A Matter of Perspective

perspectiveRecently, a major cold front has come through the United States bringing temperatures to 20 year lows.  While the majority of that cold front had its most severe impact on the central United States, there were some residual effects felt in other areas which aren’t used to feeling temperatures that are so cold.  Schools were closed all over the place, even in the places where they generally experience cold winters, the temperatures were even a little much more for them to handle.  In the places where mild winters are generally experienced, reactions rose to near panic as people wondered what it was like to actually have to wear a winter coat for the first time…..ever.

Where I live, just outside of Richmond, Virginia, the temperatures reached all the way down to 10 degrees.  Considering that it doesn’t usually get into the 20s or lower than freezing temperature during the Winter here, it was quite a shock to the system, especially for those who have never lived or spent considerable amounts of time in places where temperatures linger around 0 or even far below.  Other parts of the country were experiencing a temperature differential of about 60 or more degrees from us, but considering that they were used to lower temperatures in the winter, it didn’t seem nearly as extreme to them.

Through it all, I watched it play out in my news feed in social media and came to the conclusion that it’s what you’re used to and what you know that informs your experience and reaction to the present.  But there were lines being drawn in the sand as people voiced their opinions over the reactions, normal or extreme, to the temperatures.  To say that it was amusing to watch my northern and southern friends duke it out on social media would be an understatement.  I watched the “digital hand grenades” be thrown between friends as insults flew.  School delays were justified and criticized equally.  Policies and equipment handling was questioned.  It even came to the point where some began to point to the poor and less fortunate as a reason to delay or cancel school as they didn’t even own winter coats…..

it seemed that the weather we were experiencing, for some, was of biblical proportions, causing people to make their obligatory run to the grocery store for the obligatory bread and milk.  If I didn’t know better, I would have looked on the doorframes of houses to see if I had seen the blood of spotless animals as people readied themselves for another Passover of sorts.  Buses stalled.  Heating systems broke down.  Parents panicked that their children might have to spend a few minutes in temperatures that would require some extra clothing.

It was amusing in a strange sort of way but it was also a commentary on our society.  Through it all, I observed three things which were the greatest takeaways for me.

As much as some might criticize me for saying this, the whole thing played out in such a way that it made me ashamed of our society in culture.  We are a culture of privilege and entitlement, we love our cushy experiences.  When we are inconvenienced (translation: have to give up our cushy experiences), we get very testy and lash out at whoever and whatever might be to blame for our inconveniences.  But inconveniences are relative.  When you stop to take a breath and reassess, you realize that some of the things that you’re getting worked up about and feeling “oppressed” over are ridiculous.  Equalizing moments are important in life, they help us remember what we have, what are rights versus privileges, and what others might be lacking.

Which leads to my second takeaway.  We can’t all be Boy Scouts, but we can certainly do our best to be prepared.  There seemed a genuine concern where I live for those who are less fortunate and who might be forced to brave the elements without the right clothing or protection.  That was a noble argument, but a nobler argument would have been for us to have been proactive.  If we knew of a need for winter clothing among those who were poor and less fortunate, wouldn’t it have made sense for us to have gotten our butts in gear to collect new or gently used clothing to remedy the situation?  If we know of needs that could lead to panic or emergency, what are we doing to take care of those needs early in order to prevent that state of emergency from ever being reached?

And finally, I learned that it’s really just a matter of perspective.  I grew up in New England.  I hated Winter up there, but I still had to deal with it.  For those who are used to cold Winters, it doesn’t seem as big of a deal.  I laughed as one friend observed what was playing out in her news feed when she said that friends in one place were commenting on the cold weather which was between 7° and -11° while elsewhere, friends commented on the temperatures being between -25° to -49°.  That’s a pretty large gap, but people were experiencing cold based upon what they were used to, what had become normal to them.

Over the years, I’ve learned to listen a little bit better.  I’ve learned that there’s always more to the story than just what comes out on the surface.  Usually, if there’s a strong reaction, stronger than what might be considered “normal,” it’s because of something else.  When I’ve stopped to dig deeper, I’ve realized that my perspective and the perspective of who I am speaking with are very different.  We react based upon our experience and our perspective.  While reactions might seem strange or out of place for us, a little empathy can go a long way.  It doesn’t mean that we have to agree with the reaction, but it might help us to understand it a little bit better.  Once we take that time to listen (something I don’t always do very well), we might gain some understanding and realize that what seems extreme and crazy to us is normal and rational to someone else.  Chances are, someone’s looking at you and seeing your normal and rational as extreme and crazy.

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