Life is a Matter of Perspective: An Essay by Peter Bennett

August 10, 2010
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Picasso went outside the boundaries to forge a new perspective.

Picasso went outside the boundaries to forge a new perspective.

A few years back, I worked in Laguna Hills, a city that rims Interstate 5 and is best known for being the address of Leisure World and home to lots of nondescript mortgage and auto design firms. There wasn’t one thing remarkable about the town or my job.

Then one day, I wandered and wound my way through the canyon on an extended lunch (don’t tell the boss) and discovered the other Laguna, a.k.a. Laguna Beach. Bronze people there were sunning in the sand, playing basketball or beach volleyball, painting on easels, sipping cocktails at Las Brisas, shopping with wide-brimmed hats and cruising that little crescent of sky-high real estate in expensive automobiles. Returning to work, I wondered how worlds just a few miles apart could be so different.

Why would anybody choose to live or work in a cesspool, Laguna Hills, when you can live in the cool pool, Laguna Beach? I mean, if you’re going to be a bum, why would you bed down in the bone-chilling streets of Fargo, North Dakota, instead of the balmy avenues of Santa Monica, Calif.?

These questions are important because your view of life is shaped and conditioned by where you sit. Keep looking through the same dusty lens, and pretty soon, you think that’s the way the whole world looks. You begin to see the world, not as it is, but as you are. What’s the saying? “It’s hard to see the real picture of life when you live inside the frame.”

Here’s what’s really maddening. All you have to do to change perception – to see the world anew — is to step outside the frame in which you live. In my case it was driving through the canyon and coming out the other side.

I’m fascinated, even obsessed with this business of perceptions because they so rule our lives, usually for the worse, not the better. Here are some common innocuous misperceptions.

·       The Canary Islands were not named after birds but wild dogs (canis).

·       Panama hats were woven first in Peru, Colombia and Ecuador from jijapa leaves. Only later did they become Panama hats because some American from the United States saw the new-style hat in Panama, and the name stuck.

·       The Pennsylvania Dutch supposedly living in Pennsylvania were really Germans from the Deutschland. It’s an easy mistake, Dutch/Deutsch, right?

·       The gates to St. Peters, the ones that you must pass through to enter heaven, are actually a dozen gates (Revelation 21:12-21).Who knew?

·       The battle of Bunker Hill was actually fought on Breed’s Hill … the list goes on.

Panama Hat

Panama Hat

The abovementioned misconceptions are harmless, but sometimes not having the right or correct perspective can take can take us down a more perilous road. Demonize someone or some cause, and it’s much easier to behead that person or prosecute a war. It was said that Anne Bolelyn had three breasts and an extra finger. These deformities were probably nothing more than an oversized mole and a double fingernail, but if you’re Henry VIII, and you need to conveniently dispose of your wife, so you can marry again, you turn her into a freak show. It worked.

Changing your view or changing your perspective can change your life for the better. That’s why it’s always important to seek fresh perspectives. Looking through a new lens –or just a clean one  — can put you in a whole new place and put you on a better life path.

Without perspective, you might not understand that even if you win the rat race, you’re still a rat. Instead of asking “Who Moved My Cheese? Ask, “How can I move myself out of here to get a better view of things?”

Put another way, what if you’ve been trying all your life to keep up with the Joneses, and the Joneses turn out to be schmucks? The only way you’ll know for sure is if you see life from another perspective. Do what you have to do, but get out of Dodge or Laguna Hills, if only for a day or a weekend.

If you can’t move yourself right away (It’s not easy. I stayed in Laguna Hills for three years), at least, know where you sit. That way, you’ll better know where you stand (starting to sound like Yogi).

If there’s no money to put gas in the tank, simply close your eyes and let your imagination drive you to your new destination. Fly to the moon like Neil Armstrong. Look back at Earth. How then would you see your role on this planet? Differently, of course, because you’ve literally changed your point of view.

Neil Armstrong

Neil Armstrong

Another technique when you’re stuck too long in the same place is to try to envision life through the eyes of a child. Do you know the story of the little girl who stood in church in awe of the stained glass windows, her face bathed in a rainbow of warm color? “Who are those people in the window,” she asked. “Those are the saints,” the guide replied. That night the little girl told her mom about the amazing windows. “Who are the saints, the mother asked. “They are the people who let the light shine through.”

Once the light starts shining through, prepare yourself for some wonderful new experiences and revelations. Your creativity will blossom, your humor will increase, you’ll be a better “You” in every way. You’ll become more inventive, spiritual, flexible, thoughtful, considerate and interesting. You’ll have a new perspective on things. By flipping just a couple things around or standing old conventions on their head, a new world will open up. Here are some old topics and issues seen with fresh eyes:

Spiritualism: We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.

Humor: I’m well balanced. I have a chip on both shoulders.

