On Perspective


I do have a friend who would usually be mistakenly identified as me. There were many instances that  people in the university where both of us are teaching called me by his name and him by mine. Why? None of us is a dead ringer for the other but very likely that our  similar built, height and rounded face would make people commit that mistake.

Seemingly bemused, he asked me one time, “Why would they think I am you? Do I look as old as you are?” I paused for a while, smiled then told him jokingly, “No, I think I just look as young and handsome as you are.”

As my friend laughed at my response, I thought that the contrasting way we looked at the issue has opened an opportunity for me to revisit the topic “perspective.”

That (perspective) is one of the most amazing things about us humans – our tendency to look at the same thing differently.

Anything in this world can be viewed from different perspectives. We get to decide at what angle we would look at circumstances, problems, events and even objects using lenses that are uniquely ours. We tend to measure the value of those things using our own sets of standards and label and define them according to our beliefs.  Those standards and beliefs are shaped by the way we were raised by our parents, trained by our  teachers, influenced by the people around us, and conditioned by our culture.

The sum total of the experiences we accumulated since birth and the amount and quality of information we gathered through the years from different sources are the factors that contribute to the kind of perspectives we develop as persons. Our way of viewing things depends on the belief system that those experiences and information impressed upon us.

Each person is entitled to embrace a particular attitude towards something. There are no specific measurement to determine the rightness and wrongness of perspectives. Only the consequences of a person’s action (or the lack of it) as a result of embracing certain perspectives could perhaps be labeled as right or wrong.

When we are about to take a perspective it’s like we’re positioning ourselves in the number scale and decide whether to go north or south.  We can either be positive or negative with our perspective. Those are the only directions we could take when we look  at issues and circumstances confronting us. It’s a matter of choice.

Perspective is said to be like a coin, it only has two sides. We flip the coin and choose either “head” or “tail.”

Our perspectives affect the decisions we make. They inform the things we think, say and do. Thus, while we are entitled to have any kind of perspective, in the same manner that we are entitled to our own opinions, we have to understand that we will bear whatever consequences there may be for embracing the perspectives we take.

We also need to understand that we could not assume that what we believe or see is definitive. Different people have different ways of looking at things. The perspective of the world that dictates the lens through which we see it is not the same for everybody. We need to develop the ability to see things from another’s viewpoint.

Perspectives can either be broad or narrow.

Having a broad perspective means being able to see the bigger picture.  `

I once had a conversation with  another friend about working conditions. He bewailed the fact that a truck driver in his country earns more than what he is earning in a year as an expat teacher. After listening to his litany, I told him to pause for a while and dig deeper into his comparison and consider other factors like number of required work hours and the physical demands for the job. When computing the number of hours, I reminded him that we as teachers are not actually working during winter and summer breaks but we get paid in full by the university as stipulated in our contracts.

He realized at the end that his pay per hour is actually higher than the truck driver and his working conditions are much better.

It is not really hard to train the mind to look at the bigger picture. It is easy to look beyond the obvious if only we’re open-minded. It does not require a special kind of training. All we need is common sense.

There are a lot more that could be explored in the discussion of perspective. At the end, the thing that matters is the answer to the question, “How do our perspectives affect the way we live?”

If the lenses we are using to view the world have brought us success and happiness, why change them. We’ve been told many times, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But what about if those lenses are seemingly broken and  have caused us nothing but failure and misery?  Is it time to visit an OPTIMIST?

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