My best friend, Paul, pointed out that I could write a whole book on the topic of Perspective. I pondered that and agreed that yes, this deserves a series.*
1a: a mental view or prospect; b: a visible scene especially: one giving a distinctive impression of distance: VISTA 2a: the interrelation in which a subject or its parts are mentally viewed b: the capacity to view things in their true relations or relative importance. Merriam-Webster
“Perspective” is our point of view, literally and figuratively. In Part 1, I described gaining a better vista (1b) through climbing Two Bears which simultaneously (and consequently) improved my outlook on my life through both the exertion and the improved line of sight (1a and especially 2b).
“Perception” is how we interpret the world around us. In a sense, perception is everything, because how we perceive the world directs how we interact with the world.
As children, our perspective is our perception. As we grow, we gain the ability–the capacity–to perceive the world beyond our mere physical perspective. The process of going from Definition One to Definition Two above is early childhood. A baby develops the capacity to individuate, to grasp that mother is an independent being. A toddler– grudgingly–develops the perspective that other children also want to play with toys, sometimes the very toys the toddler wants and at the very same moment. Ideally, trial-and-error attempts at sharing and turn-taking lead to the perception that others have…let’s see…feelings, opinions, and rights. The breakthrough comes when we grasp that others have a perspective that is A)different than ours, and B)valid, even in its difference. If only we could gain that and keep it. For life.
IF this all sounds too simplistic, abstract, and academic (I promise it doesn’t to parents of two-year-olds), let’s get uncomfortably concrete. Every single legal driver on the road has an equal right to be there, under the law. If our perspective is that another driver is “in the way,” “going too slow,” or “needs to get the expletive out of my way,” likely we have regressed. I regress all the time when driving. But the uncomfortable and awkward truth remains that no one driving legally is “in my way” in a 2b definition. Certainly I fall into believing that my existence logically leads to my having a perogative that others somehow fail to comprehend. I hold–and battle–this belief so doggedly that I’ve learned to surmise, aloud, the other driver’s perspective. It can sound something like,
“Why the hell are they braking–Okay, wait, they might be thinking that red car at the intersection wasn’t paying attention or slowing down enough….they thought it could pull out in front of them so they were getting ready to stop, just in case. Okay, makes sense…”
Who knows how often I’m right on these guesses–they might be texting, eating a burger, and inebriated–but reminding myself that others’ perspective validly differs from mine helps me remember that others have a right to their space and oxygen, just as I do.
Another reminder I offer myself: this person isn’t driving (or doing whatever) just to piss me off. Weird, right? That person exists fully separate from me and does not exist sheerly for the purpose of making my life more difficult.
Yes, people behave badly sometimes and I’m not wading fully into that yet. Here’s a challenging truth: people even have the right to behave badly (as defined by me), and even when it makes my life more difficult or less pleasant.
Damn it! Who thought of that?
Well, I would say God did. Going and giving everyone free will and not even consulting me about it. The nerve, you know?
I work hard not to let my “two-year-old” belief in Me World rule my life. I suspect for some people this battle comes easier, while it’s painfully apparent that others make no effort to win it…and possibly have not considered the possibility that they should. Judging the latter group does not help me behave as a decent, definition 2b human being nearly as much as you’d wish it would.
I trust you understand that I’m employing sincere sarcasm here as a way to soften this difficult truth and make it slightly more palatable.
In discussing perspective, actual true and false do matter. “The capacity to view things in their true relations.” If I insist two times two equals six-and-a-half, I don’t get to retreat to the sacrosanct, “irrefutable” ground of “Hey, that’s just your [or my] opinion, Man.”** I will wrestle with facts and their opposites in a subsequent part of this series on perspective. Just in case your answer is, “Okay, but what about when they really do suck as a driver?” we’ll get there. For now, we’re sticking to “kids have an equal right to toys and drivers have an equal right to the road.”
Historically, pride has been named the central sin for humanity. I’m not wading into the debate over sin here, but I posit that pride can be seen as the failure to view things (e.g. ourselves) in their true relations or relative importance (and perhaps narcissim is the incapacity to do so). “I’m better, more important, more deserving, more valuable, more entitled than others.” Sometimes we’re selective about which “others.” Racism is just one version of this, as is sexism.
Clearly, I root this view of pride in the belief that all people are, inherently, equally valuable. I want everyone to agree on this belief and I think it would change the world if we all agreed and acted on it. But that’s a ways away. I remain hopeful.
Our perspective needs to grow; we develop the capacity to view things in their true relations or relative importance. This growth doesn’t end when we reach four or six…or sixteen or sixty. I think we gain and lose ground in our clarity, our acuity of vision as to true relations and relative importance. We don’t arrive at perspective as a destination. We don’t perfect it. We grow. Our vision gets clouded, pride rears its head and throws a tantrum, we get legitimately wounded and have our trust betrayed, and suddenly we’re scrambling again to regain focus.
So here, then, is my stunning conclusion for Part 2: instead of debating whether All Lives Matter (obviously they do) or Black Lives Matter (not nearly enough in our culture or we wouldn’t need to make a specific point of it), we might start further back–Do I really believe that other people’s lives matter as much as mine? Or as much as my family’s? If so, do my actions and choices reflect that?
When Jesus says to me, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” he assumes this truth. I will, one hundred percent, die on the hill that Jesus means this. I fall short of this command almost constantly–heck, I’m not even great at loving myself. But I’m not pretending Jesus thinks my life is more valuable than yours. Jesus gives me the capacity to view things in their true relations or relative importance.*** I can and do kick against this truth of others’ value when I lose perspective, but I want to remain clear that I’m doing so, rather than rationalize my behavior as somehow following Jesus when I’m doing the opposite.
I think all the small choices we make all day long are minute perspective adjustments. When I go out of my way to be kind, to encourage, to offer affirmation and empathy, I see more clearly the value of the people with whom I share space. When I choose to love myself and treat myself as someone worthy of kindness and generosity, I remember that this, too, took time and growth (about the last 30+ years for me, give or take) and I’m not going to arrive suddenly at perfectly accurate perspective of myself or others in our relative importance.
Developing perspective, no surprise, requires grace.
*This may not have been the first time Paul was right, but who’s counting?
***You may reach this same conclusion that we are all equally valuable from a different direction, and I’m good with that. I just want us to agree.