A professor of anthropology and English, Mary Catherine Bateson takes the reader on an intellectual journey about human reaction to new experiences and how these reactions could be made different and productive. The subtitle of her newest book, “Learning Along the Way,” summarizes much of the main message in this intellectual exploration. Bateson argues convincingly that individuals should approach their life experiences, not in set patterns created at an early age that are simply applied over and over again, but with a willingness to improvise and continue to learn new ways of seeing. She invites the reader to be perpetual children on the road of life, or rather, perpetual students, constantly willing to learn a strange way of thinking at every stage of life. By rejecting the desire to maintain old, safe patterns of interpreting experience, one could deal with the unexpected and foreign without feeling threatened or overwhelmed. Instead of rejecting all that is new and strange as most people do, one should find a way of incorporating these new patterns into our old ones.
According to Bateson, this way of thinking applies to everything from multiculturalism to diplomacy to personal relations. Hate and rejection of all that is different and foreign is an issue especially relevant in America, and Bateson’s illuminating book offers a very possible alternative.
She uses three main experiences from her own life, her time spent in Iran, Israel, and the Phillipines, to illustrate these very abstract points. Much of her reflection is also spurred by her experience of raising children and in this area, she also offers new ways of thinking, rejecting many set ideas of child psychology.
Although the matter is very weighty, PERIPHERAL VISIONS is written in a easily readable style. This book will prove enjoyable and invaluable for anyone who would like to ponder upon the ways we see life experiences and learn from them. It will enrich readers’ perspectives on their own lives.