With a few years of parenting under my belt, one of my favorite movie scenes comes from “Mr. Mom.” As Michael Keaton adjusts to being a stay-at-home-dad and struggles to take care of his kids after losing his job, his son tells him, “You’re doing it wrong!” That’s how I feel about perspective. I often think we’re “doing it wrong.”
To call Bruce “a friend” is probably a stretch. On the other hand to call him “some guy I know” doesn’t honor how I feel about him. We may not have a long history together, but I love the guy. On those rare occasions when we do talk or hang out, it’s always a good time. So obviously I was shaken when I heard he was having brain surgery. And even more wrecked to learn that he has what his partner (who herself has battled illness and cancer for more than two decades) called, “The worst cancer in the world.”
Life is short and all those natural thoughts go coursing through your head when you hear news like this. We instantly question our own mortality. Our own vitality. We wonder if our lives were swapped would we be happy with where we are and what we’ve done. We feel that way when we read about tragic things happening to total strangers. These thoughts are even more overwhelming when someone we know is suffering. We think we find perspective.
As I’ve said and written hundreds of times, however, perspective is easy to find and incredibly difficult to keep. It’s the first cousin or maybe twin of inspiration. And we all know that I think inspiration has been watered down and overexposed. I think the same thing has happened to perspective. How many times have we “found perspective” with some life-rattling news and then minutes later yelled at some dude who may or may not have cut us off while driving? Where did that newly found perspective go?
Like inspiration, true perspective (usually) requires some kind of action, or at least a real response. Most of the time nothing follows when we say (to ourselves or others), “Wow that really gives me perspective. What a wake up call. Time to get busy living.” I’m not suggesting that we need to turn our lives upside down. Sometimes the thought is enough. Sometimes the pause to realize that “it’s all good” is all you need because your life is cruising along just as you want it at that moment. (And if that’s the case – congrats!)
But what I’ve found is that, more often than not, we use the kind of perspective that comes from news like I received about Bruce, not to gain perspective, but to ignore what needs to be done. We use perspective as an excuse to avoid what really needs attention in our lives.
This is what I mean…
I think there are times when we’re struggling. Work is tough, parenting is challenging, or we’re just generally off our game. We don’t feel right. Maybe we’re feeling pretty sad. Badly even. And then, we get some disturbing news. Our first thought is, “Well that puts things in perspective. How can I feel badly about my boss being an a*hole when my friend is in serious trouble.” Then, we talk give ourselves a bit of a pep talk to “get over it/ourselves” and dive headlong back into the lion’s den.
This is where we do it wrong.
What’s happened isn’t that we’ve gained perspective and move forward in a positive direction. Instead, we’ve used this “perspective” to think, “Why am I complaining? I don’t have it so bad.” and end up potentially ignoring what needs to be fixed. This is why it’s so difficult to keep perspective. Our problems don’t go away. We simply sweep them under the rug because we feel as though we’re not being grateful for what we have when someone near us could truly, literally lose it all. We mistake this “buck it up” response for perspective.
I have a friend who was struggling badly with his boss back when Gabrielle Giffords was shot and so many innocent people lost their lives. His feeling was that he was lucky to be alive and should just let it go. I told him that perspective should be a tool not a crutch. “Talk to HR. The shootings in Arizona won’t make your boss a good guy. If you REALLY want to take something away from that tragedy, realize that you can’t live in fear of your boss and you need to do something about it. Take steps to fix it.” He did. That’s finding real perspective.
Personally, Bruce’s situation has made me realize that there are some things I want to do differently (and I’ve already started taking the steps to make those changes). I have specific goals for myself that require specific actions. I have a vision for my life that needs more attention. I’ve been neglecting these goals and visions. No more.
There’s nothing wrong with whining about the broken appliances in the garage, or being annoyed with a kid who simply won’t do her homework. Those are the very real day-to-day challenges that gain importance (personally) with each passing day. Every time you pass those appliances or have to fight with your kid – the problem grows. It’s real and it’s frustrating. That frustration doesn’t mean you’re not grateful for what you have. And it doesn’t mean that you’re lacking perspective on “what’s important.” It just means you’re alive.
If you’re moved, however, to find perspective (in tragedy or otherwise) – take steps to create solutions to the problems. That’s where perspective really lives.
That’s doing it right.