Change of Perspective

Musings on Writing, Reading, and Life Narratives

Fiction writers and literary critics speak of point of view. Social scientists are more likely to discuss perspective. But both of these terms refer to essentially the same construct: the consciousness behind the perception and narration of experience. Each individual’s point of view is unique, and point of view shapes the stories people tell to themselves and to others about themselves and their relationships with their environment. The same event narrated from two different perspectives will produce two different stories.

A change of perspective can expand our perception and reframe our thinking about our experiences. We can all benefit from an occasional change of perspective.

[Return to MetaPerspective]

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Forgiveness as Story

Luskin, Fred. Forgive for Good
San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2002
ISBN 0-06-251721-X

Extensive research has shown that forgiveness is good for us, both physically and emotionally. We can understand this intellectually. But, as most of us also know, it's much harder to find forgiveness in our hearts.

I had struggled with this problem of forgiveness until I discovered Luskin's book. His approach of forgiveness as story finally allowed me to begin to open my heart to the possibility of forgiveness.

Luskin defines forgiveness as “the experience of peace and understanding that can be felt in the present moment” (p. xii). Forgiveness is aimed at a grievance, which Luskin defines as a long-standing hurt or anger. A grievance results when something happens in our lives that we did not want to happen and when we then deal with the problem by thinking too much about it. Luskin says that we create a grievance out of three components:

  1. The exaggerated taking of personal offense;
  2. The blaming of the offender for how we feel;
  3. The creation of a grievance story.

The grievance story is the main focus of Luskin’s forgiveness program. He says that the mere articulation of a hurt someone has inflicted upon us is not a grievance story. The tale of this hurt only becomes a grievance story when we fixate upon it and tell it over and over again. A grievance story locks us in the past, when the original hurt occurred, and condemns us to reexperience the pain, anger, and resentment of the transgression every time we narrate the story.

To begin moving from grievance to forgiveness, Luskin asks us to consider who the main character in our grievance story is. In most cases, the main character is the person who hurt us; in this story we are passive, a victim controlled by the main character. Arriving at forgiveness involves recasting our grievance story so that we are the main character, the source of the action. In the retelling of the story, we become someone who triumphs over adversity, who survives in spite of the hurt done to us. This retelling involves a shift in perspective, from the point of view of someone immersed in the hurtful event to the point of view of an observer. Such a shift does not excuse or condone the hurt done to us, but it does allow us to view the hurt in a different way, to get some distance on it.

Luskin explains that a grievance story traps us in the past and imprisons us as victims. For me, this became the strongest motivation for changing my story from one of passive victimization into one of active triumph—that is, from a grievance story to a forgiveness story. Luskin’s explanation of a grievance story made me realize that, as long as I continue to dwell on the story of how I was hurt, those who hurt me still maintain control over me. The only way I can truly free myself is to write another story. In my revised story, I am strong, resilient, a survivor. This story represents a change from a dysfunctional grievance story to a healthier forgiveness story. Daniel Taylor (Tell Me a Story: The Life-Shaping Power of Our Stories, St. Paul: Bog Walk Press, 2001) says that healthy life stories share four qualities: They are truthful, freeing, gracious, and hopeful.

Forgiveness is an exceedingly complex issue. It can take a long, long time to come to terms with being hurt and mistreated. But the point of view from which we narrate our life stories can influence the way those stories in turn shape our lives. Sometimes a shift in perspective can help change a dysfunctional story, such as my grievance story, into a healthy story, such as my forgiveness story.

© 2007 by Mary Daniels Brown

Labels: , ,

Thursday, October 25, 2007

A New Perspective on the News

News Flows, Consciousness Streams: The Headwaters of a River of Words - New York Times:
The venerable New York Times is moving into a new building, where an art display called “Moveable Type” greets visitors in the lobby. The display consists of 560 small screens displayed in a grid that pull phrases from databases containing all the words printed in the paper since it was founded in 1851 and from search terms and Web commentary currently being posted to the paper's Web site. The display was created by Ben Rubin, and artist, and Mark Hansen, a statistician.
“We want it to feel almost like an organism that is living and breathing and consuming the news,” Mr. Rubin said.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Quotation of the Day

"We travel through life guided by an inner life plot--part the creation of family, part the internalization of broader social norms, part the function of our imaginations and our own capacity for insight into ourselves, part from our groping to understand the universe in which the planet we inhabit is a speck. When we speak about our memories, we do so through literary forms that seem to capture universals in human experience--the quest, the romance, the odyssey, the tragic or the comic mode. Yet we are all unique, and so are our stories. We should pay close attention to our stories. Polish their imagery. Find their positive rather than their negative form. Search for the ways we experience life differently from the inherited version and edit the plot accordingly, keeping our eyes on the philosophical implications of the changes we make."

Jill Ker Conway, When Memory Speaks (pp. 176-177).

Labels: , ,

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Feminist Doris Lessing Wins Nobel Prize in Literature

Doris Lessing Wins Nobel Prize in Literature - New York Times:
Novelist Doris Lessing, 87, has won the Nobel Prize for Literature. The writer was born in Persia (now Iran), raised in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), and currently lives in London.

