When you look at me, do you simply see a person or the decisions, environments and opportunities that have collectively molded me into the being looking back at you? Do you believe a person’s decisions are shaped by their experiences and therefore determined years in advance? Do you believe in the power of one’s perspective?
I’ve had the dreadful opportunity of spending parts of the last few weeks in hospitals accompanying family members. During one trip, we spent the night in the emergency room of a hospital in Brooklyn…an experience unlike anything else. At one point during that evening, the roster of patients included roughly 6 police-related cases, a few drug overdoses and drunken experiences.
Through the excitement buzzing around us, I sat there and found myself marveling at how remarkable the experience was. Here I was, in a room with about 50 patients, no two persons sharing the same story, the same perspective. There were the young and the old, the differing income levels, political backgrounds, races, religions, creeds and virtues. The person occupying each bed was seemingly a puzzle placed together by varying degrees of so many factors. 50 perspectives, sharing one room: Beauty in the midst of chaos.
So there I sat, realizing the spectrum of the perspectives I was witnessing, when I recalled a conversation shared with a great, yet flawed, man (We’ll call him Unc from here on) while I was just a college-bound boy. “It’s a headache you shouldn’t concern yourself with,” Unc said, responding to my desire to make my mark on the world. “Just take care of you and your family,” he said. “Stop worrying about all that other stuff.”
At the time I was a bit confused by his recommendation. I even found myself criticizing his view of the world and the power we have on it, referring to him as shallow, maybe even selfish. The discussion has stayed with me throughout the years that followed. Why was one of the most successful people I knew telling me that I shouldn’t try to make a difference? How did he arrive at this point? Why would he instruct a kid to ignore the greater good in favor of personal gain?
As the years progressed, the answer slowly revealed itself to me. I settled my mind on the notion that, as was the case with the patients in the ER, it was the life experiences and the lessons learned that manifested itself into the advice I received from Unc that fateful day. The man behind those words had his own unique experiences, leading to his view of the world. Why this was confusing to me at the time, I’m now comfortable saying, lies in the fact that I did not share his life experiences, and therefore, could not reconcile with his message.
We did not share the same perspective. We viewed the world differently. It confused me then, but now I find it to be a beautiful thing.
I still do not agree with his sentiments. Maybe my age, in addition to my experiences or lack thereof, has something to do with that. But I am much more aware of varying point-of-views, because it is the perspective of people like Unc, those I do not necessarily agree with, that have allowed me to gain a broader view of the world. When I allowed myself to acknowledge that there’s a lot about the world I don’t know nor understand, I began lending myself to the various lenses that the truth is often viewed through. I am still very young, however, and have much to learn.
Unc is no longer here. Sometimes I find myself wondering how I’d do now if that conversation happened today. I wonder if he would have ever explained why he viewed the world the way he did. In the meantime, however, I will continue to seek out the perspectives of others with hopes that The Beautiful Minds will one day be recognized as a hub for the positive change that perspectives could create.
Here’s a hot take: We all have the freedom to respect the perspective of one another, our life choices, our opinions, etc. If just for the sake of living peacefully, maybe we should exercise that freedom. Maybe it would set us free.