This last week a friend made the statement that she likes rainbows. This wasn’t a general observation of preference to all things colourful, soon to be joined by equal support for unicorns and butterflies. Rather, it was a statement of solidarity in support of the LGBT community and some recent protests against Vladimir Putin’s perspectives on their identity.
Even taken out of the context of the discussion at hand, I could hardly disagree: I like rainbows too.
A rainbow is an almost perfect metaphor for language and communication.
If a friend tells me he’s feeling alone, or hurt, or excited, he does so in words and body language, perhaps also reflecting these feelings in his choice of activity or repose. Lets say I take this communication and try and understand it. How do I understand how someone else is feeling? What if I’ve never experienced the emotion he’s talking about? What if, and this I suggest is guaranteed, I’ve never felt it the same way?
If I’m reading a novel that promises action, emotional turmoil and wonder, how does it deliver this? The emotion I’m feeling isn’t the author’s. It’s not even the character’s – since the character never existed to have those feelings in the first place. The emotions are my own.
So I suggest that when we empathise, we take another person’s perceived emotional situation and translate it – using our own experience – to an emotional feeling of our own experience.
What has any of this to do with rainbows?
I never really saw the connection until a few years ago, when flying above some mist.
Here on terra firma, when your friend points out a rainbow, you turn and look and sure enough, there’s a rainbow where they pointed, off in the distance. An arc that, weather and terrain permitting, stretches from one point in the ground, across the heavens to another. This rainbow you’re both seeing must be the same thing – and if it’s the same thing, then surely it must exist outside of ourselves?
From the air though, another interesting property of rainbows is revealed. They’re a circle, with the shadow of your aircraft at their centre.
And at the exact centre of that circle, amidst the shadow of the aircraft, is you – your shadow.
Though we might be both on the ground and you see turn to where I’ve just pointed out a rainbow, the rainbow you see is your own. Hidden by terrain, light and shadow, at the centre of your rainbow is you. And at the centre of mine is me.
Rainbows are like communication – like good communication. Because although what we’re observing is physically, provably different, we convince ourselves that we’re sharing the same experience. And if only we could all communicate that well, I suspect there’d be a lot less need for protests or shows of solidarity.
So yes, I like rainbows too.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized by Ben. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *