In the classic animation film Ratatouille the nasty and sinister food critic Anton Ego, when asked what he would like for dinner snarled, “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?”
The bumbling waiter Mustafa was absolutely baffled by the statement and after stammering a bit Anton Ego replied with a snarl, “Very well. Since you’re all out of perspective, and no one else seems to have it in this bloody town, I’ll make you a deal. You provide the food; I’ll provide the perspective.”
Spoiler alert, the great mouse Chef Linguini cooks up an incredible batch of you guessed it, Ratatouille, that reminded Anton Ego of his childhood, and in turn did bring him perspective.
Anton Ego then has an epiphany and goes on a long soliloquy, writing in his review published the next day, “In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the *new*. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations. The new needs friends. Last night, I experienced something new: an extraordinary meal from a singularly unexpected source. To say that both the meal and its maker have challenged my preconceptions about fine cooking is a gross understatement. They have rocked me to my core. In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau’s famous motto, “Anyone can cook.” But I realize, only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist; but a great artist *can* come from *anywhere*. It is difficult to imagine more humble origins than those of the genius now cooking at Gusteau’s, who is, in this critic’s opinion, nothing less than the finest chef in France. I will be returning to Gusteau’s soon, hungry for more.”
I was always intrigued with what Anton Ego meant by perspective, so I started my thought exploration by first reading Webster’s dictionary which defines perspective as “a: the interrelation in which a subject or its parts are mentally viewed b; the capacity to view things in their true relations or relative importance.” However, I didn’t find that definition especially helpful. Recently I was reading a leadership book by Brene’ Brown where she said “perspective taking refers to being willing and able to see and feel the world through the eyes of the other, walking in their shoes as the saying goes. This requires putting aside our own stuff and really just listening to what they are going through.” That definition made sense to me.
At that point I had my own epiphany. What is lacking in the world of today with its virile click bait social media, always breaking news coverage, and non-productive partisan politics, was a lack of understanding and compassion for other people’s perspective. Too often we live in our own social media created echo chamber or our own limited personal network of like-minded, like raised, like religion, like race, like social status, friends and family. Uncle Bob, Cousin Vinny or Gina your hair stylist are cool for sure, but are they the best source of knowledge for medical information or do they understand what its like to grow up poor, or black, or gay.
Today we get a lot of our perspective from the internet and social media, and the internet is truly a trove of information, but not all of it is treasure. When “researching” on the internet it is wise to check the veracity of your sources. Is that source credible? Are they just spreading lies to increase clicks to generate ad revenue? Apply some critical thinking to the information you are absorbing. And quite honestly, the best way to get different perspectives is to talk to people different than you and to walk a mile in their shoes, whether it be sneakers, high heels, or work boots.
What you will learn is that people are people (to quote Depeche Mode). With hopes, dreams and fears like you, but with a different context or life experience. Ask a woman what it’s like to walk down a street at night alone, something I do without reservation. Or ask a black person what they feel when they are pulled over by a cop. For me its probably anger, for them probably fear.
So, much like Anton Ego, I am also in search of a little perspective, just not my own. I am looking for the perspective of women, people of color, poor people, rural people, urban people, LGBTQ people, young people, religious people, old people, etc. Learning and understanding their perspective makes me a more compassionate and understanding person and also provides me a greater understanding of this melting pot we call America. It’s those perspectives and diversity that make America great.
And that is my perspective.