Perspective is an odd thing to get.
It’s a strange turn of phrase (and how do you turn a phrase?). We think of getting some perspective as meaning that we need to take a step back and see how everything fits together, but I’m not sure quite how this fits in with any of the definitions of perspective.
Right, so we’ve got the etymology, ‘to see through’ (Latin: perspicere). We’ve got it graphically meaning a whole load of utterly baffling rules and explanations of how to make things appear as they actually appear in the real world.
Wait. That’s the key.
It’s about making sure your representation of the real world (internally, the painting of reality that is in your brain), fits in with how the real world actually is. It’s about checking your distortions, assumptions and idle freehand doodling, making sure it all adds up with what is on the other side of your eyes.
Except that’s still not adding up to how people use the word/phrase.
When someone asks you to put something in perspective, they are talking about seeing how big it is compared to everything else. The obvious examples are things like looking up at the stars at night and realising how little we actually are; stubbing your toe but remembering that people are dying in wars; breaking up with someone and remembering that you aren’t entitled to that sort of happiness; listening to Sonic Youth and remembering there’s beauty out there; getting out of your bedroom and remembering there’s anything out there.
It’s all about broadening your perspective, seeing that there’s more to life than whatever you’ve started to get lost in.
And in this context, it’s normally a good thing. But that’s not to mean that it’s possible to step too far back.
The thing is, that remembering the big picture can be overwhelming. It can freeze your ability to act. If you’re constantly frozen on the immensity of all that’s wrong with the world, or the corrupt nature of power structures, or only seeing the patriarchy (for example) as an immense all powerful godvillain, then you’re fucked.
If you break the big things down to the things going on around you. Remember that the world is a pond full of ripples made by real people, maybe you can find a way out of it. Find a way to act that might make a difference to the people around you, and realise that that’s actually a part of the big picture, even if only a little bit.
And really, that’s another sort of perspective. That’s getting back to your own point of view. That’s remembering that you exist where you are, behind your eyes. Seeking objectivity is noble and necessary, but also impossible. Your sphere of influence, unless you’re one of a handful of powerful people, is limited to roughly where you are, and those who see you.
But that’s the key. Overlap.
Be part of other people’s perspective.
Collaborate on a better view.
Illustration by Anna-Kaisa.