There’s a lot that can be said about this photograph.
Those who see the glass-as-half-full will see a delightful moment. Two people of very different backgrounds are sharing an experience together above and beyond their differences. Those who see the glass-as-half-empty will see an embarrassing moment. An empowered man (white, educated, wealthy) is tickling a disempowered man (indigenous, uneducated, landless). Belittled, the indigenous man’s only recourse is to laugh.
The first argument defends a faith in universality. It aims at the possibility that we can transcend economics and reach moments, however fleeting, of common humanity. This argument believes in the possibility of operating above identity–in that ethereal space where the isolation of the self dissolves. The world is a banquet and we must learn to enjoy it.
The latter argument decries the tragedies of the global playing field and suggests that interaction between the haves and the have-nots is always, forever, a negotiation of power – that it is, in fact, a sport of survival. In short, this argument believes there can be no authentic relationship between two entities whose access to power – financial, political, or otherwise – is skewed. The world is cruel and we must try to fix it.
Both arguments are arrows pointing at the heart of love – but neither can reach it without somehow embracing the other.
On the one hand, there is no way we can have a genuine relationship with anyone – whether of the opposite sex, race, or country – if we naively assume that power, money, status, and gender are not constantly affecting how we engage with each other. This is the lesson that Mitt “I just love Paris in the springtime” Romney could stand to learn.
But on the other hand, we will only isolate ourselves into oblivion if we dissect every moment of our lives into betrayals and wounds. That’s the lesson that President “Let’s blame the 1% for our failures” Obama could stand to learn.
The truth, the love, is somewhere in between, at that midpoint where identity completely matters and also completely does not. It is that space where we remember to care and to be careless, to agitate as well as to forget. And that’s because the glass is neither half full nor half empty. It is just half – always and perfectly, just half.