Do an internet search for “Vision 2020” and you’ll get many links to websites describing programs that were set up in previous years, with 2020 as a goal for targets ranging from corporate sales all the way up to an entire nation’s development goals.
Malaysia’s Wawasan 2020, literally Vision 2020, was set up as early as 1991 by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, with the rather ambitious goal of reaching developed country status by the year 2020.
I would not be surprised if Prime Minister Mahathir himself thought up the name, because he was a practicing physician before he entered politics.
The concept of 2020 is borrowed from the tests for visual acuity, a 20/20 result—from reading the letters of different sizes on a Snellen chart—more or less indicating good vision.
“Perfect” vision is much more complicated than being able to read the Snellen chart, but the metaphor became popular, especially as the year 2020 and the decade of the 2020s approached.
I thought I’d pick up on this 2020 metaphor to elaborate on the need for communities, corporations and nations to think some more about what it means to have a clear vision for the future and a sense of mission—what needs to be done now.
We stand to learn from the vision sciences, sometimes referred to as visual sciences, as with the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at the University of the Philippines’ College of Medicine.
The vision sciences look into how humans and nonhumans process visual information. Integrating many disciplines, from psychology and physics to philosophy and the computer sciences, the vision sciences show that “seeing” is extremely complicated.
Just look at artificial intelligence or AI, a major focus of the vision sciences. AI is really programming of machines to see (or, ominously, to put communities and people under surveillance).
The vision sciences look at how “seeing well” depends on functioning structures, starting with the amazing eyes, which differ from one animal species to another in the way they process light and images.
The social analogy is that we need strong, functioning institutions to allow us to look ahead and plan.
This is where the 20/20 analogy is somewhat weak, because good vision, more than reading letters of the alphabet, involves contrast sensitivity, color vision, depth perception, peripheral vision and the ability to track movements, all products of our evolution and all vital to our survival.
The vision sciences explore how we can enhance the way we see, and the way we look. An example is sports vision training—being able to follow movements and to make split-second decisions to enhance athletic performance.
The social analogy is that we, too, need to develop institutions and skills to “see” what is going on in society, an example being our public opinion survey firms like Social Weather Stations.
Societies need to train their peripheral vision, too, as we know from the term “blindsided”—to be taken by surprise, to be ambushed, because we were not perceptive enough to catch something going on at the side, whether corruption within an office, or enemies from within and without, taking a nation hostage.
Vision scientists will tell us that beyond the visual structures, it is really the brain that “sees.” We see what we want to see, sometimes choosing to be blinded to realities around us, allowing masters of deception to trick our brains by playing on emotions like anger and avarice, as well as turning up our biases and prejudices to cloud our perceptions, leading to fatal flaws in our judgment.
We can train our brains, though; there are ways by which we can intentionally allow nobler emotions—love, compassion—to sharpen our vision.
Finally, let’s not forget that even if the brain and the visual apparatus are functioning well, clarity of vision depends on the environment’s light.
We can be blinded by too much light—nakakasilaw in Filipino—which happens in society when we are blinded by the quest for fame, and driven by ambition and hubris.
At UP, during the Christmas celebrations, there were several events where I talked about the darkness that has descended on our nation and our university. Huwag talikuran ang liwanag, I appealed to our constituents. Look for and follow the light, which provides not only vision, but also comfort, hope and courage.
(Parts of today’s column are in messages I wrote for UP Diliman, and for Karl B., who chose to renew his term as a Doctor to the Barrios.)
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