Monday, October 3, 2016

What is Perspective?

What is perspective and why is it so important? 

Perspective is primarily the ability to distinguish needs from wants.  In our modern era of excess and comfort, this is not an easy thing to do.  It has two aspects.  The first is the ability and inclination to look outside yourself, to look beyond your current situation.  The second is a natural feeling of gratitude for what you have.

Looking outside yourself may come in the form of looking at history or looking at conditions in other countries.  As I pointed out many times, even those considered poor in America today have conveniences that were unheard of in the past.  Microwave ovens and color television did not even exist when I was born.  Now they are considered necessities.  A high percentage of households, including poor households, in America (over 90%) have both these items.  It doesn’t require a trip into the distant past to find a time when most Americans had no indoor plumbing.  Toilet facilities were outside and water for cooking and cleaning had to be carried in from the pump in back – at all times of year and in all weather.  Now we have running water and electricity and it’s a major hardship when they don’t work at the touch of a switch or the turn of a faucet.

Looking outside the US, we find 2 billion people still without access to a toilet.  More than half of the top 1% by income, relative to the world, live in America.  Looking worldwide Americans are the top one percent, the category we are encouraged to envy and hate in America.  You can see in the news everyday a long list of places you should be glad you don’t live, many of them in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.  Even in the ones not at war people endure hardships most of us can’t imagine.  It is only by some fluke of nature that you ended up here (or are alive at all).

All these considerations should lead to a feeling of gratitude, an appreciation for what you have.  Gratitude leads to contentment and to the ability to accurately distinguish needs from wants.  This is perspective.

Perspective is important because it protects you from making poor decisions in general.  It mitigates panic in the face of an endless stream of anxiety-filled news reports.  It enhances the ability to save money by not wasting it on unnecessary or fad items.  It allows a calm reflection and response to potentially insulting or offensive material.  It counters attempted manipulation by advertisers.  It promotes a wiser and wider choice of role models.  It leads to a proper valuation of products, services, and relationships.

Evidence of a lack of perspective is widespread.  This item from CBS News makes a good point.  Facebook is in a battle with the makers of ad-blocking software that removes commercial messages from your Facebook page.  Facebook gets their revenue from advertisers.  For all the noble talk about connecting the world, they are really in the business of helping other people sell you stuff.  Users ability to block ads is a threat to their business model.  The only reason companies would pay Facebook to post the ads is that the ads have some effect, either getting people to buy on the spot or influencing them to select those brands at the store.  Here is where perspective comes in.

Letting ads on Facebook, TV or anywhere else have that kind of influence is like going to the grocery store without a list.  You become vulnerable to your impulses and buy more than you should, more than you need.  They try to pressure you with fear or competition – telling you that everyone else is doing it.  They try to lure you in and hold your attention with jokes, mini-dramas and celebrities.  If you can’t see their ads, advertisers would stop using Facebook as a medium.

Perspective is your defense against this onslaught of ads, not only on social media, but also on radio, television and elsewhere on the Internet.  Tools to keep needs and wants in perspective include these ad blockers and the mute button, but especially a conscious perspective, which gives you the ability when all else fails to just turn them off in your mind.  Mentally tuning out the pressure, the anxiety, the come-ons and the hype yields so many benefits:  physical, psychological and financial.

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