Updated: May 16
As we all struggle to make sense of the shifts in our world during the COVID-19 pandemic understanding how to gain perspective can be critical to prevail in any environment.
One time I traveled deep into the mountains, along winding back roads and into hollers, up to tiny towns and into coffee shops and old churches, places where tiny box houses that sat almost on top of one another lined the roads. A place where people talked with a friendly cadence, each word punctuated with an accent that made you feel welcome and also reminded you that you would always be an outsider.
I almost didn’t go on the trip. I was scared to go to a place completely alone, where my cell phone didn’t work, a place most others considered undesirable, dirty, and damaged. But I was on the hunt for a story, my story. I wanted to know where my people came from. My Grandpa told me to head back to Appalachia.
Driving the seven hours to get to the “heart” of Appalachia gave me plenty of time to contemplate what I could expect when I got there – I won’t give voice to the stereotypes but you know them.
What happened to me when I met the people in those little towns and played a tiny part in sharing their stories with the world (check out the documentary I researched here: www.hollowdocumentary.com) changed my life forever, because it shifted my perspective in a way only experience can. I saw people who poured out their hearts and lives daily to help feed others. People who left and came back because of injustice and a stubborn will to continue to fight gross inequities. People who refuse to leave because they believe that they can make their little piece of the world a better place.
Despite what I had seen in movies, on TV, what topped the headlines – everything was different. Appalachia was a beautiful place. Were there ugly realities? Yes, but as with most things in life, when you dug down just a bit past the surface, you could see what was really there – beauty and pain, selflessness and selfishness, persistence and pride, a whole mish- mash of life that I almost missed.
Here’s what I want to tell you today, don’t miss the broken beauty of others because you’re stuck in a single story.
Be aware when you read the headlines that by default, they're a snippet of a story. Know that what you’re reading is a very small sliver of the reality on the ground and that single stories are dangerous. Remember, there’s a human being behind the headline, however much you disagree with that person or revile their viewpoint, actions, etc. We are all humans and we all have dignity and worth.
We also all have perspectives that dictate how we see and act in the world. Let me explain a little more, everyone has experiences in their past that shape their viewpoints and those viewpoints – the way we “see” or perceive the world around us is different. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Because we all see the world differently, we all have something to offer, a fresh perspective - a new way to come to an issue. Sharing our experiences helps us relate to one another and form bonds. As a community of human beings, it makes us stronger.
Where we get into trouble is when we start to believe our perspective is the RIGHT one, and those who don’t align must be wrong. Perspectives are just different (because past experience shapes perspective, remember?) and there is beauty in that difference, but you have to fight to see it. You have to remember that like a lens, your previous experiences color your present one and that someone else’s lens filters their perspective, too.
Understanding this reality helps us to be more empathetic, to be kind, to ultimately live more fruitful lives alongside others as we all have to do (whether you like or not). Living in a bubble surrounded by people that think, act, and believe like you do is not living at all. If you want a richer life and to have better relationships – seek out others with different perspectives, ask them to allow you a peak through their lens.