Growing Perspective

Gaining perspective has been an important and challenging journey for me. In the past five years or so, I have gained a new appreciation that I have not actually achieved perspective, in large part because there may be no actual destination or end point. In other words, it has dawned on me that the notion of achieving perspective suggests there is but one point of view and we are either headed toward it or not. The awareness that I do not achieve perspective, but rather gain it, broaden it, sharpen it, switch it, reconsider it, has helped keep me much more interested and — just possibly — interesting.

IMG_0056aMy definition of perspective does exactly equate with point of view, but the latter certainly informs it. I understand perspective as the skill of differentiating my own point of view from reality. I then may or may not elect to make decisions based on reality, but at least will know that as I experience the results of those decision. For example, I may feel that I am too tired to do a complete cardio workout today. I stack up evidence: I started too late; I didn’t wash my workout clothes yesterday; I planned to write this morning; I’d feel rushed; the elliptical needs lubricating and I don’t know exactly how to do so or where to find out how. There are more solid reasons. While none of them is technically incorrect, each is building block in the point of view I form while crying alone in my room when I was four years old – that things are hopeless, I can’t, and I never will. While I was four long ago, I am not now (Ah, reality) and operating on the feelings from back then is not reality.

In short, these thoughts are feelings in masquerade. The reality is that I will experience more alertness after a cardio work out. I can switch some morning activities to later in the day. It makes no difference that I wear fresh workout clothes every single day. I can get my cardio in other ways than using the elliptical trainer. I am not four, no one has hurt my feelings today, and I can do this. In the end, I may or may not elect to do that cardio workout, but with perspective I can later recognize the consequences of my decision to operate on fact or feeling and use those consequences as evidence for future decisions about working out. With more perspective I can challenge historic stumbling blocks to success. With less, I might be convinced that those old experiences must shape my current response to the environment

In building community, perspective is vital. If communities are going to form, function, and thrive, their members must recognize community issues, find motivation to address these issues, identify leadership that exists, and exercise flexibility to discover elegant solutions

Perhaps the most striking area where perspective is valuable is in the identification of issues. Joblessness, insufficient distribution of resources, limited educational attainment, teen pregnancy, poor health outcomes, failing infrastructure that limits our access to necessary goods and services – all of these are named year after year in the US as social ills. But from which perspective? Some feel that poor people are taking others for a ride into an economic free fall. Others see corporate greed as the culprit. Or the one-tenth of one percent who harvest more and more of the GNP each year.

People whose retirement savings are invested in stocks or mutual funds may not recognize their biases about the distribution of resources; they see their hard work and discipline as factors that distinguish them from the poor. They may hear stories about other middle class people who became poor because of a dishonest investor, an unexpected health problem, or a set of unwise decisions. But they view themselves as more cautious, healthier, better prepared, more intelligent, thus protecting themselves from the reality of how tenuous their positions are, how costly. The insufficient perspective in this illustration does not foster a shared understand of the issue and will not lead to real solutions.

Until recently, I could have argued that many community arts programs are nice to have, but not essential to fostering community itself. Their budgets, ranging from huge to non-existent, are used to employ relatively few people. Viewed with the lens of resource allocation and expenditure — a view often used on county boards and in governor’s mansions — we cannot afford to spend tax dollars on community arts. But, go to a ballet performance or a community theater production and witness community behind the sets, on the stage, in the theater, and in the parking lot as proud parents and relatives pick up their tired and enthusiastic family members. It would be interesting to learn if the millions of people experiencing community in programs that actually employ very few people would agree that we cannot afford community arts.

These same arts programs feed universities and colleges looking to bolster their degree and non-degree programs. They contract for services and provide scholarships. They celebrate cultural heritage, disseminate knowledge, educate a public in history and social issues, they award success and channel grief into public expression, they inspire hard work, and model commitment.

From this perspective, community arts should not be pitted against what are understood to be more pressing social issues, but engaged as part of a solution to them and appreciated for being a model of what is possible. Building community must consider the issue of perspective if elegant solutions are to be found to the complex challenges we face.

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