There are some oddities in the perspective with which we see the world. The fact that we live at the bottom of a deep gravity well, on the surface of a gas covered planet going around a nuclear fireball 90 million miles away and think this to be normal is obviously some indication of how skewed our perspective tends to be, but we have done various things over intellectual history to slowly correct some of our misapprehensions.
- Douglas Adams
My parents were in the foreign service, so I moved around a lot as a child. I spent years living in such places as Senegal, Egypt, and Bolivia.
Perhaps because of this background, I’ve always been aware of different people’s perspectives. Not only does everyone have a different perspective, but the range of perspectives that intelligent people can possess is vast.
As the anthropologist Walter Goldschmidt wrote:
Anthropology has taught us that the world is differently defined in different places. It is not only that people have different customs; it is not only that people believe in different gods and expect different post-mortem fates. It is, rather, that the worlds of different peoples have different shapes. The very metaphysical presuppositions differ: space does not conform to Euclidean geometry, time does not form a continuous unidirectional flow, causation does not conform to Aristotelian logic, man is not differentiated from non-man or life from death, as in our world.
Now maybe you’re thinking “yeah yeah, I know, intelligent people can disagree about things and other cultures are really different, but how is this relevant to my life?”
I’ll give you two ways: authority and power.
On authority: since there are so many different but valid ways of seeing things, no one else can lay claim to ultimate truth. Everyone else is just making things up as they go along. So it’s up to you to construct your own world view. Figure out what perspectives resonate with you, and become your own authority figure.
On power: you have limited power over the external world. Sure, you can move your limbs this way and that. Can you make millions of dollars and retire rich? Maybe, but that’s hard. And good luck trying to make yourself younger.
But you have a lot of power over the perspectives you employ in dealing with the world. And your perspectives shape your attitude, which shapes your internal reality.
In other words, if you can cultivate a persistent attitude that “life is an amazing gift and I’m just so grateful that I have these few years to enjoy it”, that attitude will make you happier than a bitter attitude plus all the money in the world.
Successfully cultivating a new attitude isn’t easy, but it is possible and is in fact easier than a lot of goals we burn ourselves out trying to achieve (see above on “make millions of dollars and retire rich”).