Saturday, September 18, 2010

Take in the Panorama, not the Microcosm

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about perspectives. I try to teach my students to look at things from varying viewpoints and rhetorical stances, because, well, I teach Rhetoric & Composition. I’m constantly reminding them to consider someone else’s point of view as they make or argue points. My main hope is that they learn to question their opinions, beliefs, and assumptions. One of those ways, I believe, is to make them vary their perspectives -- sometimes they see the tree, but fail to see the forest.

Oftentimes, though, I think we consider perspectives in the sense of distance. Think about it. When you look back at your childhood (from an adult’s perspective) and imagine how differently you would act or do things now, as compared to 5, 10, 15, or more years ago, you’re doing so from a distance. Maybe you’re someone who sees a child throwing a tantrum in the grocery store and think of how you would handle the situation differently – again, from a removed distance.

One of’s definitions of perspective is:

the state of one's ideas, the facts known to one, etc., in having a meaningful interrelationship:
You have to live here a few years to see local conditions in perspective.

Again, this definition highlights the distance aspect, but I think that instead of gaining perspectives from a distance spatially, time, or any other forms, more often than not we gain perspectives from contrasts. Think about it. Many times our outlooks, “ideas, the facts known to one, etc.,” aren’t realized or solidified until they are compared to something else. This has especially become evident as I compare my life to that of someone else.

My life has especially come into perspective as I’ve looked at my slight struggles and compared them to those of my family members. I don’t have cancer, I haven’t been told my unborn baby will be a special needs child, I haven’t been rushed to the hospital with a medical emergency, had to parry the legal system in the hopes of adopting my foster children – while in the midst of moving to another state, started a new business, and any one of a number of other significant life altering changes. No. I struggle with a deadline, writing/grading papers, and … um, yeah. My struggles may be “major” to me, but are minor in the grand scheme of things. THIS is the perspective I need to remember.

Now, I’m not saying that our various and personal struggles aren’t important – because they are – I’m just saying that they need to be kept in perspective. My struggles aren’t life and death, but they may be the life and death of my academic career. However, that’s something I can ultimately live with.

I know we’re told it’s not healthy to compare ourselves to others because we’ll never measure up; however, I’m talking about taking a different kind of measure. This isn’t a competition to see who is the greatest martyr or has/is dealing with the greatest trials, I’m just saying that taking stock and altering one’s perspective and attitude, in relation to the grand scheme of things, is sometimes necessary and always helpful.

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