Understanding Relativity

  • Amal Raju

Sitting in History classes may often be termed boring and sleepy, but fortunately, my History teacher was clearly unique among many – she made sure to weave her personal experiences and observations into her teaching which helped a great deal in one’s concentration.

Fully concentrated as I was, I noticed her use of the word ‘relativity’ while explaining her mixed feelings on using the word ‘exotic’ to describe the models of non-white tones on a particular fashion show. It meant rare. It meant wild. It meant something that gave her a highly uncomfortable feeling.

It struck me then that while the term ‘exotic’ may have struck her aversion, I personally felt that the use of the word need not be taken in an overtly negative sense – a colour other than white was finally appearing on the stage and so many colours could finally shine. If it meant rare, it only meant uniquely and beautifully rare. If wild, then it only meant an untamed and blindingly beautiful version of a sort that the mainstream white nations had never seen before. Even if it was in a completely negative sense, I still felt proud of the word exotic being used for description – we were rare, wild and free.


In this similar sense, relativity floats around as a highly regarded yet ignored concept. Abstaining from appreciating the scientific nature of relativity, as taken up by the famous Albert Einstein in his equally famous ‘The Theory of Relativity’, I focus on the philosophical side of relativity that needs to be appreciated and wildly implemented in today’s scenario.
Relativity touches upon sympathy, it helps in understanding and finally results in empathy. That should always be the course of relativity. If your friend complains of the load of homework she has to complete before a due date, you may counter it with your own version of the amount of homework, equally daunting. Understand, however, that relativity is a key player here. As a human, your friend requires a little sympathy and maybe a little more empathy; she would want you to provide a listening ear and provide a well-meant gesture of support. It may be so that your load is greater than hers, but she may not be in a position to endure the same as you may be equipped to do so.


Relativity and understanding should also be present when one may talk about emotional struggles. Endurance levels vary from one person to the other and that always needs to be considered before opinions are provided. She may not have the courage to face those who wronged her as much as you would wish for her to do so. She may just never have enough bravery to confess that one person even when you know that it needs to get out of her system for her to move on from a hopeless scenario. She may not be strong enough to stand up to those who bully her and to those who tease her.


An example posted anonymously online could serve to express the concept of relativity, or even emotional relativity better. Imagine two friends go hiking in a large park. Josh trips and breaks his arm during the hike. Paul also trips, but only has a minor cut on this arm. Clearly, Josh has a more traumatic experience and is in more pain. Let’s fast forward and say that both of them decide to go hiking again a year later.


And again, they both trip. But this time, the pain is reversed. It is Josh who scratches his arm and Paul who breaks his arm. It is very plausible to assume that for Josh, after having broken his arm before and experienced that trauma, merely brushes off the scratch and does not think twice about it. After all, he has been through much worse in the past.


For Paul, however, who had only experienced a scratch before, the breaking of the arm is quite traumatic since it was so much more painful than a scratch.


As an individual, I may have gone through horrible events in my life and gaining experience from such, my tolerance level would be very high as would be my reactivity. For another individual, however, the smallest inconvenience may cause a huge trauma through no fault of theirs – they have simply not been exposed long enough to events striking enough to influence them. At this point in time, the best you may do would be to sympathize and not brag about your greater injury.


Another theory that arises to my mind in the general discussion of relativity would be the subject matter of a small discussion I chanced to involve myself in. The role and significance of a person is determined by the kind of situation one finds itself in. I may have three friends that respond differently to different situations based off their experiences – in a particular case of a fight with one of my friends I may approach a particular friend, in case of homesickness another and in the case of clothes for a particular event, another friend.


To determine the importance of an individual in any given situation would be difficult to decide without a set of parameters.


So, the next time your friends ask playfully as to who your best friend is, confuse them with the concept of relativity and watch them regret ever asking the question to you.
And remember to be empathetic.

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