The Necessary Work of a Changed Perspective

We’ll, my daughter is off. 

Off on her first international trip. Off to the Czech Republic.

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My daughter Courtney was offered the opportunity to go to the Czech Republic and assist with a basketball camp and do some ESL training. Hoops and teaching: both of these are her passion and giftedness and now she gets to commit 10 days to doing just that.

Making lots of connections. Making lots of Gospel connections.

As a dad, I can’t tell you how excited I am for my daughter. You cannot immerse yourself in a culture, whether short term or long term, and not come away changed. 

And I mean changed at the core of who you are. How you see things, how you think, how you respond, and how you view people. 

I am talking about perspective

Perspective is defined as…

a particular attitude toward or way of regarding something; a point of view.

Of all the activities and programs my daughter will experience, a changed perspective is the one I am most excited about.

I love the Pixar movie Ratatouille. Very creative. In it there is a memorable scene involving the highly acclaimed food critic, Anton Ego, ordering a meal at Gusteau’s after having read of a new chef at the restaurant.

Mustafa: [taking Ego’s order] Do you know what you’d like this evening, sir?
Anton Ego: Yes, I think I do. After reading a lot of overheated puffery about your new cook, you know what I’m craving? A little perspective. That’s it. I’d like some fresh, clear, well seasoned perspective. Can you suggest a good wine to go with that?
Mustafa: With what, sir?
Anton Ego: Perspective. Fresh out, I take it?
Mustafa: I am, uh…

In other words, this food critic had read all of the lofty words about this new cook, but Ego wanted to be able to form his own opinion of the food and not have an opinion formed for him. By experiencing the food for himself, Ego came away with a fresh perspective, or attitude or viewpoint, one untainted by what others might have said. Ego ended up having his perspective “rocked” by setting his preconceived bias aside and experiencing firsthand the food of a most unlikely chef.

And it is this that excites me most for Courtney. New perspectives that shake up her world.

Why?

Because unfamiliar and fresh perspectives can rock your world. They can turn assumptions upside down and force you to ponder why you think the way you think and why you do what you do.

So much of how we live and make decisions is taken for granted. We do not question it because it is accepted as true and does not need to be proved in order for it to be accepted.

We call these assumptions. For example, I see someone wearing a certain style of clothing and automatically may come to a conclusion about them and act off that conclusion, without even knowing if my assumption was actually true. I just assumed it to be true.

And without a doubt, this is what going to another culture does for you: it forces you to take your deep-seated assumptions and perspectives and be willing to have them altered or sometimes even blown up and reconstructed. 

I did not fully understand this until I went to China on two separate trips for some ESL work for a university with which I was once affiliated.

I still remember my first drive from the airport to my friends house – I was mesmerized. I can still picture my second trip driving on a bus through the city of Chengdu with over 13 million inhabitants. I soon realized that these Chinese people were like me, made in the image of God, had families, had jobs, and felt happiness and sorrow, pleasure and pain, just as I did. 

But as I got more involved in their culture, I soon began to realize that we were so different on so many levels. And in speaking with them about their lives, in teaching them English,  and in just living life with them, many of my own assumptions and perspectives were radically changed. 

And I desperately needed it.

For when I came away from both trips, I began to understand that my once broad perspective (or so I thought) about life, values, and relationships was far too narrow. And a narrow perspective is debilitating in multiple ways.

  • It has me look through a lens of prejudice.
  • It places unrealistic expectations on others.
  • It fosters an elitist mindset.
  • It devalues others and the way that they think just because they are different.
  • It diminishes empathy for others.
  • It shapes me into more of a talker than a listener.
  • It forces others to be like me.
  • It fosters an “if we do it in America, everyone should do it” mentality.

And in the end, though I was in China to create relationships and teach them how to speak English, I was the one who came away as the learner. What I thought I was taking to them was more than offset by what I took from them as a people and as a culture. I felt so enriched by having watched and listened to them, by having them speak into my life.

And though the culture of those in the Czech Republic will be very different than those in China, the level of impact that my daughter receives from the Czech culture will be no less than what I received in the Chinese culture.

It is what we might call a hidden curriculum, lessons that are learned but not necessarily part of the stated agenda. And it is these lessons that often offer the most takeaway.

You may not have the opportunity to travel internationally, but there are still multiple ways to have your perspectives challenged and reshaped. 

Read books. Even by those you may not agree with.

Intentionally speak with those who think or do differently than you. Ask questions, listen, ask more questions. Listen some more. Avoid the urge to speak of you.

How can we influence each other if we truly do not understand each other?

When I am not willing to do even these smaller things, I get dull. I get in ruts. I am no longer a learner.  

My daughter just arrived at her destination, but I am quite certain the impact on her life will go beyond basketball and ESL. And the exciting part is that she then gets to carry those new perspectives back with her and overflow them to another.

I can’t wait to hear how she has been changed.

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