I Believe in Perspective
For me, life works better when I have perspective. It provides a context through which I have a passing chance of functioning in my own best interest. When I have perspective, I am more calm, intentional, relevant, succinct, and empathic, thus making me more effective. Those around me inevitably benefit, as well. The realization of how much I gain from perspective did not come in a sudden, life-changing epiphany. Rather, it continues to emerge gradually as I reflect upon the events of my life. When I open myself up to the lessons they can teach, all of my successes, failures, and embarrassments are “good learning experiences” that can help me gain perspective.
As I see it, perspective comes in two major forms. First, there is the Big Picture, as in, “Put things in perspective.” Sometimes, as we like to tell each other in my family, that reflection reminds me to just GOI (i.e., Get Over It). When I am full of self-important profundity, and someone who knows me well says, “Thanks for the PGIO” (Piercing Glimpse Into the Obvious), I immediately gain perspective on the value of my observations. On other occasions, looking at the broader context helps me gain the focus I need to identify not only what is most important but also what is possible and necessary. Hence, when my mother died it was I, performing in what my family identifies as my Augie Morbid role, who dealt with the smarmy mortician. And now, while I am still healthy and running marathons instead of acquiescing to middle age, I spend time trying to etch into my brain, in a way that I won’t later forget, a positive perspective that will allow me to approach my own death with a modicum of grace and gratitude, rather than bitter belligerence.
Equally important as the Big Picture is Life as Seen Through the Lens of Another. My parents, siblings, wife, daughter, friends, and clients have all helped me understand what it is like to be someone other than me. I may not agree with a person in the end, but if I truly listen, I can learn how he has come to look at things his way. With that knowledge, I am far more likely to accept him in some way, no matter how divergent his beliefs are from my own. Thus, when I started my career, it was easy to have compassion for abused children. It took me longer to appreciate how their parents were victims as well. With a little effort, I can always find something in my own experience that connects with some element of the other person’s life. With that awareness of her perspective, I can relate to her more effectively, becoming a better husband, father, friend, community member, or clinician. Perspective gives my life meaning and makes me a more positive, capable human being.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.