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Sudden perspective shifts

The human mind

One of the things that fascinates me and that I continue to try to fully understand is the sudden perspective shift that changes everything. For instance, if you’ve ever read Les Miserables¬†(or seen the musical or a movie of the story, even), you’ll remember the moment when Jean Valjean, an escaped convict, has been caught by the authorities while is was fleeing the home of a bishop who sheltered him and is in possession of valuables he stole from the bishop. The bishop, instead of accusing Valjean, tells the authorities that the stolen goods are gifts, and even adds to them. This utterly unexpected turn changes Valjean’s perspective for the rest of his life–much for the better, I might add.

But Valjean is fictional, and while the example is fascinating, though there’s much to think about in the debate that plays out in the rest of the story (what I read of it–while I know it’s not considered respectable to purposely put aside a classic, Hugo’s novel wanders too much to keep me engaged. He lost me after the whole Napoleon interlude).

Cartoonist Randall Munroe, whose work I often find absolutely brilliant (for instance, see my post on his Zombie Marie Curie comic from about a year ago), recently posted a cartoon that illustrated, literally and dramatically, what a real perspective shift is like, with plenty of dark humor. Here is that comic:

You may be worried to know that this cartoon is based on life, but Munroe, who is usually pretty private, kindly shares with us that “She’s doing well.”



  1. Gene  •  May 14, 2012 @8:58 am

    There’s a thing I call a “blinding flash of the obvious.” It happens when I suddenly become fully conscious of, and can no longer deny something that I should have known all along, but managed to conceal from myself for any one of several reasons (usually some variation of “I don’t like it, so I won’t even look at it.”) . I’ve had a few of them that qualified as life-changing.

  2. Luc  •  May 14, 2012 @10:01 am

    Gene, I’m interested: can you tell me about one of them?

  3. Gene  •  May 15, 2012 @9:09 am

    I made a pretty good mess of the early part of my life, and blamed my parents and my dysfunctional family for it. I had heard, multiple times, that being an adult meant taking personal responsibility for one’s life, and my response was, “yeah, but you don’t understand my unique case.”

    One night, after making another mess of another promising situation, I started thinking about my brother and the good life he was living. And for some reason, I finally faced the fact that he’d grown up right beside me, in that same dysfunctional family, but had managed to put together the life he had, rather than one like mine. Suddenly, I could no longer avoid the fact that I, and I alone, am responsible for what I do and the consequences of what I do.

    By the way, that didn’t solve all my problems–but it put me in a frame of mind that allowed me to work effectively (but not always successfully–another blinding flash of the obvious) to solve those problems. It’s an ongoing effort, and will be for the rest of my life. Nobody has a pain-free, problem-free life.

    I wish I could remember who said that 10% of life is what happens while 90% of it is how you deal with what happens. I still have to remind myself of that, every now and then.

  4. Luc  •  May 15, 2012 @9:40 am

    Thanks, Gene: that was well worth reading.

    Google attributes that quote to NCAA football coach Lou Holz: “Life is ten percent what happens to you and ninety percent how you respond to it.” I find I’m very partial to that quote!

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