The Whole Picture

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After explaining for what seemed like the twentieth time that my company had bought real estate in Bay Point not Bayview, I realized that although we all live in the Bay Area, we each live in our own version of it.

Although our Bay Areas are different, they all share the same gerrymandered shape. We each have a home turf of hearth and home that is connected by the narrow tentacle of our commute to another familiar stomping grounds, the area where we work or go to school. There are branches that lead off to the homes of family and friends as well as the places where we like to shop or recreate.

But outside these familiar areas are large swatches of terra incognita. For many of us the names of the usual choke points on the traffic reports, such as Loveridge or Sunol, might as well be cities on the fabled Silk Road of Central Asia. In our daily migrations we lead parallel lives that glide past each other as we stay within the boundaries of the familiar. On the other side of the sound wall and outside the train windows are lives that at first glance may seem very different than our own -- but they are fraught with the same concerns and driven by the same desires.

I suspect that one of the reasons the growing disparity in income in this country is not as big an issue as one might expect is that we live in a kind of world where such disparities are hidden to a large degree. The housing market sorts us out by income and our work environments are more like communities than vertical hierarchies: the international meritocracy of Silicon Valley, the cloistered circles of finance, or the legions who serve in the public sector. We measure ourselves by comparison with our peers, not some abstract yardstick.

As a result our sense of compassion remains dormant and our outrage is not aroused because we don't see the whole picture. For all our diversity, we are essentially a mosaic in which most tiles look just like the ones right next to them.


With a Perspective, this is Paul Staley.