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perspective(s)

I’ve wanted to write a post about perspective, but I wasn’t sure how to begin it.

Then, yesterday, my husband turned my three-year-old’s carseat around. Instead of facing backward, looking through my car’s rear window, Littler faced forward and shared my view through the front window.

“Woooooooooo!” he yelled after we pulled out of our driveway and began down the road. “Whoa, whoa, whoa!” He might as well have been riding a roller coaster.

“You like the view, huh?” asked Littler’s older brother, Li’l D.

“Yeah!” cheered Littler, who’d had more than his car seat reoriented.

His whole perspective had changed.

Last week, a familiar horror crept over me while I read. None of this can be changed, I thought. It’s far too late to choose a different track.

The fact I’d thought such a thing was my signal: It was time to set aside the book I was reading. Though it was both illuminating and engagingly written, its content was grim.

I’ve learned over the last couple of months that I must read such things in small doses. Doing otherwise can catapult me into depression. (For example, I shouldn’t have read Matt Taibbi’s Griftopia and The Divide back to back. Spending a couple of days immersed in what exactly a handful of corrupt financiers have gotten away with while millions of others languish in prison for less … left me thinking, for some weeks, there is no way to overcome this scale of injustice.)

What can I read right now that will walk me back toward something like hope? I wondered. I landed on The Guardian’s George Monbiot, whose words reveal wisdom and perspective that reorient my heart.

One article’s title especially piqued my curiosity: “Finally, a breakthrough alternative to growth economics – the doughnut.”

I read the article and soon began beaming. So enchanted was I with Monbiot’s review of Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like A 21st-Century Economist, I bought the book on my way home.

More than a decade ago, the manager who hired me to negotiate software contracts called to give me a heads-up. She’d finished looking over the very first contract I ever tried marking up (“redlining”) and was going to email them to me. “It’s going to feel yucky reading them,” she said, “like it felt for me at the beginning. But I want you to know they’re sent with love. This is just one step toward getting really good at this job.”

I opened up the document with her comments and breathed a sigh of relief. From what she’d described, I’d envisioned pages of black obscured by seas of no, no, no red. I found instead a handful of helpful remarks.

The fact she’d called first always stuck with me. Without that call, I might have read her first comments very, very differently. Because she’d called and told me what to expect, I already knew she wasn’t lambasting me in rage but coaching me with compassion.

Some weeks later, she asked if she could use me as “a second set of eyes.” This confused me, at first; I was the managed, she the manager.

She laughed, with such kindness and mirth that I couldn’t help smiling. “Sweetie, sometimes we get stuck in our own ways of seeing things, and we need something–or someone–else to point us a different direction.” She described an old manager of hers who’d lay down on his floor when he got stuck on a problem. Looking at a problem from a different angle helped un-stick him.

Through my manager’s eyes, I came to see that feedback isn’t an accusation of not being good enough. It’s an invitation to see things from a different perspective, and thus, perhaps, to do a little better (or more effectively) tomorrow.

I’ve read 60 or 70 political books since last August. I know much more than I knew nine months ago, but what I know is still inconsequential compared to all I don’t know.

My knowledge far, far exceeds my wisdom, so that I have to look outside myself for wisdom to sustain me on my journey through a world much, much more full of misery than I recently understood. I find from people who’ve been journeying for years to decades not only grim facts, but hopeful ones … and the wise perspectives that weave these things together, inspiring both compassion and ongoing action.

I find nuggets of faith as I read such authors, and am slightly reoriented by each book I read. In Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics, I’m further uplifted by the page.

More than any other book I’ve read so far, Raworth looks squarely at what’s wrong and asks not, “How do we incrementally chip away at these problems?” but “How do we look at these problems in fundamentally different ways, so that our new perspective guides us toward a more just and sustainable world?” More than asking the questions, she offers suggestions while inviting readers to join in on both the dialogue and the action.

Before beginning this book, I had the sense that myriad problems are interconnected. I couldn’t begin to explain how. Now, I have a better sense not only of “how,” but see connections I’d have never fathomed left to fumble for them alone.

Facts are important, certainly. But there’s something to be said for those who share new perspectives, and so reveal in the world possibilities often concealed behind what only seem like just plain facts.

Even if you’re not much of a reader, I heartily recommend giving Kate Raworth’s conversation with Upstream a listen.

Just like Littler J in his carseat yesterday, you might discover the world looks a whole lot different from another angle.

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  1. Deb
    May 28, 2017 at 7:43 am

    Hey Deb, glad you have continued to write and ponder and question on the blog. I am horrid at the perspective thing, no matter the topic, and often literally have to force myself to step back, think, and try to see through a different lens. I don’t succeed very often 😦

    • May 29, 2017 at 12:36 pm

      I’m getting a little better at it by the day now! Still, nine times out of ten I have to find perspective externally. The other one time, finding within, is while driving. 😉

      I’m only half kidding. .I recently read Naomi Klein’s No Logo. She wrote about the colonization of space by corporations: ads and sponsorships as far as the eye can see, virtually everywhere. There’s so little space left where we can walk without being reminded we’re meant to consume.

      Reading it helped me understand part of the good of dumping Twitter and spending more time offline. Before, my mind was always full of other people’s thoughts. Now, it’s more full of my own, and I know where to look when I come up on roadblocks I just can’t traverse with the time and perspective I have now.

