Good for the Soul…Zoom Out: Putting Things in Perspective


“Perspective is worth 80 IQ points.” Alan Kay, American scientist

A parable from India describes 6 blind men and an elephant. They could not see the elephant but thought they could learn what it was like by touching it. The first touched its side and said it is like a wall. The second felt the tusk and said it is like a spear. The third held the trunk and said it is like a snake. The fourth grabbed the leg and said it is like a tree. The fifth touched the ear and said it is like a fan. And the sixth grabbed the tail and said it is like a rope. After the elephant departed, the six men argued. Each thought they knew how the elephant looked. However, none of them had a realistic idea of what an elephant was like–“the big picture.”

 Perspective is “the capacity to view things in their true relations or relative importance,” per Merriam-Webster dictionary. Perspective is one of 24 character strengths of positive psychology. VIA Character website describes perspective as “the ability to see the bigger picture in life, …see the forest as well as the trees, to avoid getting wrapped up in the small details when there are bigger issues to consider….” Looking at the whole system, seeing and evaluating multiple sides first, can improve decisions and advice. But sometimes it is hard to have a balanced perspective. When anxious, we tend to have “tunnel vision,” an automatic response to threats. Similarly, when angry, we do and say things that we normally would not, “seeing red” rather than viewing the situation accurately. During adolescence, we all had situations we thought were “the end of the world” because we had not developed sufficient perspective through life experiences.

            So, how can you improve your perspective? Step away from the situation, perhaps go for a walk or jog, especially if angry. Or immerse yourself in a hobby or chores to distract yourself. Then revisit the situation with fresh eyes. Experience nature–looking at mountains or star-studded skies puts life in perspective. Stand on a beach and admire the vast blue ocean; your problems will look different. Ask yourself, “Will this matter a year from now in the grand scheme of things?” Remind yourself your struggle is just for a season. My dad wisely said, “this too will pass.” Perhaps study history, or other cultures. Consider a spiritual viewpoint. Reading wisdom literature from religious or philosophical sources can enlighten. Talking with others provides new viewpoints. Getting away alone without distractions can provide space to reflect. In perspective, many “first-world problems” are minor compared to major third-world problems like starvation. Humor is a powerful perspective changer. affirms: “Laughter shifts perspective, allowing you to see situations in a more realistic, less threatening light. A humorous perspective creates psychological distance, which can help you avoid feeling overwhelmed and diffuse conflict.” Writer Christopher Morley said, “Humor…is an awareness that some things are really important, others not; and that the two kinds are most oddly jumbled in everyday affairs.”

Healthy perspectives can improve relationships.Actor Sterling K. Brown said “empathy begins with understanding life from another person’s perspective. Nobody has an objective experience of reality. It’s all through our own individual prisms.” Consider this observation by motivational speaker Wayne W. Dyer “Loving people live in a loving world. Hostile people live in a hostile world. Same world.” In closing, life coach Allison Carmen summarizes healthy perspective beautifully: “We stop our hyper-focus on the things that are bothering us, and we expand to see the entire vista of our lives. We stop looking just for the faults, and also look for what is wonderful and glorious. This is… seeing life in its entirety and acknowledging everything.” She continues, “there is so much to be thankful for and we see that so much is going our way. And for the things that continue to bother us, keep in mind that in every moment there is always Maybe. Life keeps moving and as the winds change direction MAYBE things will work out better than you ever imagined. Just Maybe!”

“The optimist sees the donut, the pessimist sees the hole.” Oscar Wilde

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