Where you’re looking from informs what you see.
That idea shouldn’t be a shocking thought for any of us. We know this from personal experience. If we’re on the front row of a rock show, it’s very different than sitting up in the nosebleeds. What we see through a telescope is very different than what we see through a microscope.
Where we’re born, who we’ve known, what we’ve experienced, what we believe, and a large number of other factors about us informs our perspective. And our perspective is everything.
Perspective informs everything.
How we see the world influences our reactions, judgments, and perceptions of ourselves. Perspective informs our words, actions, and postures toward others.
Perspective has rarely been more difficult than it is today.
A 24/7 news cycle. Omnipresent social media. The constant reminder of what our friends and tribe are thinking. Echo chambers. Confirmation bias. Powerful figures having access to public communication at their fingertips at a moment’s notice. It’s incredibly difficult to keep up with unfolding events, much less decipher what we feel ourselves. And the perspectives we do share are very readily attacked by those who disagree.
Perspective has rarely been more divisive than it is today.
This weekend, I watched friends and figures I admire argue and belittle one another for their reactions, judgments, and assessments. Over the last two years, I’ve seen churches, groups, and friendships broken into pieces because of differing perspectives on burning urgent issues.
In this kind of chaos, I wonder what is informing our perspectives.
My grandpa was a trailblazer. Back in the 90s, I can remember visiting him and watching him yell at the people on his television. No, he wasn’t watching his beloved Texas A&M Aggies football team battle the hated University of Texas Longhorns. He was watching cable news. My grandma said it was “interactive sport” for him.
How many of us now have that experience? We watch something on TV, read something online or follow a link from a friend, finding ourselves yelling at the device in frustration. We turn to those around us and share our disbelief. For some of us, we take our frustration out on those around us. Our kids or spouse didn’t do anything wrong; someone we never met (and likely never will) did. But our perspective on them is being driven by our frustration. And our frustration is hurting our life and those around us.
The news is increasingly sold through fear. Regardless of your network of choice (mainstream or more fringe), fear gets us hooked with a click-bait headline or a salacious pre-commercial tease. Fear keeps us tuned un for article after article and hour after hour. Turning off the TV or closing down our digital device doesn’t leave us more at ease, but more scared and unsettled. We have less hope regarding the future and lot more fear.
It seems that we are trusting those around us less and less. We view authority figures with suspicion and doubt. We distrust what those in leadership say, regardless of where and when they provide leadership. Turning more quickly to negative interpretations of events and experiences, we assume the worst instead of expecting the best of others. And we’re quick to hit the outrage button. They don’t call it “outrage porn” for nothing!
We are facing a mental health crisis of epic proportions. Despite unheard-of advancements in technology and health, we are more anxious about the future not less. More of us live with depression and darkness than ever before. The modern opioid crisis is yet another symptom of a population battling for a healthy perspective on life. We’re worried and anxious, wondering what will go wrong next and how things will get worse.
What’s the Answer?
I recently stumbled on an incredibly helpful quote I first heard during a college class on the history of Christianity in America.
Upon his death, TIME magazine named Reinhold Niebuhr the greatest American theologian since Jonathan Edwards. Along with his younger brother, Richard, Reinhold became an influential public intellectual in the mid-twentieth century.
Within his book, The Irony of American History, Reinhold Niebuhr wrote these powerful words.
“Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we must be saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as from our own standpoint. Therefore we must be saved by that final form of love, which is forgiveness.”
Four Things Which Can Save Us Today
If Niebuhr was correct, then our perspective can be aided by these four steps – hope, faith, love, and forgiveness.
Hope is oxygen for our souls. Without it, life doesn’t seem like it’s worth living.
Hope isn’t just what keeps us going; hope drives us our ability to create and imagine. Everyone who has made real, significant, lasting impact in the world has done so because of their hope.
Cynics never change the world.
Neither does our outrage on Facebook. It’s a quick hit of dopamine when the likes and comments start coming in, but it makes zero long-term difference.
And while fear and cynicism are responses we grab more quickly, they don’t help us in the long run like hope does. Hope keeps us moving forward.
Hope doesn’t deny reality (we call that naivete); it defies reality. In my manifesto on hope, I quote the words of my mentor, Dr. Maxie Burch. “True hope is not being surprised when things turn out better than expected. True hope is continuing to believe that something else is possible even when we are not the one in control.”
Hope is fierce, persevering and determined. Hope is not a sign of weakness; it’s actually the definition of strength.
We need faith in a God who is bigger than the moment we feel trapped within. As Niebuhr said, nothing makes sense in the moment – that’s why we need faith!
