March 18, 2014

put something into perspective


How hard would it be to “put things into perspective” every morning when you brush your teeth? 

Usually, a sharp dose of perspective comes when we hear awful news breaking, the death of someone young, reports from a war-zone, or an unexpected loss: our brain suddenly jars with us and everything is put very harshly into place. We suddenly see how minuscule our problems are. 

They say our generation, the dreaded group of “millennials” are narcissistic or even “sociopaths” who only really care about what their latest Instagram photo is going to be and the wittiness of their next social media one-liner. We’re apparently becoming a bit self-absorbed. And let’s be honest, there’s an element of truth in that; or at least the problem is potentially brewing. A percentage of many people’s lives is wrapped up into a self-perpetuating online bubble. Similar to back in the day when people used to live caves in the middle of nowhere, anything beyond their immediate community would cease to exist. There is the same sort of thing happening within certain social media networks, namely Facebook, where it is forming a strange bubble. Eli Pariser touched on the concept of a “Filter Bubble” a long time ago – and he was right: we are only really looking at what is being served to us on a daily basis. A lack of perspective could become a problem. 

Now, to be able to go and put things into perspective, you either get smacked in the face with it unexpectedly (something hideous happening, or catching the eye of someone less fortunate than you). Or: (there’s an ‘or’) you go actively looking for it. 

Tonight, I went to a talk by Gena Turgel, an amazing 91-year-old lady who had a very very moving and sad story. As part of an International Women’s Day event, she stunned the huge auditorium of people who clung to her every word as she told her incredibly inspirational tale. She sat comfortably in a chair, as if she was situated in her own living room, and intimately told her story, which was quite an amazing feat considering there were hundreds of people looking up at her. It was hard to believe that this lady, sitting right there in front of us in March 2014, had survived the horrors of Auschwitz in 1944. She had survived the atrocities of a concentration camps, watched both her brother and sister die, lost all her possessions and acted as a nurse as a coping mechanism.

The story was deep, depressing but above all: brave. She didn’t hold back in telling us the minor details and why should she. To use the word ‘inspiration’ doesn’t quite cut it. Her story transcended all levels of comprehension, it was difficult to physically imagine the stuff she was telling us. All we could do is close our eyes and reflect along with her; empathise and show our respect. 

The one message that really stuck with me was this: you would surprise yourself with what you can do if your life depended on it.

Why does it take these moments of shock and deep reflection to trigger us into us to be grateful for the little things in life? It is amazing that Gena can tell her story and that she has written her memoir which will be something that will be read by generations of children to come. This story will become more and more alien to them. But it is important for everyone to remember, to properly remember these turning points in history. It’s not that we should dwell on history every minute of every day, but it is so important to be aware of how lucky we are to have so much freedom in every area of our lives. This story seems like light-years away from city life, complaining about work/life balance or complaining about boiler problems. The reality is that what Gena spoke about was less than a hundred years ago. To Gena and her family, it’s still raw.

The real challenge is to remind people (and I’m talking about myself here) to come back down to earth amidst the flurry of modern day busy connected life. Being the same room as people such as Gena made me feel guilty and ridiculous for comparing holiday pictures to the next person, or worrying about the size of my thighs, or about being stressed out if I miss my train or loose my wallet. Yes, all these things might be mildly irritating at the time, but perspective is so important, more now and ever.

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