Monday, March 11, 2013

Perplexing Perspective

Its one of those tricky things, perspective.
Sometime last year my world view and perspective were challenged more fiercely than they ever have been before. Sparing you the details, I would say things or write things and the other person understood--quite literally--almost the exact opposite. This was so incredibly frustrating to me for two primary reasons (outside the obvious fact that my message was not getting through which gave way to all kinds of very unfortunate events).
First, I'm an educator. I have a Masters degree in what is essentially relaying information. It is the best thing I know how to do according to my resume. Was I really failing that spectacularly? Secondly, my primary hobby is writing. Did everyone entirely misunderstand my writing? Was I a complete failure at life? The jury is still out.
Coming back to the States, after relatively little time outside the country, I already notice my perspective changing in subtle ways. The world blurs into swirls of color and nuance that can be exhausting and beautiful all at once.

Picture Credit: -- American History
I'm reminded of a lesson on perspective I used to give my high school students.
The story credit goes to anthropologist, Joseph Sheppherd, though I don't have his copy any longer and so have written it here in my own words with my own shady memory. He's just brilliant and you will thoroughly enjoy his book that I've linked for you.

There once was a room full of people. Tall people, short people, fat people, skinny people. Black, white, brown, Puerto Rican. Dressed up, dressed down, not noticeably dressed at all. Young, old and everywhere in between. Are you picturing this?
Each person in the room was asked the same question: "How many are in the room?"
And you know what?
They all had different answers.
Here I discuss with my students how this would be possible. A few theories are offered up. Then I tell them that all the answers were correct. They seem puzzled. And I continue my story.
A man in a suit, looking slightly uncomfortable starts pointing his finger at each person in the room while counting, "2, 4, 6, 8, 10..." After a few moments, he responds, "189 people."
And he was right.
I pause, because that is the same answer that all of my students would have given, so I know they're all wondering what's next.
A teenager leaning against a wall called out, "About 200!"
And she was right.
My students begin to nod, having their first clue.
A small, older woman wearing bright wraps responded, "Why there are probably representatives of about 45 different villages and cities here!"
And she was right.
Some students look surprised, but you can tell that their world is widening. I love this part where you can see them peek through a newly opened door.
A youth answered, "Us, them, foreigners and spirits."
And he was right.
A small child said, "I see men, women and children."
And she was right.
Another person spoke, "There are two people here: believers and unbelievers."
And they were right.
Then, a lovely answer rose from the crowd. 
"One. We are all human, diverse and beautiful, sprung from the same root. We are one."
And that person was right.

Seems like something we should remember. And take into account when we're frustrated to tears. The thing is, each of those people had the wrong and right answer as individuals until we stepped back and allowed the scope of our vision to widen:

"Let your vision be world-embracing, rather than confined to your own self." --Baha'u'llah
(Gleanings, p. 94)

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