may not be exactly true, or if I’m thinking something that I think may not be exactly true, I couch the thought in such a way that lets other people know that I may not be right. Consequently, I can always be assured of my rightness, even when I think I may not be right.
This sounds like a cavalier approach to life. And maybe it is. But then, one of the most pivotal moments in my epiphanic history was when, during my first year of college, a new friend said to me, “We all think the way we live is the best way to live.” I thought he was audacious at the time—audacious, prideful, limited, obviously unfamiliar with me—but I’ve since thought about it. I believe he’s right. We do, on some level, each think that the way we live and see the world is the best way to live and see the world, otherwise we would change. When we realize (fully, not just with our intellect or our lips) that there is a better way to live or think, then we change.
My thinking has seen changes over the last eleven years. I’m sure it saw changes before then, too, but I don’t consider myself sentient before I was twelve. As a little girl, I blindly plowed through life, closed-eyed and self-centered. I didn’t like myself, didn’t like the cocky, loud-spoken, sometimes dishonest, adult-aware little girl that I was. I didn’t know life could be different; I didn’t know that I didn’t like myself. This is, in retrospect, how I’ve determined that I didn’t then rank on the consciousness scale.
This changed, or began to change, when I was in sixth grade. My first conscious moment was in Mrs. Sinclair’s sixth grade math class. Mrs. Sinclair came around, clipboard in hand, to see if we’d done our homework. I hadn’t, though I don’t know why. Because I wanted her still to think that I was an exemplary student, with impeccable studently performance, I pulled out a piece of paper and listed twenty or so random numbers. Mrs. Sinclair passed my desk, looked down at my paper, nodded, made a checkmark on her clipboard, and moved on. As she continued zigging through the desks, I sat back and considered my actions. I had the distinct feeling that what I had done wasn’t right. I hadn’t lied, according to what I knew about lying.
There existed a possibility that I might actually have come to each of those specific answers if I had done my work (though I knew it was a very slim possibility, like stumbling upon my homework in Borges’ infinite library), but I knew that this reasoning wasn’t fair. And though I’d never been taught in church or at home about the morality of this particular situation, I knew that what I had done was dishonest. Then, out of the blue, I resolved to never do it again. But I was specific: I would never fake answers again. This was the first time that I made a moral standard for myself.
In retrospect, that sixth grade moment was the beginning of my sentience. I began to suspect (finally, finally!) that I was actually an independent being and was, consequently, independently responsible to whatever higher powers or laws or forces are at work. This shouldn’t have been news to me. My parents and my religious training had both taught me this for years. Though I knew the words for this (agency, accountability) and knew the principle, I hadn’t been individually conscious of it. Thus, age 12, I began to open my eyes and negotiate my existence.
The subsequent eleven years have been marked by moments as epiphanic and determining as that one. I assume, too, that the rest of my life will be led the same. The provocative thing about these moments of revelation is that the revelations themselves are rarely forward-thinking. That is, they don’t typically focus their illumination on the truth of future situations. For example, they aren’t fortune cookie moments with omniscient prescriptions: “Do this and you will always be happy.” Instead, what I’ve periodically learned things concerning the way things are, about the way things or I have been. The learning has future implications, of course, but the epiphany and formative bang to my frame of reference most immediately changes the way I see things and the way I look at what I’ve already seen.
Let me be specific. The summer before my senior year my family moved. We moved from our home on Long Island to another home, an hour closer to New York City. Thus, my senior year was spent building one-year relationships with people who were fully settled in their high school ways of thinking. This required some negotiation on their parts and mine. I believe what I believe pretty firmly, and while the friends I had before the move had become accustomed to my faith and beliefs (and codes of conduct) over the course of elementary, middle, and high school, my new classmates were wham-bang introduced to me when we are all almost fully grown.
There was one boy in particular who didn’t like the way I did things. (Or perhaps he just had a crush on me.) I didn’t like to watch Jerry Springer with the other seniors in the senior lounge. I didn’t go out drinking with the kids in my AP classes over Halloween. I sometimes asked people not to swear or tell certain kinds of jokes around me. I thought both that there was right and wrong and that we will be held accountable for our actions (the tenderness and rightness of them). Mike didn’t particularly like these things about me. One day, towards the end of the year, he said in clenched-teeth frustration: “Sarah, you’re narrow-minded.” My mind reeled. I knew that saying “No, I’m not!” probably wouldn’t effectively combat the assertion. And, too, he might be right.
I’ve given this moment with Mike a lot of thought over the years. He was, in effect, commenting on my frame of reference. Though his objections to my opinions or lifestyle were based pretty exclusively on political and moral topics, he was saying that he thought my frame of reference, the cognitive structure through and by which I had up until then viewed life and operated, was inadequate.
This is the great movement of the post-Modernist era. We are each, in our ways, supposed to acknowledge the limits of our understanding. We are to suspect that we are each hypocrites and are constantly being undermined by our own false truths and conceptions. I do this, too. I continually remind myself of the possibility that I might fundamentally be wrong. Yet, we and I must live. (Or at least, that’s one of my life assumptions.) I suppose then, that we do what I did in Mrs. Sinclair’s sixth grade classroom: we step back, view our actions and the thinking that fueled/allowed them, and triangulate. Does what grows out of what we see and believe contribute? How does it compare/correlate/relate to what our faith and our families (those we respect and love) teach or believe? Is it Good? Does it hurt others? If we continue, will it hurt others?
And, depending upon the answers, we open our view, expand or shift or refine our thinking, become more sentient, more aware of the fallout and the wake we leave behind us. Our frames of reference turn, pivot, become reinforced, and we change.
I view the world through the lenses of my faith, my upbringing, and my own amateur though (v/r)igorous calculating and inspection. I see the world as a place that can and should be shaped by our best efforts to think and to use that thinking to lift and build. I know that while multiple seemingly contradictory truths are possible, Truth is also real. It is available to us when our eyes are open. That’s the task of this living: to take every opportunity to open our eyes, find Truth, and use our individual experiences with that Truth to change the world.
At least, I think so.