A few weeks ago I was researching a project and I needed an image of a stick man walking to the left. As I searched Google images – “stick man walking” – 85 of 100 images portrayed Stickman walking to the right. (Interesting, “stick woman walking” only produced one image of an actual “stick woman” so I will stick with stick man for this observation).
Why to the right? Are we in some way pre-wired to draw Stickman walking right? I asked a couple groups of people to draw Stickman walking. With a few exceptions Stickman was moving from left to right across the page.
Making a leap to a bigger question, one with more meat on the bones; I then asked some friends to draw Stickman walking towards the future. With a few exceptions, and a few “who gives a shit” (you know who you are) – again a vast majority of responses had Stickman heading right.
Interesting. Do we think of the future as the right hand side of a piece of paper. Ella, my ever pragmatic niece, pointed out that timelines move left to right and naturally we mentally follow that template when thinking about time. So on paper it seems, history is always to the left and the future is to the right.
Granted my research was done in U.S., I decided to focus on the exceptions. An Israeli friend commented he would have Stickman moving left towards future. Hebrew writing moves right to left. Maybe it was simply the writing direction our language uses? A Lebanese friend, (also right to left in arabic), responded without hesitation to my question – Stickman would be walking east, because that is where the sun rises and that is the future. East or aus-to means the dawn or towards the sunrise.
Now things were starting to get interesting. A compass has East on the right side.
East on the right, towards the rising sun bringing us the new day, the future.
Great that solves it. Stickman walks East because the sun rises in the East and in most religions the rising sunrise represents the future. Guess it has nothing to do with which way you choose to write words on a piece of paper.
But… I think of the future to the west. Go west young man. As my day passes I sense time moving towards sunset. So I asked myself a fundamental question, which way was the Earth rotating as I sit right now? Do you know which direction you are rotating through space at 1,000 mph? Did you think that you were moving at all? I actually felt a little dizzy pondering this. I live in California and I “felt” I was moving towards the sunset every day. It is unsettling to think I was moving in another direction.
Well, it is not uncommon to have the sensation the sun moves through the sky as we stand still. Although we have understood the earth is not the center of the universe for quite some time, I don’t think a lot of us think about it much. For a long time some people felt perfectly comfortable thinking about the world as flat.
So what’s the takeaway, is there a reason to contemplate this at all? I think so.
Stickman is actually very close minded in his – only one direction to the future mentality.
We live in a global theatre now. We are connected as a species and interact outside of our locales with people from all corners of the world. It is important to understand cultural assumptions. But it is equally important to think about these assumptions and pull them apart. At some point in history, the first timeline could have moved right to left. And maybe somewhere in our distant past, as mankind began to understand the heavens decided the night represented the future and sunset was the beginning of a new day.
For now, I will think about my left to right bias, and observe the potential effects it has on my ability to interpret the world with an open attitude.