“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”Oscar Wilde
I have been preparing myself to tackle this new virtue; the virtue of wisdom. I think this is the most difficult virtue to discuss without sounding self-congratulatory. Yet, how can I pretend to understand something without at least trying to apply it to my life? So please, allow me a moment, to be frank. I am wiser than you would expect but not as wise as I would like. It is a bit of that, knowing a tomato is a fruit but being wise enough not to put it in a fruit salad scenario. Now that we have cleared that up, let me tell you about perspective.
What is it?
Your perception guides your worldview. That is your perspective. It is how you make sense of the things around you and how you interpret certain situations. Your perspective is cultivated by your upbringing, your life experience, and your general personality. A simple example would be that an optimist will make riskier investments than someone who is more pragmatic.
A real life example
Another famous example comes from the internet. Stories from mother’s with autistic children being verbally abused by ignorant strangers. The public’s lack of understanding or awareness of the condition and how it manifests means they interpret the child’s behaviour as naughty. Therefore, in the minds of some, the mother must be reprimanded for her failure to parent. Psychologists suggest that through public education, and altering of perceptions, they can minimise interactions of this type. Do you agree? I wonder if it is as simple as that.
Fact is stranger than fiction
The issue is that we are ill-informed of our natural underlying bias. We would hate to think of ourselves as racist or sexist. It is our perspectives that give away our genuine natures. NO, I am not calling you or myself a hypocrite, but I am cautioning you, that your perspective/perception might be innocuously tainted. I can prove it to you right now.
Read with caution
Sarah is a recovering heroin addict who is HIV positive. As a teenager, Sarah was an atheist who was disowned by her Christian family. To support herself, she turned to prostitution where she was introduced to drugs. After spending time in a rehabilitation centre, Sarah was inspired to become a healthcare worker and turned her life around. She met her husband and had a content family life until she was attacked by a patient one evening at the clinic. It was during this attack that she contracted the disease. Three months later, Sarah killed herself. During the autopsy, they discovered that she was pregnant.
What is your perspective
Now depending on your perspective, whether you like it or not, your opinion of Sarah changed as you were reading. It may even have changed multiple times. Now, your first question is whether the story is true. Why do you want to know? Ask yourself what part of your perspective needs to know whether Sarah was an actual person? Yes, every word was true. Are you aware of what you are feeling now? Are you aware of how your perspective is altering? Yes, every word is true for someone out there. I do not know her name and I do not know the details of her story. These horrors are realities for some people. I just gave an example. Has your perspective changed again? Has it changed of me?
understanding the narrative
I am sorry for dragging you down such a deep dark path, but it is the best way to show you how your perception colours information for you. It does it on a subconscious level. It is the reason why movies of beloved books are always disappointing. The writers, the director, the producers, the actors, they are all retelling the story from their perspectives, which cannot possibly be the same as yours. That is how truth becomes so subjective. It is because humans cannot deal with facts without perspective unintentionally influencing the data. We are not emotionless machines. It is a magnificent thing. It means even terrible life stories can be rewritten; we only have to change our perspective. There is an entire field of psychology dedicated to this type of healing. It is called narrative therapy, and it is effective.
Time for a little perspective on perception
It is so important to be aware of the existence of perspective, even if you find it difficult to pinpoint exactly what yours is. If you can acknowledge that there is such a thing as perspective, it will give you the space to allow for the perspectives of others. Imagine how this could benefit decision making or resolving conflict. Do you see how perspective is both a strength and a coping mechanism? It is not about making excuses for someone. Let us be clear. It is about stepping back to get some perspective. Speaking to another person to hear their perspective. As parents, we should always consider that our child’s perspective differs from ours. Also, their perspective is not wrong.
When Pooh is ambushed by the wrong bush
I think it is time to lighten the mood a bit with an extract from Winnie the Pooh. I believe this extract illustrates the concept of perception humorously by making the difference outrageous. Milne is using a play on words to illustrate the different yet similar perspectives of an ambush between Pooh and Owl.
‘An Ambush’, said Owl, ‘is a sort of Surprise.’ ‘So is a gorse-bush sometimes,’ said Pooh. ‘If people jump out at you suddenly, that’s an Ambush,’ said Owl. Pooh, who now knew what an Ambush was, said that a gorse-bush had sprung at him suddenly one day when he fell off a tree, and he had taken six days to get all the prickles out of himself. ‘We are not talking about gorse-bushes,’ said Owl a little crossly. ‘I am,’ said Pooh.
(Milne, 2006, p. 108)
If you can understand Pooh’s perspective then you fully grasp the notion of perception. At least, that is my perspective [wink].
What narrative are you writing about COVID
As we work our way through COVID 19 and all the lock-down restrictions, take a moment to consider your perspective. What is your perspective? How does it differ from others? Do you even know? You are the narrator of your own experience right now. It is a big responsibility. I hope you take care.
Watch this for ‘a little perspective’. 😉
Next, we will discuss open-mindedness, but until then, try to avoid ambushing gorse-bushes.