      The quiet’s been good for perspective … or even, thinking of Postman’s reflections on how many verbs English turns into nouns, perspectiving. ♥

  2. May 28, 2017 at 11:29 am

    Hey there … I want to. I try to. But it hurts so damn much! I hate feeling so powerless! I’ll admit it, I use most of my reading time for escape and leisure. You go, though, girl. You’ll be president one day, if you want to – and I’ll be out there campaigning for you with all my heart.

    • May 29, 2017 at 12:38 pm

      Oh, man. This comment … you’ve done this heart a world of good. ♥

      (As, too, does reading for escape and leisure. I’m slowly reading the novel Is Just A Movie. Everything else disappears as I read it, so that I’m reading it as slowly as humanly possible and planning on buying more by the other. “All work and no play,” you know. :p)

      • May 29, 2017 at 9:24 pm

        Who is the author? I looked on my library website for the title and they don’t have it.

        • May 30, 2017 at 7:31 am

          Earl Lovelace. This book was published through a small publisher, but you might be able to find some of his other works!

          • May 30, 2017 at 1:41 pm

            Thank you! I found a collection of short stories and poems – “Trinidad Noir” – that includes something by him. Have requested it from my library.

  3. May 28, 2017 at 1:06 pm

    Perspective is a powerful beast which can shift (and sometimes shatter) our accepted realities.
    Which is often an excellent rather than a bad thing.
    I came accross their five Buddhist reflections recently which help me (particularly the last).
    1. . I am of the nature to grow old. There is no way to escape growing old.

    2. I am of the nature to have ill health. There is no way to escape ill health.

    3. I am of the nature to die. There is no way to escape death.

    4. All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them.

    5. My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground upon which I stand.

    • May 29, 2017 at 12:42 pm

      I love these. A few years ago, a blogging friend recommended Just One Thing to help me ease my anxiety (through action and thus brain-rewiring). I ended up buying the author’s Buddha Brain as well, and my husband bought me the audiobook. The first time I listened, I was agitated by statements similar to #2-3; now, I listen to the audiobook and find such comfort in them. I can fight against these inevitabilities, or find ways to achieve joy in a world where they are inevitable. There’s peace in that which can’t be found by fighting it. (And yet, would I find this on my own? Not likely, which makes me so glad for those who pursue their passions and then write about them so others can benefit!)

  4. May 31, 2017 at 7:14 am

    Hi there… just wanted to recommend “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson. While it’s not all up- lifting – it will anger you as well, I thought it was a good book to read. Thank you for the book recommendations, I’m going to check them out. I want to read more of your politics blog as well. I’m definitely not schooled in politics.. most days it’s more than I can take. I’m also one who likes to pleasure read. Take care. 🙂

    • June 3, 2017 at 8:01 am

      I just read (and loved) that book last month! I touched on it in my post “On heroing” ():

      These conclusions and the perceptions behind them were shaped by non-Postman books I’ve also read recently. Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy, does some work that profoundly, definitively changes many individuals’ lives for the better. He works to get folks off Death Row, others out of unjust sentences, and–lovingly–to challenge others’ ideas of justice, mercy, and “merit.” Though it’s not his purpose to hero, he arguably goes out and heroes virtually every damn day. An essential part of his heroing is that he doesn’t appear to perceive his acts as heroing: he is not “saving” people, themselves implicitly deserving of justice and mercy apart from his actions; he is increasing the level of justice in the world we share.

      I find works like Stevenson’s (the writing and the acts) inspiring because they contain so much to be angry about. I recently decided I need most my reads to have information and inspiration. Information without inspiration can be crushing, while inspiration without information (or context) … is empty, speaking of worlds that don’t actually exist. When people show things that are angry-making, and then describe what they’re doing apart from simply being angry? I’m inspired, and understand a little more what I want to be and do in this world. 🙂

      If you are interested in a few recommendations, I’m brain-composing a post on my top five recommendations. It’ll probably take a while to write, but I think I’ve landed on the books.

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment and recommendation. ♥

  5. May 31, 2017 at 12:16 pm

    yeah it’s insane how amazing just the change of perspective can be. The powers it can do with just another view of a little thing

    • June 3, 2017 at 8:03 am

      I jokingly commented about “perspectiving” in a comment above, but I’ve since decided it’s a fine word. I don’t want to have a set perspective, which would be weird in a dynamic world … I want to be perspectiving, finding the right perspective for a given situation, as often as time and energy permit. 🙂

  6. June 1, 2017 at 6:53 am

    I love this post! In the end the only think we can change is ourselves

    • June 3, 2017 at 8:05 am

      That’s all we can change directly, for sure! I went through a recent period of going “gah, how to I get people to look at today’s problems in a different way, the better for all our kids?!” but that wasn’t right. I think we do change each other, not by shouting or pushing, but by living as best we can with love … and inviting others to see if any of what they see works for them.

  7. Dawson Hughes
    June 1, 2017 at 8:36 pm

    Perception is a powerful thing. The way one perceives such a situation is not always how others see it. This post greatly shows how having a or by learning on how to have a different perspective can in turn make things better for oneself. Nice post!

    • June 3, 2017 at 8:07 am

      Until pretty recently, I could see glimmers of what I thought might be someone else’s perspective. I’ve practiced “perspectiving” a lot since then, and get better by the day. One thing I overlooked for a several-month window was how important listening is to really coming close to approximating someone else’s perspective(s) … and thus broadening my own!

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