It’s funny how the more advanced we become as a world, the greater our need for faith is. While we’re realizing more and more the ability of humanity’s creativity and the possibility of technological advancement, we’re also seeing people continue to ask questions about the meaning of life, the origin of our universe, and what lies beyond our limited lifespan here. Technology hasn’t killed God, nor our sense that our gadgets will not bring an end to the restlessness in our souls.
Faith gives us the means to make sense of a world which seems difficult to comprehend at the moment we’re living. Faith trusts in a God who is at work in ways which we’ll only comprehend on the other side of our lifetime.
So, if this all seems crazy, chaotic, and nonsensical, that’s okay. It’s not supposed to make sense.
We need each other, including those who disagree with us. We are living in a world which is becoming increasingly bifurcated and tribalized. My friend Eric Bryant wrote about the arrival of this reality over ten years ago when he first released his book, Not Like Me: Learning to Love, Serve, and Influence Our Divided World.
In his book, Eric noted that none of us wake up and long to be tolerated. No, we wake up and long to be loved. People who tolerate us don’t influence us. People who love us do.
Love is a challenge and some of us are going the easier path.
Are editing our online experience to only include those we agree with politically, religiously or otherwise?
Does our call log or messages app reveal a diversity of friendships or are we surrounded by people who see the world the way we do?
Trust me, I know the difficulty of remaining engaged with those who posts infuriate you. On a daily basis, I have to fight the desire to block, hide, or unfriend people whose responses befuddle and confuse me. For now, my fear of living in an echo chamber eclipses my discomfort with the knowledge I continue to gain.
Paul Tillich, another twentieth-century theologian reminded us, “the first duty of love is to listen.”
We show others love when we listen to their experience. But that kind of listening would require an end to the posting, sharing, posturing, and outraging. (Yes, I just made outraging a word because it seems like a hobby for some of us).
Listening means ignoring what is easy, quick, comfortable and immediately rewarding.
Question for you – when’s the last time you asked for forgiveness? When’s the last time you surrendered an offense and forgave someone else?
We need to forgive each other, especially when we speak too quickly or respond out of emotion, not wisdom.
(If you haven’t typed a post on social media and deleted it this year, I wonder if you’re online and connected to what’s happening. I’ve deleted so many amazing posts because I doubted the good it would do and valued the relationships it would hurt. And if you’ve posted something you regretted later, you’re so not alone!)
Words build worlds and they can wreck them too. As a writer and pastor, I know all too well the power my words have and I don’t always use them well. Whether it’s a member of my family, my staff, or my church, I have the opportunity to humble myself regularly and seek forgiveness. And when I haven’t, the consequences have never been good.
The truth is we love other people when we pursue forgiveness. Loving and caring for people means pushing through the pain and loss to redeem and rebuild. Toxic people never ask for forgiveness because they never see their wrongs. Loving people are aware of the impact they have on others and notice when they’ve hurt those they care about.
Niebuhr reminds us that our perception of our actions (and their virtues) are often far different than the perception of others. It’s like that whole perspective thing I mentioned at the top. Our actions don’t always match our intentions and our self-perception is never 100% accurate; we need to reach for forgiveness.
Our world needs to experience forgiveness in unprecedented ways today. If we don’t, the lack of love and the presence of bitterness and anger will destroy us from the inside out. In the words of the wise Yoda, “Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering.”
This Isn’t About Kneeling During National Anthems, But It Applies to Kneeling
If Tillich was right, and love means listening, then I think our world could use a big dose of listening. God did give us two ears and one mouth for a reason, right? As the old cliche says, so we’d listen twice as much as we talk (or type).
I wonder how much our world would change if we sat down across from a real person who saw the world differently due to their race, experience, or worldview and really listened to them share from their heart for an hour. All we could do is ask questions, we couldn’t debate or disagree.
We might walk away from the conversation unchanged in our convictions and perspective. But at least, we’d have really heard someone share their perspective and why they see things differently. And I promise that would mean something the next time an event occurred. Because then we’d not be responding to something abstract. We’d be responding to someone’s real experience that we know, a someone we could one day call a friend. Everyone has a story if we’ll stop long enough to listen.
(On a daily basis, I read my friends’ pain when I read their perspectives. I just wish my friends could hear others’ pain. Maybe then, something might begin to change.)
None of us have a perfect perspective. In fact, all of us have imperfect perspectives, myself included. We have limited perspectives. And if we long for what is true, then we should long to enhance our limited perspectives.
Because perspective is everything.