“This is torture”, I heard from the woman standing next to me.
I was standing in line waiting for food at a Wendy’s restaurant in the Montego Bay airport. The woman beside me was visibly annoyed due to the long wait.
The words struck me like a bolt. I’m aware of the negativity bias we have as humans – the tendency of our minds to focus on the bad and ignore the good. So it doesn’t surprise me when put in a situation that causes us inconvenience that we get upset. It happens.
However, this time was different. And it was because of the word she used and the perspective I’d gained from the book I was reading on vacation. The book was not a typical light choice for a vacation read, but a meaningful one. I had been reading Night by Elie Wiesel, an Auschwitz concentration camp survivor. The word “torture” meant something very different than waiting longer than I had hoped to receive my hamburger and fries.
I’ve read quite a few books about Auschwitz and the concentration camps of World War II. Each one paints harrowing pictures of experiences that no human should ever have to endure. And words cannot even truly capture the actual experience, as Elie so eloquently explains in Night, “For, despite all my attempts to articulate the unspeakable, ‘it’ is still not right.”
I stood there dumbfounded that this woman felt tortured. I contemplated the power of our perspectives.
Tools to help me gain perspective
We always have a choice in how we look at a situation. Gratitude is a great tool to help us in any uncomfortable/unpreferred situation. This woman may have been able to feel less “tortured” if she turned her attention to being grateful for what she had at the moment. Perhaps gratitude that she could afford (time and money) to take a trip to Jamaica, and that she was able to spend time with friends (she was waiting in line with a friend). Perhaps grateful that she was healthy enough to be travelling.
I have to admit that I was looking at my watch a bit too. I was a little worried that we might miss our flight. But if needed I could abandon the line to catch the flight. Even if I lost the cost of the meal, with perspective, it might be annoying but it’s just a bit of money. This is another tool for perspective, stop and consider, what is the worst that can happen.
Being mindfully aware and present in the moment is also a great tool. While we wait for things we can take in our surroundings. Look at the people around us, the workers hard at work behind the counter doing their best to fill the food orders. We can bring awareness to our breath and know that we are safe standing in line. That’s another thing to be grateful for!
Reading books is also a great way to gain perspective. By reading about others’ stories and experiences we have a broader view of the world to draw on when faced with our own challenges. It can also enhance our empathy for others.
I’m here, aren’t I?
On that note, here’s another little story that highlighted to me that perspective is a choice.
I was doing a Good Morning, Life! book signing at a local hospital and I greeted a couple as they walked by my table, “How are you today?” I asked.
“I’m here, aren’t I?” the gentleman responded simply.
I smiled and said, “That’s right, you are.”.
In the next moment, I realized that he may not have meant it the way I thought he had.
I assumed that in other words, he was saying, “I’m alive aren’t I?” ” I’m here to experience this day.” Or, “I’m here surrounded by capable doctors to help me heal.”
However, he could have meant, “I’m in a hospital, aren’t I? I’m sick and not well.” Or, “I’d rather be somewhere other than a hospital.”
I’ll never know the thoughts and meaning behind his words. But I’ll always remember that there’s more than one perspective. I also know that it’s my choice what perspective I choose to lead with and that I have tools to help me choose one that will increase my happiness.