Perspective is everything. Like in the picture above – using forced perspective, Peter Jackson was able to have Elijah Wood and Sir Ian McKellen together in a scene where one is hobbit-sized and the other human sized without resorting to computer trickery.
I think about perspective a lot when I’m driving. I don’t have a big car, so when I’m on the highway (and thanks to my commute I’m on A LOT of LA highways), I usually can’t see beyond the car in front of me. When traffic is being a pain in the ass I’ll get annoyed at the person in front of me, blaming them for the slowdown – get off your fucking phone!, I’ll think to myself – but when I get into the other lane I’ll get a new perspective on the situation. Sometimes the slowdown is for sure because of the guy in front of me, but sometimes there are extentuating factors.
Here’s one that happened a couple of weeks ago: I was mad at this SUV in front of me, just trundling along in the fast lane while other cars were whizzing by in other lanes. When I finally got an opening I pulled to the right and sped up, and as soon as I did I saw that the SUV was in fact trapped behind a big, slow-moving Lincoln. So I sped up to get a look at the driver of the Lincoln, and maybe give them a bit of stink eye or pull in front of them to remind them what a real driver does on the highway.
It was a little old lady in the Lincoln. Maybe six hundred years old, hunched over the steering wheel in that posture that indicates she’s sitting on a phone book in order to be able to see out the window.
In about thirty seconds I had two big perspective shifts: One, I realized my original enemy, the SUV, was just reacting to its environment. And two, I realized its environment was created by a person doing the best she could. All of the resentment I had been building up washed away in a second and I suddenly felt love and compassion for that old lady, just trying to get where she needed to be, trying to still be independent, and doing so in a very careful (and overly slow) way.
This is all of life, summed up in three cars on the I-10 West. Every person who is a stumbling block in your life is only being that way because of their own environmental factors, and many of those environmental factors come from other people doing the best they can. That best isn’t always good enough, for sure, but they’re rarely being malicious. And if they’re being malicious it’s probably because of other conditions that led them to believe being malicious was the best choice for their own survival. That old lady isn’t driving 45 because she wants to ruin everybody else’s commute, but because she’s worried she’ll get into a wreck.
Of course there’s selfishness in these things too – that old lady should definitely not be in the fast lane. But again, it’s likely because she ended up there and is afraid to get over. Worst case scenario is that she’s just clueless and not thinking about how her actions impact others… and if you think she’s alone in that, I would like to invite you to look at your own actions and ponder whether you truly think out the impacts they’ll have. And if you do think out the impacts, do you think them out from a deluded point of view?
Example: I often don’t call/text people because I am afraid they will think I’m annoying or because I worry they don’t actually want to talk to me. As a result people think I don’t care about them because I don’t text/call. My perspective is wrong, and it causes me to act in a way that hurts others when I think I’m protecting them.
Here’s another example of perspective shift for me: I work at a nationally-known coffee chain. My store is in a neighborhood that is largely Armenian, and a lot of Armenian guys hang out there, or in the CVS parking lot across the street, for hours and hours every night. When I first started working at the store I thought to myself, “Get a fucking life, guys. Go home to your families. Don’t just stand outside the coffee shop smoking cigarettes all night.”
But then one day I was struck with a different perspective like a lightning bolt – what they were doing WAS having a life. It was having a community center where they could go, any night of the week, and see their friends and talk. Don’t get me wrong – some of these guys are also selling untaxed cigarettes out of the trunks of their cars, but I’m Italian from Brooklyn, so I can’t hold that against them.
Their ritual is actually how human society is meant to work; as social creatures we are meant to gather in a central area and communicate. My vision of ‘having a life’ – going back to your home and locking yourself away in front of a TV – is actually the wrong perspective. For millennia human society was built around a town center, where people could go and mingle with one another. In the past one hundred years we have actively changed that, and I think not for the better. So much of our unhappiness comes from the increasing isolation that our society creates for us. And the internet, which was supposed to broach that isolation, actually only makes it worse, giving us the sense that everybody else is having a better life than we are. The connections we make online are in no way as strong as the ones we make in real life.
Perspective shift is only possible when we acknowledge that maybe we don’t know anything, and when we keep in mind that our first impressions/thoughts/opinions could be wrong. When we allow for that room, we allow for the ability to merge into another lane and get a better look at the totality of the situation. When we realize that maybe our baked-in ideas of what is right/wrong or good/bad could be off-base we get a greater understanding of other ways to pursue happiness.
We’re getting to that end of the year period when we look forward with hopefully fresh eyes. I invite you to walk into 2019 with not a new perspective but rather the willingness to look from new perspectives. Don’t hold tightly to your current beliefs but be willing to challenge them and look at things from other angles. Sometimes you’ll find your original beliefs strengthened, but other times – maybe the most glorious times – you’ll find yourself seeing things in a fresh, empowering way.