One of the greatest gifts to come from times of great hardship (and yes – there is more than one) is that of perspective. Of being able to stand back and see a situation with far greater clarity, holding it in balance with everything else you have known and been through.
I’ve been thinking about this recently as I have been reading different people’s view of the same situation. About to go to the UK to see my 87-year old dad and children, I am going to be spending 11 nights in hotel quarantine. My point of view is that there is no way round this, so I’m just going to get on with it and make the most of it. Eleven days to study, work (sorely needed, to be able to pay the vast amount for the hotel quarantine package), as well as rest, sleep, read, watch Netflix and catch up on all those pesky chores I never get time for. Add in some Zoom catch up sessions with friends, Pilates classes and podcasts and it has the makings of a mini-break.
I joined a Facebook group for people going through the same journey, where they can share their experiences, ask questions, review hotels, give advice. A great idea, and it has certainly been helpful.
However, what has surprised me most is the wildly differing opinions of people’s experiences – often from people staying at the same hotel at the same time. You will get one person ranting about the appalling conditions, terrible food, lack of service (and just about everything else), whilst another is saying that its just fine, perfectly adequate and even that they’ve had some really enjoyable meals.
I’ve been pondering this difference of opinions, and have come up with a few ideas. One is that it is about mindset – if you think going in that it will be terrible, oppressive and awful, you can be pretty sure that it is going to be! However, if you go in with the mindset that you can and will get through, that its only 11 nights, that you can do a lot to make your own experience better, then I believe you will fare better.
The other idea I have as to why people’s opinions vary so greatly, is that of perspective. What are you holding it in balance with? We tend to judge our expectations against our own ‘norm’ – what we want, need and believe we have a right to. If we hold the idea that we deserve a perfect life, with every freedom and privilege, comfort and everything going right, then we can be deeply disappointed, even angry, when life gives us something different.
However, if our perspective allows us to see an experience in the light of the worst situations we have known, borne or witnessed, we are likely to have a very different view of it. Stepping back allows us to take a broader view. Astronauts have the greatest broader view, one which they call the ‘overview effect’, where they have been able to see earth from so far away, as a tiny, floating blue planet, that it allows them to look at the world, it’s inhabitants and its problems and in an entirely different light.
We may not be able to travel to the moon, but we can all step back and see things from a broader perspective. Particularly when we have gone through challenging times, it allows us to face a situation – albeit irritating or annoying, being able to say, ‘I’ve had worse days’.
And we can also look to others to give us perspective.
After all, if Nelson Mandela served 27 years in jail on Robben Island, I’m sure I can survive 11 nights at the Holiday Inn, Heathrow Airport.
–Written by Pippa Shaper