Thursday, 13 August 2009

Big World, Small Problems

When I was a child, my father brought home some books from the library.
Educational books, they were, and the one that stuck with me at the time was the one called "Big and Small". It was about the concept of relativity. And in this case, the example given was size.

"What is big?" asked the book.
"An elephant is big!"  I replied.
"But an elephant is not big, compared to a blue whale," said the book, "Next to a whale, an elephant is small."
I was stunned.
"Something is only big or small, when you compare it to something else."

I thought about this, for years to come, and I still think about this today. It applies to all of us, in almost every part of our lives. It's about relativity. Comparison. Perspective. As a seventh-form student, sitting in Art History class (doodling cartoon versions of famous paintings, which my black-humoured teacher rather enjoyed), I learned more about perspective. Piero della Francesca was a mathematician and artist, whose theoretical study of perspective inspired many artists to come. It was he who once stood back from his work and, proud of his skill of making things look bigger or smaller compared to their surroundings, he remarked to his wife, "Ah, what a sweet thing perspective is."

He is right! And yet very rarely do we allow ourselves a healthy perspective on things. Our lives are full of trivial and mundane situations, which at the time might be a source of great frustration to us.
Someone pushed in front of me in the queue.
There's no milk left.
I've put on half a stone.
I missed my bus.
It's raining - again!

We bitch and moan and look for things to complain about, when really, we have everything we possibly need. We do not have to steal food to survive; live in fear of death for our beliefs; or wonder where we will sleep tonight. Don't forget, there are people who are actually suffering. They are hurting. They have heavy burdens to bear. They wish their biggest problem was a leak in their kitchen pipe and an unreliable plumber. So why do we take so much bitter pleasure in finding problems that don't even exist?

Remember, it's all about comparison. Problems are relative. Your frustration is tiny when you compare it to actual problems. If something truly awful happened, you would wish for the days when you had no such troubles. But don't you see - that's what you have right now! You don't want to find out the hard way; by having an actual problem show up and turn your life upside down. Now that the blue whale is in your living room, do you really think the elephant was all that inconvenient?

 That's what they mean when they say you don't know what you've got till it's gone. Why do we only declare how much someone means to us when speaking at their funeral? People who face death are the ones who say they have learned to make the best of the time they have. Why then, when we are not faced with such a limited deadline, do we not do the same?

Take a new perspective. Because what a sweet thing it is indeed.

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