Perspective

[Dad], can I have a motorcycle when I get old enough?”
“If you take care of it.”
“What do you have to do?”
“Lots of things. You’ve been watching me.”
“Will you show me all of them?”
“Sure.”
“Is it hard?”
“Not if you have the right attitude. It’s having the right attitude that’s hard.”
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance p. 372.

What makes life easy or difficult or any other way we judge it for that matter is perspective. What matters most about your life and mine are not the objective facts or reality of it but rather the perspective from which we view it. View reality from one perspective and arrive at one conclusion. View it from another and the same “facts” seem altogether different. What a difficult lesson to learn. It’s when we really get that perspective is what it’s about that we can begin to choose the perspective that will allow us the freedom, joy, and satisfaction we seek.

There is no greater testament of the principle of perspective than studying the lives of people who have suffered the severest deprivations. Victims of war, concentration camps, or poverty, often tell moving accounts of how they transcended deplorable circumstances and discovered joy and meaning in life.

We need not look far to find such stories. The international best selling book entitled City of Joy is such a story. The book describes modern day life of the citizens of a slum in the city of Calcutta, India. Let me share with you a few of the facts or realities from the lives of these people:

  • 70,000 people live within a geographical area 3 times the size of a football field.
  • In the City of Joy (made of concrete and mud) most children have never seen a bird, flower, or pond.
  • Most people live with 10-12 others in a single room dwelling not more than 150 square feet in size. Those not so fortunate live on the sidewalk under a sheet of plastic.
  • 90% of the residents live on a single rupee per day which is enough money buy a half pound of rice.
  • A person is fortunate to have one good meal per day, consisting of a banana, griddle cake and couple of teaspoons of rice.
  • Of 23 million children born in Calcutta each year, only 3 million will grow up to be healthy, nourished adults.
  • Most children and adults suffer from serious and chronic illness, from malnutrition to smallpox, dysentery to tuberculosis.
  • There are no private bathrooms or toilets. People stand in line for up to a couple of hours every morning to use a public latrine.
  • Most of the year (8 months) the populace live with sweltering heat which can be between 115 and 120 degrees Fahrenheit for 2 to 3 weeks at a time.
  • During the monsoons the rainfall will be so heavy that it will flood the streets and into the houses 3 and 4 feet deep. The latrines will at times back up and human waste will flow through the streets and even into their homes.

The conditions of the City of Joy are unimaginable to us, even those who have lived with poverty and hardship. And yet, millions of people live their entire lives trapped by such conditions with barely a flicker of hope or escape. What is most incredible about them is not the horrendously depraved living conditions. What is incredible is the fact that what is most meaningful in life (hope, service, friendship, laughter, love, and joy) is found in the lives of these people every day. In the words of Dominque La Pierre:

“The miracle of these concentration camps, was that the accumulation of disastrous elements was counterbalanced by other factors that allowed their inhabitants not merely to remain fully human but even to transcend their conditions and become models of humanity.

In these slums people actually put love and mutual support into practice. They knew how to be tolerant of all creeds and castes, how to give respect to a stranger, how to show charity toward beggars, cripples, lepers, and even the insane. Here the weak were helped, not trampled upon. Orphans were instantly adopted by their neighbors and old people were cared for and revered by their children.”

Is there any greater evidence of the principle of perspective? Perhaps all of us could do well to keep in mind the principle of perspective and take some time to be grateful. For indeed, our ability to experience joy and love are as much a function of our perspective as they are the circumstances of our lives.


Roger K. Allen, Ph.D. is an expert in personal transformation, leadership, and teams. His tools and methods have helped hundreds of businesses and tens of thousands of people transform the ways they work and live. To learn more, visit www.theheroschoice.com.


About Roger K. Allen
Roger K. Allen, Ph.D. is an expert in personal transformation and family development. His tools and methods have helped tens of thousands of people live happier and more effective lives. To learn more, visit www.rogerkallen.com>.

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