I’ve had a number of things happen lately that have caused me to look at things differently. A recent example occurred when a person accused me of lying, when I was telling the truth. The thing is, I had a lot more information (and experience) to back up what I told this person. It was a legal matter, and I was talking to someone who had no legal training, less experience, and less knowledge of the subject. She
desperately wanted me to see things her way. When I didn’t, she took it personally. Her reaction started me thinking, because the truth was a matter of perspective. Looking at the topic from the perspective of a consumer and looking at it legally provided two very different views of the same system. Given our very different experiences, we were both right. I learned more about reaching a person where they are, to start a conversation, rather than starting where I am.
Being egocentric like many people, I want to see things only from my own perspective, which isn’t always fair or appropriate. I have had a number of occasions recently to shift my perspective. I was encouraged by a dream I had recently in which I looked at a long-standing situation with new eyes one day. In my dream, I had a set way of operating and the routine was one I rarely even thought of. One day, I suddenly looked at the situation differently. With new eyes, it was a brand-new situation that wasn’t as positive as I thought. Looking at it differently, I had an opportunity to change things for the better. The dream was telling me something.
Reflecting on my dream, I considered a long-standing situation in my waking life that I had accepted as the status quo. I looked at things differently – was there a way to bring some new opportunities into the status quo? Not really. But then I shifted perspectives and saw that if I add a new skill or adapted what I already know, I could make everything work together smoothly. The new solution will address the same old need as before, but fulfill some new ones too. I think it will take some time to make everything work, but the new perspective was helpful, and it feels more accurate for who I am now. The old perspective – the status quo – didn’t fit any more. I just had to notice.
But of course, life likes to illustrate a point several different ways. A few days ago, I was approached by a street-person, while walking downtown. He zoomed in on me like a laser, and I wondered if I resembled his mother; he wasn’t much older than my son, after all. I wanted to flatter myself and say it was because I looked kind or non-threatening. In the end, though, I think it was because I was the only one he’d seen with the courage to look at him like a fellow human being. Several other professionals saw his slightly-crazed look, lowered their eyes, and bulldozed past him, unwilling to be bothered by his needs. He begged me to call an ambulance for him.The man was just a little off; he was clearly distressed and not very aware of himself or his surroundings. He didn’t look physically injured, but he was having quite a different experience than the rest of us. I knew that he needed some sort of professional help. As a believer in compassion in action, I did as he asked. I talked to him and the 911 dispatcher, waiting the few minutes it took for emergency personnel to arrive and assist him. I didn’t feel threatened, or in harm’s way, talking to him, but I could see how others were disturbed. I was ashamed for the people who refused to look at him –or me while I was with him. They were unconcerned with someone they didn’t understand.
In my profession, I deal with a lot of doctors, lawyers, health care professionals, and high-functioning people. But there are also times I deal with people who have a mental illness; it might be obvious or subtle, significant or minor. I occasionally deal with people on the margins of society who are in pain and want help. Sometimes I can help them; sometimes I can’t. Sometimes, all they need is a little help, and they can get their illness under control and their life in order. Sometimes, they need much more. Whether I am able to fix there problem or not, I can always remember that there is a soul inside, and treat them with the respect they deserve.
What does mental illness have to do with shifting perspective? Everything. As a society, we need change our way of treating these marginalized people. We need to make available the services they need. As individuals, we need to see the divine spark within everyone, mentally ill or not. As human beings, we all want a little compassion. They do too. Even when it’s scary; even when it’s inconvenient.