Perspective Warp

At the beginning of June, I had my mid-service training—the last training with my group of volunteers until the close of service training. (Ten months to go in Paraguay.) We had a session during mid-service training in which we talked about how our perspectives on life and our work have changed throughout our time in Paraguay.

The idea is that everyone’s perspectively is constantly evolving as we experience new things. This evolution is accelerated for Peace Corps volunteers because we face so many new ideas, people, and places. As volunteers, everything (just about) we ever believed in or thought to be true is questioned and undergoes a thoroughgoing examination. You don’t have to be a particularly meditative person for Peace Corps to change you—actually, no matter who you are it will change you. Change is inevitable.

Change is neutral, so when I talk about changing perspective I’m not saying that one perspective is better or worse. The truth is that ranking perspectives is useless, and comparing them is only useful in the sense of 1) following one’s own progression and 2) understanding others more deeply so that living with them is easier.

I won’t try to explain my perspective on life; it’s too complex for a blogpost and likely to change tomorrow. What I find more interesting and tangible is how my perspective on perspective has changed since I arrived in Paraguay. Honestly, before coming here I didn’t think much about perspective outside of the arena of politics. In US politics we talk about policies and what the Constitution means. We talk about freedom and justice. Some people think abortion is just and an inalienable right and some people think it is sin and murder. Some people see love as love and some people see it as something that should and can only happen between certain individuals. Some people think everyone should have access to healthcare and some people don’t. The list goes on and on. And, I’ve only listed the black and white perspectives, there are infinite gray perspective in between white and black.

Perspective is more than politics. Actually, perspective is everything. That’s the first lesson I’ve learned. Perspective is the lens through which we see the world. We only see things within the scope of our lens and as our lens allows us to see them. Think of it this way: If your lens is sepia, nothing is pink or green.

Second lesson: One can’t force a perspective on others. Why? Well, first it’s impossible. Second, there is no justification for demeaning someone’s perspective. There are no ranks, just differences. People will change their own perspective, and the more smooth you are about your interaction with them the greater your impression can be. No one likes to be attacked, beaten over the head, and threatened with new ideas. Everyone can be trapped into exploring their beliefs. And sometimes that exploring leads to reflection and evolution.

Lesson number three: Perspective is interesting. Remember opinions, beliefs, and thoughts are different than perspective. Perspective is the bigger picture—the whole—while everything else is a pixel in the image. It comes back to a classic question: Is the blue that I see the same as the blue you see? Answer: No. Of course not. But, it’s okay that you and I don’t see eye-to-eye on blue, or yellow, or the meaning of beautiful, or…on anything. It’s okay because it makes things more exciting. A good storybook quote: “If every flower looked just the same, “Flower” would have to be each flower’s name.” Do you know the book?

What I’ve learned about perspective from Paraguay is that life is perspective and because we all have different perspectives life is fun. We won’t follow the same arc of perspectives in our lives. We won’t always agree or understand each other. But, we can certainly amuse ourselves trying.