The One Thing We All Need More Of
Perspective has a myriad of formal definitions, but there is one in particular that stands out to me. And not only does it stand out, it’s the one thing we all need more of. All of us.
“The capacity to view things in their true relations or relative importance.”
I’ve often written about how small we are. How inconsequential in the grand scheme of the universe the particles that create us are. And that’s about relative importance. How important can I really be? To my children, my relative importance is very high. But now that they are teenagers, my relative importance is less than it was when they could not take care of themselves. So relative importance is a continuous sliding scale throughout our lives. And isn’t that all something we desperately need to be aware of?
One day we could be something or we could feel like we are someone, but the next day we could be back to being nobody. Because we are all nobody. I am nobody and so are you. That’s perspective. Knowing that I don’t mean shit in the entirety of the universe. And some days I am baffled at how important you think you are. Because of an amount of Instagram likes or a viral subtweet. Give me a break. Give yourself a break.
Everything we’ve “accomplished” on the Internet is a pile of dust. There are researchers and scientists spending countless hours a week trying to cure cancer and you are hyped over your Facebook shares. It’s because you don’t have enough perspective. Most of us don’t. Even those of us with perspective often lose it inside our own ego. Inside our lack of awareness about how big the world is and how small we are in comparison.
Perspective in Life is Everything
Without perspective we are looking at life with blinders on, uniquely unaware of our surroundings. There are plenty of days I want to bury my head in the sand, in lieu of blinders, but it won’t make the rest of the world go away. It won’t stop anything that is happening out there. It will just allow me to hide from reality and that’s having no perspective. Because the only way to have perspective is to keep your eyes open.
“The interrelation in which a subject or its parts are mentally viewed.”
Just do the math on how small you are. You are one of 7.7 billion people in the world. Think of perspective as the act of looking around you and seeing how many other people you can see. How much is out there in the world that you will never know, never see, never interact with, never touch? Almost all of it. So how can you be so impressed with your personal knowledge?
I used to think it was a badge of honor, this self-defined intellectual hypochondria of the unwitting polymath. So I know about a lot of different things. Big deal. What have I done? I’ve accomplished some things in life, sure, but it’s still nothing. It’s something to me, but perspective allows me to know I’m not special. I haven’t earned anything extra because of it. Maybe it helps me to take a wider view than most. But even then, my ego thwarts that when it feels it has to. When I need to feel important. Even though I know I will never be important to the universe.
Because I am just a speck. So are you. And it’s perspective that tells us that.
Living Without Perspective
You have friends who do it, who think the world revolves around them. That their visit to a botanical garden on Sunday is on par with the California wildfires, if they even were aware of them. And what do you think of them when you see their lack of perspective? Not good things. Lack of perspective is a part of racism, sexism, ageism - an inability to view things in their true relations. An inability to understand another point of view.
I feel like I’ve always had perspective, at least some. But if that’s true, what about all the times I thought I was right? All the times I insisted to myself that I knew better than everyone else. I still do it, but now perspective brings me back to reality. I still need perspective to be better at life and so do you. It’s the one thing we all need more of. Because with more perspective comes compassion, empathy, and understanding.
You can’t live a truly fulfilling life without proper perspective of all that revolves around you. Look at an ant hill one day, streaming with a colony of ants. Look at nature and wonder how it got like that. Listen to what happens around you, really listen. Look at who is in front of you and see how you can help. You already don’t matter, but opening up your eyes and having some perspective will allow you to matter more. Or maybe it will just make you a better person.
Proper perspective is up to you. Only you can decide what perspective works for you. But the next time you hear someone say, “let’s put this in the proper perspective,” maybe you will think differently about that. Because it usually means we are giving too much importance to something that doesn’t matter. Many things seem urgent and important in the moment, but later are dismissed as a waste of both time and space. Proper perspective can help alleviate the waste.
A tight view is easier, it doesn’t allow for alternatives. It’s singular and in its singularity, it defines itself as correct because we are often too lazy to search more. To go beyond the surface. To dig deeper. Maybe some of us just don’t have time. Maybe some of us are truly lazy and would rather have others decide for us. Maybe we can’t make decisions and more perspective only makes that harder. But the easy way is rarely the most meaningful way.
Wouldn’t everything in life be a little easier if we could put it in proper perspective? Wouldn’t it take the pressure off of trying to be so perfect when the reality is that close to 7.7 billion people in the world will never care about us? It’s relative importance again. What is our relative importance? Think about time. It’s 2018 now. We would be lucky to live 80 years. We will be here, then we will be gone. Some won’t forget us, but most will. And in time, everyone will forget us. Because even as you live today, you are just eleven elements fused together by some magical force. And you are just one of 7.7 billion. That’s perspective.