Thursday, June 5, 2008

Point of View - Stepping Out of the Box

As a writer, a blogger, or just as a thinking person, I find myself constantly seeking various sources of inspiration. At first, it seems overwhelming. I don't want to over-think and over-analyze because that always feels somewhat false. I don't like to make things bigger than they actually are - or bigger than I perceive them without trying too hard, anyway. But I found that when I let my mind weave in and out of the images around me, they themselves offer inspiration. It's like a different way of looking at things - not deeper, not making anything bigger than it is, just looking at them from a different angle.

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, in a scene between Milo, Tock, and a curious boy named Alec who grows down instead of up (his head is always at the height he will be when he is fully grown and his feet grow towards the ground, so as a boy he walks in the air) explains it like this:

"Everyone should have his own point of view."
"Isn't this everyone's Point of View?" asked Tock, looking around curiously.
"Of course not," replied Alec, sitting himself down on nothing. "It's only mine, and you certainly can't always look at things from someone else's Point of View. For instance, from here that looks like a bucket of water," he said, pointing to a bucket of water; "but from an ant's point of view it's a vast ocean, from an elephant's just a cool drink, and to a fish, of course, it's home. So, you see, the way you see things depends a great deal on where you look at them from."

Then, the epitome of seeing things from a new angle - when Milo and Tock think they are lost in the forest and are told to go ask the giant for help:

Milo and Tock walked up to the door, whose brass name plate read simply 'THE GIANT,' and knocked.
'Good afternoon,' said the perfectly ordinary-sized man who answered the door.
'Are you the giant?' asked Tock doubtfully.
'To be sure,' he replied proudly. 'I'm the smallest giant in the world. What can I do for you?'
'Are we lost?' said Milo.
'That's a difficult question,' said the giant. 'Why don't you go around back and ask the midget?' And he closed the door.
They walked to the rear of the house, which looked exactly like the front, and knocked at the door, whose name plate read 'THE MIDGET.'
'How are you?' inquired the man, who looked exactly like the giant.
'Are you the midget?' asked Tock again, with a hint of uncertainty in his voice.
'Unquestionably,' he answered. 'I'm the tallest midget in the world.'

And so on and so forth - the fattest thin man, the thinnest fat man, etc. The point is - the way you see things all depends on how you look at them. If you look at them in a straightforward manner, only from the front, you'll only see them in one light. But if you manage to look at them from the side, from the back, from the top, from underneath, from inside out...that's when you'll find that things are generally not stuck in one interpretation. There's always another way to see them. You just have to let yourself.

This goes for objects and ideas but, more importantly, it goes for people. Someone may seem one way, but if you try to understand where they're coming from, they may seem another. And if you try to understand them from the perspective of one of their friends, you may understand what that friend sees. The most difficult exercise is trying to look at yourself from the point of view of someone else. You may see yourself in a whole different light - and that can be scary. Scary, and yet, extremely revealing. It may help explain misunderstandings. It may help clarify why a friend feels a certain way. It's easy to see ourselves from our own points of view. I think to really know yourself is to also know how you come off to other people. True, it isn't good to judge yourself based on other people, but I think it's important to know what other people see when they see you. After all, we live in a social world. We interact with people all the time. We have to. To understand others, to understand yourself, and to understand the world, it's sometimes vital - and very interesting - to take a step back and view things from the outside. Out of the box.

Harper Lee describes this beautifully in To Kill a Mockingbird (which also happens to be one of the best books ever) when Scout is standing across the street from her house:

I turned to go home. Street lights winked down the street all the way to town. I
had never seen our neighborhood from this angle. [...] Atticus was right. One
time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk
around in them. Just standing on the Radley porch was enough.

A couple of years ago on Purim, I remember bringing shalach manot to a family across the street from mine. As I turned to go home, I had the same experience as Scout. In my family, we don't generally venture across the street because we aren't friendly enough with those neighbors, so I couldn't remember seeing my house from that perspective before. It was like looking at a different house. I felt a stranger to it - like I was looking at someone else's private place instead of my own.

It's freeing, in a way, to look at things from outside of our own self-created boxes. The world becomes a completely different place. People become different. Your own role in the game of life is different. It's new and exciting and adventurous. It's fresh.

Seeing things in a new light is what gives me inspiration. It's what helps me write. It's what helps me describe things. And it helps me try to understand people and their motivations and emotions. Besides, it's fun. It makes the world less boring.

P.S. Another life lesson - "Never criticize a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes. Then you'll be a mile away and you'll have his shoes." - A. Nony. Mous.

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