Perspective and Politics

I define perspective as the trait which enables us to understand ourselves and our place in the universe. Politics, on the other hand, is the furthering of one’s idea on a basis other than merit.

Most of us experience some form of politics in our workplaces. Some of us experience it in our homes. And, for those who work on large non profits or community service initiatives, we definitely experience it in those. I’ve heard it said that politics simply requires two people in a room. Sadly, that is often true.

There’s a strong correlation between a lack of perspective and an individual’s propensity to engage in politics. As a friend beautifully expressed it – “It strikes me that the narrower one’s world-view is, the less perspective one has and the higher one’s propensity for politics in that narrow arena. E.g., the power-hungry mother-in-law whose entire world revolves around a household will be Machiavellian in creating wedges in the family.” 

I’ve also observed a strong correlation between a lack of perspective and unhappiness. The causation there is straightforward – narrow views and constant politics do not a happy life make.

If that is the case, where does perspective come from? And, how can we get more of it?

When I think of perspective these days, I think of this Joseph Addison quote.

“When I look upon the tombs of the great, every emotion of envy dies in me; when I read the epitaphs of the beautiful, every inordinate desire goes out; when I meet with the grief of parents upon a tombstone, my heart melts with compassion; when I see the tombs of the parents themselves, I consider the vanity of grieving for those whom we must quickly follow; when I see kings lying by those who deposed them, when I consider rival wits placed side by side, or the men that divided the world with their contests and disputes, I reflect with sorrow and astonishment on the little competitions, factions, and debates of mankind. When I read the several dates of the tombs, of some that died yesterday, and some six hundred years ago, I consider that great Day when we shall all of us be contemporaries, and make our appearance together”

If this doesn’t give us perspective, I don’t know what will.

It follows that I think perspective comes from being acutely aware of our own mortality. That, in turn, brings a strong sense of what actually matters in the really long run.

Dag Hammarskold once said – “In the last analysis it is our conception of death which decides our answers to all the questions life puts to us.” This quote sums it up beautifully. If we knew we have five days to live, we’d likely go about our work and life very differently. We’d pay less attention to petty arguments and turf wars and, instead, lavish attention and care to the things we care about.

That’s the approach to life that comes with perspective.

And, it is an approach I’ve learned to value above all others.