An Exercise in Perspective

Have you ever been driving down the road and going slower than usual — say, because you have a sick or injured person in the car and you want to make the ride as easy for that person as possible, or you have a vase of flowers sitting in the seat next to you and you don’t want it to tip over, or you have a pounding headache and it’s all you can do to make it that last little bit of the way home so you can finally rest…

And then, the next day, you get stuck behind someone driving a little too slow, and all you can think is, “What an asshole. This guy is holding me up. Why doesn’t he just get out of my way?”

I know I’ve been guilty of this. Perhaps you have, too. Becoming aware of these things has been giving me lots of possibilities for brainstorming reasons behind people’s actions — which, of course, can translate into character motivations.

I remember, back when I actually read M/F romance, coming across two books by Julia Quinn that both included the exact same scene, but told from two entirely different perspectives, which really gave a lot of interesting insight into why certain things were said or done in that scene. Just reading the one perspective left the reader with the impression that one character was an asshole, but reading it from the other perspective really changed the overall impression. Sometimes, taking a step back and looking at something from a different angle can make a world of difference.

So when I see someone barreling down the freeway, and other people are honking and showing the finger, I stop myself from doing the same and try to think why that person is driving like a maniac. Maybe he really is just an asshole, true, but there might be plenty of other reasons. Maybe he’s just found out his child has been injured. Maybe someone called to say a pipe burst or his house is on fire. Maybe he had car trouble and now he’s running late for his first day on a job he finally got after being unemployed for several months and he really needs to feed his family.

This weekend, I had another personal lesson in perspective that made me stop to think. To set it up: I have a major pet peeve about people who wear their sunglasses indoors. It creeps me out. Besides the fact that it’s nonsensical, it makes the person seem somehow untrustworthy. If you’re hiding your eyes, I’m going to be suspicious of you.

Friday night, I had a minor anxiety attack brought on by an overwhelming social situation (hooray for being a major introvert, right?). Not nearly as bad an attack as some I’ve had before, but it was enough to leave me unsettled for the next two days, so I pretty much spent the weekend curled up in my house, avoiding people, with one exception.

I had to drive my father to a family event (which I was also supposed to attend, but obviously bowed out of after the attack), and spent a few minutes helping him unload supplies for the party. I managed to get through a few obligatory hellos to people who were already there, and then made my escape.

As I stepped outside, I reached for my sunglasses, and realized I’d never taken them off the whole time I was inside.

Subconscious armor. The sunglasses staying on made me feel safer, provided a small barrier between me and the ‘danger’ that was other people.

Talk about light bulb moment.

So, the next time I see a person wearing his sunglasses indoors, I’ll be less quick to judge. Maybe he’s not untrustworthy or stupid or an asshole. Maybe he’s just barely keeping his shit together, and taking off the sunglasses would leave him feeling more vulnerable. Maybe he needs that little extra layer of protection just to get through whatever business he has so he can escape unscathed and get on with his day.

Maybe that’s what it takes for him to survive. And if that’s the case, having been on that side of things, I really can’t blame him.


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