I took an unpremeditated photo of my husband today as we were sitting over a cup (or three … each… ) of coffee. Waving my camera around and snapping random moments in our lives is a commonplace occurrence, to the annoyance of my husband. Unfortunately for him, it yields an extremely high number of candid shots (of only him), all of which I find attractive, some of which he does not. Either way, I was photographing our usual coffee scene (from above, as all Instragrammers do), when I noticed his flippant hair. Tousled and forgotten momentarily as he was scrolling through his phone for the next song on our queue, I decided to photograph its wild and crazy nature. The original photo looked like this:
Half an hour later, my husband went downstairs to wash his car and I pulled out my cell phone and flipped through some of my most recent shots on my Sony Alpha 6300. I landed on the above photo and decided to post it on Instagram, with the caption “Wild thing” in mind. Then I went to crop. Accidentally cropping off too much from the bottom, I landed on this:
Immediately, my perspective changed. By cropping out the shoulders, the image looked like a floating head. Initially, I was slightly shocked, then excited. Suddenly, a whimsical and fairly meaningless photo became a work of art. If one stares long enough, the floating head is all they see. And without any context as to the original photo, I could see this one being featured in some gallery, with viewers ONLY seeing the floating head. Which then inspired this blog post, about the importance of perspective.
A change in perspective can turn your worldview upside down.
I like to think of one’s perspective as a lens. We have our own realities, which are created by our individual perspectives. A person can see the world through a different lens from your own. Is that not true? Having the ability to see the world from a different perspective, ie: someone else’s, is a super power that can not only increase one’s empathy, but can also increase one’s happiness. The world can use more of both.
Usually, when we are frustrated by someone else’s actions, it is because their actions do not mirror our own values. Our frustration, and anger, comes from our inability to understand why they would do such a thing or act in a certain way. A person who grew up in a well-off community may have difficulty understanding what a teenager is doing by roaming the streets as part of a gang at the age of fifteen. The first may see the latter as a rebellious vagabond who threw his life away. But perhaps seeing that this teenager comes from an abusive family may help one to realize that he isn’t rebellious, but rather, is lost, and finds the meaning of family in the only group that supports him and protects him.
Whenever you feel like criticizing any one…just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had. –Scott Fitzgerald
As always, I can relate this easily with dentistry. A patient can walk in and refuse to take their mandatory radiographs every 18 months. They read from the internet that radiation can cause cancer, and they want to limit the amount of radiation they receive. A dentist can argue that the amount of radiation received from a set of radiographs equals the amount of radiation we receive from sitting in front of a television for ONE day. The radiation is only received once over the span of 18 months, while the average American sits in front of the television screen for more hours than that over the same time span. A dentist can also argue that the pros of taking radiographs (through early detection of tooth decay) can overcome the cons of the comparatively minor amount of radiation received. Without understanding the source of the patient’s aversion towards radiographs, a dentist can easily (and wrongly) assume that the patient is being non-compliant for the sake of being difficult. Not understanding the dentist’s interest of early prevention of caries formation, a patient can just as quickly assume that the dentist is only trying to make additional money by ordering the radiographs. Without seeing the other’s perspective, one can see how the patient can get offended that the dentist “doesn’t care for his well-being” and how the dentist can arrive at the conclusion that “I must dismiss this patient”. All of this leads to frustration, anger, and mistrust. Both the patient and the dentist may feel equally disrespected. By changing your perspective and understanding that the “non-compliance” stems from something else, something deeper, some different reality, you can bridge the gap between the two different schools of thought by simply asking, “Why?” By trying to understand another person’s perspective, we can begin to increase our empathy towards others. I like to think that people are not being difficult, for the sake of being difficult (also read as: for the sake of pissing you off). People are difficult to understand because YOU are lacking some missing piece that will relate you to them. This is how I like to practice dentistry, and how I try to treat people in general.
You can only understand people if you feel them in yourself. -John Steinbeck
From here you can see that changing perspective can increase one’s happiness. At the very least, it decreases the frustration, anger, confusion, disconnect, mistrust, bitterness, etc. that one feels when they refuse to look through a wider (or different) lens.
The Dalai Lama expresses in The Book of Joy that perspective is a pillar of happiness. It was actually listed as the first of the 8 pillars. The Dalai Lama was exiled from his home country, yet reacted not with anger, but with the realization of the opportunity to meet extraordinary people. Likewise, by realizing that someone is suffering, we are able to recognize a part of ourselves within their suffering.
Empathy is the lovefire of sweet remembrance and shared understanding. -John Eaton
I’ll be the first to admit, I’ve been there before. I’ve felt lonely, misunderstood, neglected, and judged. You too, I presume. And from that suffering, we can experience happiness. We are more grateful when we are not in the same position that the other is in, because we remember how it felt to once be in their shoes. How many times have we said, “Thank goodness that didn’t happen to me!”? Usually, it’s because we recognize how it felt when it did happen to us in the past, and thus, we can extrapolate or conclude what it must feel like for the other person in the present. But we must go one step further, past the selfish happiness. Realizing that we have experienced suffering before, just as they do now, we can connect with others, and thus transcend pre-conceived differences, that are actually not differences at all. After breaking down those barriers that once separated us, we can help each other in our suffering. The social value which that brings is the one immeasurable thing that can increase our own happiness. And this is why perspective matters.
Empathy is the only human superpower – it can shrink distance, cut through social and power hierarchies, transcend differences, and provoke political and social change. -Elizabeth Thomas
So next time you feel frustrated because of something happening in your life, try to change your perspective, become more empathetic, and experience more happiness, with the realization that we are a reflection of one another, in some way.
All of this, because I took a candid photo.
Shout out to my husband, who is always there to take photos of. Without which, this blog post would not have been inspired, and consequently, would not have ever been written. Sorry about posting your head shot a zillion times (not sorry).