Hi, friends. Today, we’ll discuss the power of perspective, i.e. how comparison, empathy, and gratitude affect the way we see ourselves and others.
I have two diverging thoughts on this subject:
- “It could always be worse; choose gratitude.”
- “Your having a broken arm doesn’t mean my paper cut doesn’t hurt.”
As a wheelchair user with a host of specific and inconvenient obstacles (for instance, almost peeing myself when waking up at night to use the bathroom, or almost face-planting into my steering wheel or laptop when I sneeze), feelings of self-pity are easily justified. Most able-bodied people look at someone like me, see what I have to overcome, and feel inspired to be more joyful, ambitious, etc. since they could “have it worse,” i.e. be in my shoes. Though some disabled people don’t like serving as “inspiration porn,” which I’ve discussed on this blog before, I’m glad if the way I live and act pushes others to “do better” in some way.
In reference to the epidemics of anxiety and depression, I’ve been told that a lot of people “don’t know what real problems are,” implying that my physical disability is a “real problem”…while issues like mental illness are apparently trivial. On some level, I agree that being anxious can’t be as hard as not being able to walk around unassisted in a literal sense. But my reasoning is that my disability affects almost everything I do. I wonder if some people with anxiety would say that statement applies to them, too. Maybe it’s easy for me and many others to minimize problems we can’t see or understand. In a few brief moments throughout my life, usually during an FA-related-meltdown, an unfamiliar darkness clouded my mind; I didn’t know whether to scream and throw things at the wall, crawl in a hole and die, or what. I assume the chemicals in my brain were dipping into dangerous territory. In those instances, I wondered if that is how it feels to grapple with mental illness.
Yet, in the midst of comparing myself to people with able bodies and/or mental health issues, I am leaving out the majority of the world and infinitely worse problems…
Would I rather be able-bodied than disabled? Of course. Would I rather be mentally ill than physically ill? Maybe, maybe not. But would I rather live in a war-torn country…be homeless in the winter…have a rumbling tummy and no source of food…have to work in a sweatshop to support my family…have no intellectual freedom (North Korea)…be sitting in a prison right now for worshiping Jesus…even just have any form of cancer vs. having FA? Heck no! That list could stretch on forever.
Perspective is powerful and can lead us to do different things–count our own blessings, motivate us to “do better,” and in some cases, belittle others’ problems. I’ll phrase the conclusion of my musings as an analogy: let’s say I have a broken arm. I shouldn’t condemn people with paper cuts. Maybe their paper cut hurts as bad or worse than my broken arm, but I don’t know how their paper cut feels; either way, I should believe people who say their paper cut hurts. On the other hand, if I remember how many people have more and/or worse injuries than me, I can acknowledge that I’m blessed in spite of my broken arm.
Thanks for reading! Do you choose gratitude despite whatever your “broken arm” is? What do you think about the power of perspective? Let me know in the comments.
[Interesting SN: The paper-cut-vs-broken-arm analogy is flawed because almost all of us know how a paper cut feels, and those who have also broken their arm could pretty much objectively say the broken arm hurts more. In actuality, most of us have no idea how the suffering of others feels.]