noun | A particular attitude toward or way of regarding something; a point of view.
What I’m about to say walks a very fine line. There are philosophical and religious ideas on it, there are ideas of truth, and of right and wrong. Just know that what I am writing about here is not more than a gentle reminder that we have more power than we think. And less. And that how we position that understanding makes a big difference in how we live our lives.
Perspective as a Tool
What we know for sure, as most of us with family in denial know (and this is certainly not an advocation of that), is that people want to believe what they want to believe. Without getting too deep on matters of truth, I’d like to touch on “perspective” as it has come up a lot these days.
Perspective is the power to shape something, to establish meaning. It has the power to drive one’s self, to delay one’s self. It provides both a way of seeing and a point of view.
To lose perspective is to go blind in all the wrong ways. In using it as a tool, you have the power of reframing things for your own benefit. Not in a selfish way, but in a self-preservation way.
In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl talks about his time in the Auschwitz concentration camp and the thousands he had seen let go of life.
Frankl tells us that there was nothing particularly special about him compared to those who perished, except that he and most of the survivors he observed had a way of reframing the pain they were enduring as being for something greater.
Now, of course we know that there isn’t a particular justified *reason* for crimes of war, but in each of their individual cases, those survivors found one worth living for.
It wasn’t until very recently, after reading a piece about the distinction between pain and suffering, that I actually understood this annoying statement I’ve read so many times before:
Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.
Like most of you, I heard this a hundred times. But in truth, still didn’t really understand how or why I would keep choosing suffering. I didn’t know what I could do to stop it, and it certainly wasn’t intentional. It turns out that the insatiable curiosity behind my avid learning was not only something I cherish, but also the bane of my existence. Trying to understand something that you literally cannot (for reasons truly outside your control) is an agonizing thing.
And so, it is very common that suffering ensues when you over-analyze a thing out of your control.
Note: Don’t take this out of context. This doesn’t apply to science, philosophy or any other thing that we most willingly suffer out of enjoyment or greater aim (that’s a different thing).
Pain and suffering is the difference between the acknowledgement,
“You hurt me”
and the repeated asking of the question (to no sufficient answer),
“Why did you hurt me?”
This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ask the latter. It just means that at some point that question no longer matters.
Here are some examples:
Painful: “She left.”
Suffering: “Why did she go?”
Painful: “It rained on my suede boots.”
Suffering: “Why is the weather like this?”
Painful: “The market has shifted.”
Suffering: “Why is the market changing?
Pain, in comparison, is rather objective. It is a recognition of while suffering is a voracious asking of “Why?” — for an answer to a question that is not yours — otherwise you would have it.
Bear with me and play with this idea for a moment: if the Why doesn’t matter at a certain point, then could we invent a beneficial answer? Is there danger in that? I think it’s a fine line surely, an art, to give yourself an answer to a question that you would otherwise never have an answer for. I think it’s wise if and only if the objective answer is beyond you and you have tried to obtain it. But it is the duty of your existence to move on in the ways you can. And that doesn’t require a delusion: a *false* hard-pressed reason for why things are the way they are — just *a* reason you can build positive action around. You still need an accurate depiction of all the things you can get an accurate depiction of. You will always need the truth insofar as you can get it. But when you can’t get it, it might bode well to suggest a truth to yourself that might help you move forward.
In its most extreme case, perspective is the difference between wanting to live and wanting to die. Perspective is the reason you do what you do, whether you like what you do or not. And most important for all of us to realize is that perspective is a tool — one that you own. It might need sharpening, like any good tool; it might need clarifying and cleaning, like a good lens. But you hold every chance to find an angle that serves you in the most genuine of ways. You have it and it’s yours.
If you only saw yourself from your phone’s front-facing camera leveled below your chin, you’d have an unflattering shrek-like view — every single time. In the same way, the pretty filter on Snapchat might make you look like a ray of sunshine, but neither of these views of yourself are “true” — they’re just angles and filters and ways of seeing yourself. So, why can’t we play with that? Why can’t we see ourselves in another light? Or a different angle?
[Note: Snapchat filters are smarter than you think. They come off as a form of play but it's more than that. It's developing a way of suspending yourself into different characters, different beings - and playing with that, without the risk of course, of really playing with that].
Most people attribute this quote to Henry Ford. And, he did say it. But before him, 17th century poet John Dryden said it. And before him, it was said by a Roman poet, Virgil, in 29 B.C.
These poets are smart.
The truth is so very damn complex sometimes, but we do have the power to see it when it’s there, and to humbly believe in a truth when we must.
While of course we each have our own subjective experience based on a unique context, we also have this tool we can use to move on, to understand people, to reframe situations. We have a tool to reposition things in our mind, which includes the power to reposition the idea of yourself.
What could you do better if you saw yourself differently?
This post is in light of two people whose work has inspired me, and who I wish could have stepped away from their aching perspective towards a better one when they needed it most.