Working With a Skewed Perspective
Is it just me?
Sometimes things seem out of whack when they’re really not. The world, after all, is what it is. Even for those of us who set out to change the world, to set things aright, we still operate with basic assumptions about Nature, both human and Mother, and of course about Murphy’s Law and its corollaries. A sense of things out of whack, however, is often a more personal and internal unease, something we just can’t put our finger on. It’s that odd state of being akin to having a feeling we’re forgetting something, or that we’re not seeing something that’s staring us right in the face.
The ability to identify problems, to give them names and definitions, is a large portion of empowerment. That’s why we read and research, go for counseling and diagnostic tests, try different approaches, careers, relationships, religions, lifestyles and diets: we’re trying to put a name, an identity, to whatever it is we feel out of whack. Meditation, for example, is a great way to quiet things in our heads enough to pick out that little voice telling us the great big truth. Sometimes one or more of these tactics will provide the essential element for the solution: a different perspective.
A different way of looking at things opens up possibilities. Things we take for granted take on new value when seen from a different point of view. Just down the street, a block that once had a dreary decaying building and an ATM has been transformed into an amazing plaza style park that has proved to be popular beyond the city planners’ wildest dreams. Something was out of whack with the downtown area, and someone identified it as the lack of a wide-open gathering space with a stage, lots of benches and acoustic buffering from the noise of traffic. That someone got it right, and now there’s a feeling of aliveness on the high street that was missing before.
A sense of things out of whack can be a sign that we need to stop and listen to ourselves very carefully. Not listening carefully enough is tantamount to not valuing ourselves as we really are. There are a lot of reasons why this might happen–we get caught up in the distractions of life, of conforming to externally-defined values such as the culture at our schools and jobs, or the culture of a consumerist society. When it’s our own perspectives that need adjustment, we need to know as precisely as possible what it is we want, what we know to be true.
On the other hand, we could have an inherently different perspective. Some of us are born with a way of looking at the world that is different than most others’. Some of us have it foisted upon us, through accident or tragedy. Some of us are able to manifest the different perspective through the love and support of family, friends, and community. Others have been ostracized and even killed for it, for having a different perspective on anything from sexuality to taxes.
Not expressing an inherently different perspective automatically skews it. Squelched from childhood onward, it leads to a constant sense of things out of whack, of never belonging, of never being comfortable in one’s own skin. In this case we need to listen to ourselves even more carefully, to get a healthy perspective on our uniquely skewed perspective. Here I offer my own example. I lost my hearing in early childhood, shortly after learning to read and write a few words. This was back in the late 1950’s, and in a very rural area, so my parents’ decision to mainstream me via regular school and constant coaching in speaking and lipreading was probably the best option available. I had been a chatterbox since infancy, so it wasn’t like trying to raise someone deaf from birth.
Being different back then was much harder than being different now; the coaching also included intensive control of my appearance, behavior, mannerisms, etc., all in order to pass as a hearing person, or to at least minimize the disability. A girl’s marriageability depended on it (and yes there was a lot of other psychosocial baggage along these lines). Consequently, I never stopped performing. Life was a 24/7 siege of understanding words I couldn’t hear, speaking words I couldn’t hear, watching everything intently so as to anticipate what might be said next, and looking normal and friendly while doing it. I embraced fighting the deafness. I came to see myself and the world around me from the perspective of a performer. And performers are all about the performance.
It takes a lot of energy to fight your true nature, though. One day, after a lengthy period of unresolved relationship problems (have you ever tried to live with someone who is “on” 24/7?), I meditated quietly and deeply, looking for the real source of my contributions to the problem. I looked for my rock-bottom truth, past the defenses, past the habits, past all the self-assumptions. The first stage of honesty was to admit that I was tired, and was having more and more difficulty in keeping up with conversations and finding the energy to make myself understood. I further imagined not having to make the effort at all. And then something of very early childhood revived, an intense memory from the time before the hearing aids and the coaching, a state of being that was me, untampered. The truth was staring me in the face: it’s fifty-odd years later and I don’t need to fight the deafness anymore. It was time to embrace it. And that is a major shift in perspective.
Having empathy for your true perspective makes it possible to have empathy for others. Once I embraced my inner deaf self, it became possible to step out of the role of anti-deaf performer and just be a fellow human. Bit by bit I informed friends and family of my decision, and gradually let go of old exhausting communication habits. The change was quietly massive. The conflicts with others diminished, interactions became much more enjoyable–when I relaxed, others around me relaxed. I don’t worry about the clarity of my speech, I tune out when I get tired of lipreading, I ask “What?” a lot more. I give that toddler in me a hug to buffer the slings and arrows of the world. I’m still different, but at least my skin is feeling a lot more comfortable.