By Sigmund Shonholtz
Several years ago, a seemingly insignificant event launched me on a thought about the importance of the word “perspective.” While it was always an important word to me, I had never realized how much fun I could have with it. It happened one afternoon. I was driving rather poorly that day, stopping and starting in a jerking fashion, and I was not considering my passenger. I am willing to bet that we have all driven that way at some time. Soon, she demanded that I drive “nicer.” About a week later, I was the passenger, and she was the driver. And now she was driving the same way I had the week before. I politely asked her, “Could you please drive a little nicer?” She complained that I only said it “because I asked you the week before.” I told her, “No, last week I was the driver, and this week I am a passenger. I now have an entirely different perspective.”
The incident got me thinking, and I began to wonder about how many possible perspectives or permutations there were in a 24-hour day. I already had a template to work with and the car as the “vehicle” for the idea, so the first three situations were easy. The first perspective, clearly, was driving in a car by yourself, alone with your thoughts. Or, imagine you are eating at a restaurant alone and watching the world go by.
The second perspective is the driver’s perspective with a passenger, the person you are talking to (the situation I was in initially). This would be the same as sitting at a table and speaking with a friend. The third perspective is how the person views the conversation while listening to you (which was the position I was in when the thought occurred to me). Each time you switch the conversation from one to another, the second and third perspectives change back and forth.
The fourth perspective is that of the observer. Consider it being in the back seat of the car while the two people in the front seat are speaking about something. Or, consider this: We have all been in a situation where we are sitting at a table listening to two people talk. At some point, we realize they have gotten mixed up and are actually having two different conversations, but they are not aware of it. In that moment, we notice it and bring it up. In the fourth perspective, the observer has a privileged position, simply noticing. Another example would be listening to a lecture or watching a comedian on a stage.
The fifth perspective is that of a speaker to a group as he or she looks at an audience. This speaker has an impression of the audience as a whole or just a small group. Since these perspectives take up 24 hours of each day, I had to include the time we are falling asleep and asleep. While it is not like sitting alone in a restaurant, it is still time alone. So the sixth perspective is that time we are still alert but falling asleep and dreaming.
It took me a while to reach the point where I had exhausted all of the permutations. The first six perspectives leave me with an awareness that places me in one position or another, but which one, I wondered, gave me the most clarity? What, I wondered, was the Ultimate Perspective?
It finally dawned on me that the Ultimate Perspective is the one that removes me as a human being. (Remember, this is just an exercise.) I have no investment in the outcome and no “agenda” about the event; I am just an observer. I imagine I am in a space ship looking down on Earth (OK, “Spock,” if you will, the science officer). I do not even have to make sense of things. (Of course, that depends on what I am examining.)
The seventh perspective is that of the “uninvolved” observer. From this perspective, I am a “spirit.” That may not be the best place to “take a reading,” though. To help me visualize things better, I must bring myself back down to earth. I imagine I am an ant walking around on a very large circle. The circle can be placed on a mountaintop, in a valley, or just in a room. Each gives me a different awareness. As I walk around the circle, looking out, I cannot help but notice that my view changes a little. Every five degrees and every 10 or 20 degrees, the view changes more. When I have walked 180 degrees around the circle, I am in a new world, and only when I walk 360 degrees do I see clearly enough to draw a conclusion. I can walk around the circle looking outwards or inwards; each gives some insights based on what I am trying to understand or realize. By doing this, I am hopefully able to understand nearly every perspective (as best as my little brain can).
My heart will always tell me what is true, but my intellect can stand apart and tell me what “might be so.” Sometimes, by walking around it, I change my mind because I realize that another point is more reasonable than mine. If I still do not understand, I am reminded of the Latin expression, Humani Nihil Alienum, or “Nothing human is alien.” Then I just surrender.
(the-vu Editor’s note) There has been considerable study of perspective in the field of psychology, but when someone acquires a need to consider perspective due to real and personal circumstances, it brings the concept to practical life.