Much of life is about perspective—often captured in the whole “glass half empty, glass half full” adage. A portion of our view can be attributed to our overall satisfaction with life. If I see the glass as half empty, I am dissatisfied with the lacks. If I see the glass as half full, I am satisfied by what’s present. Though, it’s not so much about the perspective itself than it is about the questions our perspective invites or repels.
How thirsty am I? Is there more water available to refill the cup? Do I want more water because I am accustomed to getting more than I need so I can get my money’s worth?
I find myself in this dilemma when McDonald’s offers $1 any size drinks. When I know that I will not finish anything larger than a medium, everyone in the car insists I should still get the giant, unconsumable-before-the-ice-melts extra-large. A consumerist society is always dissatisfied with just enough. The capitalist cup is designed to leak.
This parasitic focus on “never enough” leads to a compartmentalized approach that keeps us from seeing the interconnectedness of life. If we’re hyper-focused on what’s missing, it’s unlikely we’ll get to the big picture. In The Wretched of Earth, Frantz Fanon credits this myopia to the colonialist’s tactic to isolate, divide, and conquer. If we can’t see how the inner workings are connected, those in charge will never be discovered. The ability to escape accountability is only one take away though. Research suggests it would take only 3.5% of a country’s population to bring about large social change, like toppling a dictatorship. That’s only 11.4 million in the US. The lack of hope that both causes and stems from the self-deprecative question, “Well, what difference can I make anyway?” is another side effect of a stringently compartmentalized world view. Without hope, how could one even begin to ask for more?
Hope is a privilege. It is an “expectation of something desired; desire combined with expectation,” according to the OED, which gets into the glass-half-full people’s optimism, while the glass-half-empty people’ pessimism. I’m frequently told how optimistic I am, but I’m searching for a perspective that forces me to go beyond the surface. I’m after a perspective that doesn’t shut me off to questions, options, doors, windows, chimneys, basements. I want a way out or way in whenever I need it. When I look at a blackbird, I want to see it from 13+ vantages. When I think of suicide, I want to look at it as a desperate desire to start over versus giving up.
I’m convinced our perspective isn’t initially a choice. It is molded by our families, communities, and environments from the moment we’re born. As social creatures, we need this. As social creatures, we’ll also go too far to fit in. At some point, one can only hope for a shift towards an awareness that acknowledges the ease our perceptions can be altered—by ourselves and by others. The grandfather of public relations, Edward Bernays, Sigmund Freud’s nephew, understood the power of manipulating the masses through Freudian suggestion (Serendipitously, his application of Freud’s ideas is what made Freud so well known). Today, we’re exposed to somewhere between 4,000 to 10,000 ads per day. Our perception of the world is made heavy by the imposition of others.
The scourge of manipulation is like being caught in a storm unprepared, canvas shoes, shorts, no raincoat, no umbrella. Something a simple fore-question could’ve prevented:
What’s the weather going to be like today?
Our perspective determines how we see the world, but our questions help us scuff its smooth veneer to reveal it’s not glass but a funhouse mirror that bares what we want to see.