From a different perspective

The domestication of wheat gave birth to human civilization. In Mesopotamia, close modern day Iraq, a few homo-sapiens hand picked a species of wheat that produced the largest harvest. The ability to cultivate and store wheat allowed humans to create settlements, tows, city states and entire empires.

But how does human civilization appear from wheat’s perspective?

Yuval Harari talks about how humans roamed free for tens of thousands of years, foraging for food just as wild animals do. Once humans started growing tonnes of wheat, they needed a large labour force for growing it. Several empires enslaved their neighbours and put them to work on farms. And this was true until very recent times in human history. A large section of human society continues to be dedicated to the cultivation of wheat and other food produce.  These farmers plough the land, sow seeds, water saplings and fight pests and diseases on behalf of the grains they grow. Wild wheat, which was originally a nondescript species of grass, now covers hectares upon hectares of land on every continent with humans bent over and tending to it. Seen from this perspective, wheat domesticated man rather than the other way around.

All this while, we had only ever known wheat cultivation from a human perspective. But that certainly isn’t the only one. Similarly, every individual’s life and how they interpret the world around them is a story told from their own vantage point.

A little while ago, I entered the immigration section at the Amsterdam airport. This section was divided into two parts – an automated self-service station reserved for certain nationalities, and a few manual stations with officers. As I walked up to a manual station, I observed the well built Dutch officer in full uniform. He sat on a pedestal and was taller than me even as I stood in front of him. He peered at me.

“Where are you going?”

I had to think for a second before I replied that I was headed to New Delhi. This man had the power to prevent me from boarding a flight on several grounds. Regardless of doing this ritual so often, I feel a creeping tension when I walk up to the immigration desk. This tension is resolved only when the officer picks up the heavy stamp, clinks it on my passport and lets me through.

But how does this ritual look like from the officer’s perspective? Here is a man who dresses up in full police uniform to sit all day behind a counter, greet people, ask them where they were going and stamp their passports. For an entire shift, his brain, which is capable of wonderful feats, is resigned to performing this task ad nauseum. Only rarely does he see something unusual, in which case, he has to merely follow a different procedure. How does each person walking up to this officer appear from his perspective? How powerful does it feel to stamp passports for 8 hours a day, knowing that a bar code scanner is doing the same thing at a counter nearby?

Once we step outside the bounds of the stories we tell ourselves, the world turns into a more interesting place.

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