October 24th, 2006

On Perspective

When you're a kid, and you get all upset about something, the adults always say "you'll look back on this and wonder why you made such a big deal out of it".

Sadly, they're usually right, but when I was an adolescent I remember thinking "How could that possible be true?  This is such a BIG DEAL!  Even if I change to where I don't care about this when I get older, it still matters that it's a BIG DEAL now!"

Which I think is true, as far as it goes- lots of our adult neuroses are built out of how we handle our childhood neuroses.

But I think also part of it is that as we gain more experience and perspective, we get more of a picture of how the world really works.

For example, today one of my students (who hasn't come to class in a month) emailed me and said he wanted to drop the class.  My first thought was "Glad you finally realized that".  But he went to great pains in his email to make sure that I realized that I shouldn't take this personally, that he wasn't dropping because of me, that he had lots of issues in his life, and so on.

From his perspective, dropping is a huge deal and he's worried that I'll hold a grudge against him for the rest of his life.  From my perspective, people drop classes all the time, and I'd much rather they realize early that they're not going to succeed in the course (for whatever reason) than to just give up, stay registered, and make me fail you. 

It's all about seeing (and knowing about) the bigger picture.

Of course, this gets me into trouble sometimes.  Lots of times, I'll screw something up in a very spectacular way, and I'll assume that there is a wider perspective that isn't there.  Like "Surely someone else has made this exact same mistake- they must have handled this before".  Then I learn that nope, I'm unique.  Sometimes there is no perspective to gain..