My son hardly slept the other night. He came into our room several times, saying he needed to give me a hug or that he needed to play. I thought he was being naughty, and I returned him to his room, each time a little more frustrated.
Around 4 a.m., he threw up all over me and the kitchen floor.
I took both of my children to the grocery store. We used the self-checkout aisle, because we only had a few items and they think it’s a fun process. My daughter bagged the groceries. My son wanted to carry the bag out of the store. She wouldn’t let him. They bickered about it over by the Redbox kiosk. Through gritted teeth, I told her that a 7-year-old should know how to share, and I hustled them out of the store.
By the time we got to the car, she was crying in frustration. She didn’t want to give him the bag because she thought it was too heavy for him, and she did not want him to hurt himself. Part of the bickering I heard was her trying to convince him to carry one or two items from the bag, just not the whole thing. I hadn’t given her a chance to explain in the store because I thought she was simply being stubborn.
One Saturday in August, I was groaning internally because we’d been bouncing from one child-oriented activity to the next. Then I caught myself. We were on a family vacation.
These are all recent examples of what I consider lessons in perspective. I experienced each one as almost a physical sensation, as if I had been slapped across the face. Which perhaps I should have been.
The dictionary definition of “perspective” doesn’t quite match the concept I rely on the word to express. Loosely phrased, “perspective” is defined as an attitude or a point of view. I read that as allowing for complete subjectivity, a mindset in a vacuum.
I consider lessons in perspective to be much more awakening than a simple confirmation of my own take on things. Developing perspective, to me, means confronting my opinionated reaction with context. Settings contextualize, as do the attitudes or points of view of the people I am reacting to.
Put differently, I believe my perspective is only as good as its breadth.
And so. How judgmental and short-tempered of me to unleash frustration – at my children, no less – without checking my cold assessment of their outward behavior alone. How spoiled of me to complain – even if only to myself – that I wasn’t getting the chance to do an activity I would pick while at an ocean resort in Maine.
I don’t think demanding perspective means that I can only trivialize my personal disappointments or opinions. I do think it means, though, that when I’m lamenting the absence of time in my schedule to get my nails done, I need to be at least semi-conscious of the privilege behind that being a lamentation.
As a short-tempered, sometimes pessimistic, often stubborn person, perspective as I define it is something I am always working on. Achieving it is a refreshingly positive, wholly gratifying experience.
A lack of perspective in others can be incredibly off-putting. I cannot watch most reality television because of it. Political speech seems entirely divorced from the concept. Sometimes I wonder if progress is something we just tell ourselves is happening because it feels better to think that.
Then there’s an upwardly trending arrow on Facebook. Just recently, two stories were competing for mass attention on the social media monolith: the Syrian toddler photographed face down, as if he were napping, except his face was half covered by an incoming wave because he had drowned; and news that Tom Brady had won appeal of his four-game suspension by the NFL. I saw posts saying they couldn’t bring themselves to look at the dead child next to posts celebrating Tom Brady’s “freedom.”
And that was my lesson in perspective for the day.