Recruiting Talent: A baseball scout told the team manager, “I found the greatest pitcher of all time. He struck out 27 guys, only one guy had a foul tip.” The manager said, “Sign the guy who hit the foul ball.”

Compassion: To an orphan: “You have a striking resemblance to your father, God.”

Yourself: Are you in the way or on the way?

Politics: In 1912, Emmaline Panhurst went to prison 12 times in her fight to gain universal suffrage for women. “We are not here because we are lawbreakers; we are here in our efforts to become lawmakers,” she said.”

Sex: “Being with a woman all night never hurt no professional ballplayer. It’s staying up all night looking for a woman that does him in.”

Art: “Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth.” – Picasso

Prison: “I felt that I could go and have a vacation,” said Martha Stewart describing her attitude on serving five months in prison, an incarceration that forced her to slow down and smell the roses, even if they were behind barbed wire.

Jail: Ralph Waldo Emerson went to visit his fellow transcendentalist, Henry Thoreau in jail. Thoreau was protesting slavery by refusing to pay a poll tax. “Why are you in there?” Emerson asked. “Why are you out there?” Thoreau replied.

Raising Money: Be a professional fun – raiser.

Pessimism: A man asked his rabbi why is it that a slice of bread with butter on it always lands with the buttered side down. The rabbi had never heard this before, so they tried it. The rabbi buttered the bread, dropped it and it landed with the buttered side up. The rabbi pointed to it, and said, “Well?” The man protested, “But rabbi, you buttered the wrong side.” Understand that some sour pusses will never change, so there’s never a need to be angry at them. See what perspective can do.

Negativism: An optimist and a pessimist went goose hunting. The optimist shot down a big goose overhead. His dog leaped out of the boat, ran on top of the water, picked up the goose and ran back all the way on top of the water. The positive farmer said, “What do you think of that? The negative farmer shook his head in disgust. “Just what I thought,” he said, your dog can’t even swim.”

Sales: Instead of saying, “If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.” Try, “I will follow up with you in two weeks, but in the meantime, feel free to call with any questions.”

Tom Friedman

Tom Friedman

Economy/Education:  “Girls, when I was growing up, parents used to say to me, ‘Tom, finish your dinner; people in China and India are starving.’ My advice to you is: ‘Girls, finish your homework; people in China and India are starving for your jobs.” From Tom Friedman,  author of “The World is Flat.”

History: Resisters in France were called Freedom Fighters. When Sioux warriors defeated U.S. warriors at Little Big Horn, the press called them butchers. When U.S. Cavalry gunned down unarmed men and women and children at Wounded Knee in South Dakota in 1890, the soldiers were called heroes and were honored with more Congressional Medals of Honor than in any previous battle.

Business: Don’t focus on profits; focus on the factors that produce the profits.

I’m not saying you have to be a contrarian, but you do need to ask the contrarian question or see the contrarian view. It will help round out your perspective and help guide you to the truth.

Nor can you always take things at face value. Lucy wasn’t always a loveable redhead. Before she hit it big, she was a blond and chestnut brunette. People and things aren’t always what they seem. The sun may appear to move across the sky each day, but it’s actually the earth that’s moving.

If we don’t continue to seek fresh perspectives, pretty soon we won’t know what’s real. You’ll be like the old man with the limburger cheese attached to his mustache. Everywhere he went he thought the world stunk, when it was he who was the malodorous one.

So brush away the cheese crumbs. Recall the wisdom of Alexander Pope, “All seems infected that the infected spy, all looks yellow the jaundiced eye.”

Griffith J. Griffith

Griffith J. Griffith

The world doesn’t have to be yellow, it can be clear and bright and beautiful. It just depends on your perspective. Take a new way home tomorrow, walk through a section of campus you’ve never seen before. There’s a whole universe of knowledge and wisdom that needs your attention. See the world with fresh your eyes. I know one who did.

In 1896 Col. Griffith J. Griffith donated most of the 4,100 acres that make up L.A.’s Griffith Park, and later funded the public observatory that was constructed after his death and bears his name today. He had been moved to make his bequest after peering through the telescope at Mt. Wilson, then the most important research observatory in the world. An observatory, after all, is a tool for helping one observe and gain new perspectives.

He said, “If all mankind could look through that telescope, it would change the world.”

This essay was inspired by Cary Grant.cary-grant

One Response to “Life is a Matter of Perspective: An Essay by Peter Bennett”

  1. This essay on “Perspective” is wonderful. If only our teen agers of today could all read and discuss something like this….do you think it would make a difference? So many of them seem so doomed…and how does one help them to understand that a lot of that doomed attitude has to do with their perspective on what life is all about? Perspective, attitude, determination…you name it…

    Thanks, Peter. As usual, you’ve hit the nail on the head again.

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