The 6Ps: Perspective
This piece is the eighth post in a series on the “The 6Ps for Profound and Positive Living". You can find all writings on the subject by searching 6Ps in the search bar.
While recovering from knee replacement surgery, I did a great deal of reading. I was particularly drawn to three profound books about the Holocaust and what survivors had to endure and overcome at Auschwitz. I began with “The Tattooist of Auschwitz” by Heather Morris; then “The Choice: Embrace the Possible” by Dr. Edith Eger and lastly, “The Volunteer: One Man, An Underground Army, and the Secret Mission to Destroy Auschwitz” by Jack Fairweather. Each story was compelling, saddening, frightening and inspiring. Certainly these books were challenging to read especially when working through the Nazi’s pure evil efforts to systematically destroy not just the Jewish population but of anyone who they felt was a threat to their efforts to build a German empire completely in their maniacal image. Auschwitz became a killing machine and each book gave graphic and vivid details of how the Germans worked to perfect the machine.
Reading these books certainly gave me perspective and I have found that perspective can be a powerful tool to help me maintain my resiliency. Beyond my regular reading habits, one of the ways I use perspective is to dwell upon a picture that I keep in my notebook. This picture is of a seven-year-old girl holding a two-year-old in their village in northern Nigeria. It was taken on the same day Boko Haram, an ISIS affiliate, went into the girls’ village, killed the men and took the women for wives and slaves. They also cut off the hands of some of the children. As I have a young granddaughter, Estelle, seeing the little girl in the picture with a bandage on a stump at the end of her little arm always conjures immense sadness and compassion. You may be asking, why would I punish myself by reading these stories of immense suffering and bring up painful emotions by glancing at a heartbreaking picture? It helps to remind me of the craziness of the world we live in, that human beings could inflict such pain and horror on the lives of innocent people, even young children.
Yet, these stories, while incredibly heartbreaking, inspire me in several ways. The first is to reinforce this simple idea of perspective. That, in comparison to what the survivors had to go through, my life is literally a cakewalk. Being born in America in 1959, I have experienced a quality of life well beyond what I deserve and certainly have not completely earned. While we can lament on the lack of civility and depth of partisanship in Washington DC, our country, states, counties, and communities function reasonably well. Our economy is strong; the rules of law are being observed; our streets are relatively safe and the majority of us have access to sufficient food, shelter, and clean water. And, we certainly have an absence of the tyranny, injustice and deep fear that existed throughout Europe in the early 1940s as the Nazis war machine seemed unstoppable.
The other source of inspiration from these powerful books is to appreciate that to survive a place like Auschwitz not only required immense luck to avoid the gas chamber line but to also have a deep sense of hope and determination for something greater beyond just surviving the horror of each day. The key protagonists in each story had a deep will to live and a great sense of purpose that carried them through even the darkest and most horrendous of conditions. The 3rd book I mentioned was about a Polish Officer, Witold Pilecki, who as a Polish Resistance Fighter, volunteered to get captured and sent to Auschwitz with the mission of getting key intelligence to the Allies such as England and France of precisely what the Nazis were creating at Auschwitz. At numerous points in his captivity, he should have died and been killed, yet his will to live and deep sense of purpose and mission, carried him through many points of darkness and difficulty.
I am often saddened by what I hear is happening in the world around me, but I am also grateful for people and the stories they courageously share. The concepts of purpose and perspective are so well illuminated throughout much of what we read and hopefully, support my efforts to lead and live a remarkable life.So when I want to complain about not getting an extra towel in my hotel room or my plane gets delayed or the internet went down or whatever insignificant inconvenience happens in my life, I remember these stories. Thinking about the terrible things people have had to (and continue to) endure moves me towards gratefulness and appreciation. It reminds me to not feel sorry for myself and to do something meaningful with my life because I’ve been given so much and so much has come to me by just being in the right place at the right time. You have to be positive because there’s so much in your life to be positive about.
Life presents challenges to us all and yet it is far too easy to let the small and insignificant things dampen our joy and happiness. Perspective is a powerful tool to reflect that our life’s difficulties are relatively small in comparison to those who are suffering immensely from harsh realities such as civil war, famine, starvation, violence, and brutality. Often, our woes and difficulties, when compared with these, are insignificant and can warrant an appreciation for the lives we do have.