Ms. Lessing's breakthrough novel was The Golden Notebook, published in 1962. The Swedish Academy, which chooses Nobel recipients, cited the novel as "a pioneering work" in the "burgeoning feminist movement." The novel deals with the inner lives of women and suggests that women should not have to abandon their own lives for the sake of marriage and children.

New York Times writers MOTOKO RICH and SARAH LYALL say:

Because she frankly depicted female anger and aggression, she was attacked as “unfeminine.” In response, Ms. Lessing wrote: “Apparently what many women were thinking, feeling, experiencing came as a great surprise.”

Lessing is the 11th woman to win a Nobel Prize in literature.

Labels: ,

Monday, October 8, 2007

Book Review: The Year of Magical Thinking

book cover
Didion, Joan. The Year of Magical Thinking
New York: Knopf, 2005. ISBN 1-4000-4314-X

Highly Recommended

On the evening of December 30, 2003, Joan Didion's husband of 40 years, John Gregory Dunne, sat down to dinner in their apartment in New York City. Didion and Dunne had just come home from visiting their daughter, Quintana, who was in a drug-induced coma in a New York hospital. While Didion tossed the salad, Dunne suddenly stopped speaking to her from the next room. He had collapsed, and probably died instantly, from a massive heart attack.

The Year of Magical Thinking is Didion's account of dealing with her grief and the loss of her companion. In addition to mourning her husband, she had to deal with the continued illness of her daughter. After Quintana was discharged from the hospital in New York, where pneumonia had developed into septic shock, she and her husband flew to California for rest, relaxation, and recuperation. On the tarmac at the Los Angeles airport Quintana collapsed and was taken to UCLA Medical Center, where she underwent a long operation for bleeding in the brain. She spent several months in the neuro intensive care unit and was later flown by air ambulance back to New York for extensive rehab.

While the near-death of her daughter forms a backdrop, most of Didion's book deals with her reaction to her husband's death. Both Didion and Dunne were writers all their lives, and each was always the other's first and best editor. Except for the first five months of their marriage, they had both always worked at home; they were, therefore, almost constant companions for 40 years.

The magical thinking of the title refers to the non-rational, illogical thinking that Didion often found herself falling into. When she begins to give Dunne's clothes away, she can't bring herself to get rid of all his shoes because he might come back, and he would need shoes. She keeps thinking back over recent events, wondering if there had been some warning of what was to come, some sign that she missed, something she could have done to prevent Dunne's death. And everywhere she goes, she sees something that sets her memory racing back into the past, back to their times together, and straight into what she calls the vortex: having to face "the void, the very opposite of meaning, the relentless succession of moments during which we will confront the experience of meaninglessness itself" (p. 189).

She completes the book a year and a day after Dunne's death. Still, she says, she has found no clarity, no resolution.
In fact the apprehension that our life together will decreasingly be the center of my every day seemed today on Lexington Avenue so distinct a betrayal that I lost all sense of oncoming traffic. (p. 226)

The time of magical thinking, of trying to find a way to rewind the movie of life and play it forward again with a different ending, is over. Yet life goes on. Perhaps writing about her grief has helped.

© 2007 by Mary Daniels Brown

Labels: ,

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Perspective on Obedience and Action

Obedience and Action [Speaking of Faith� from American Public Media]
On this week's radio show "Speaking of Faith," Krista Tippitt talks with Benedictine nun Sister Joan Chittister.

Here's what Krista says about Sr. Jean in her newsletter:

In over 50 years as a Benedictine nun, Joan Chittister has emerged as a powerful and at times uncomfortable voice in Roman Catholicism and in global politics. If women were ordained in the Catholic Church in our lifetime, some say, she should be the first woman bishop.

A Whirlwind in Purple

I first met Joan Chittister a decade ago. I'd heard many entertaining and admiring stories about Sr. Joan's passion and intelligence and wit. She would scribble notes for her next book or column during board meetings, people told me, and occasionally look up to deliver a line that recapped and energized the entire conversation.

Always on the go, she had squeezed me into her schedule during a three-hour layover at Chicago Midway airport. She was, I wrote in my notes, "a whirlwind in purple." Several times she whisked out a miniature dictaphone and recorded questions and reminders for herself and her assistant. She'd published four books already that year alone. And she was as fun as she was formidable. "I've never missed a party," she told me, "and I don't like to be left out of one." If I possessed any lingering stereotypes about nuns, I left them forever behind in that airport lounge.

For some, the words that describe Joan Chittister might seem to be a contradiction in terms: Roman Catholic monastic, interfaith social activist, feminist. But I understand Joan Chittister to be at one and the same time engaged with worldly reality and with the sense of paradox often found at the heart of religion. She is a modern woman who draws her sustenance and vision from immersion in a 1500-year-old monastic tradition.

She is a committed member of a small Benedictine community in Erie, Pennsylvania and a global activist. She is an influential, sometimes uncomfortable voice in her beloved Roman Catholic Church — a hero to some, a heretic to others. She is guided in all of this, she says, by her vow of obedience.

We talk about that vow in this program and how her understanding of religious virtue has evolved in response to changes in the church and the world. In the pre-Vatican II church by the mid-1960s, she says, "obedience" had come to be synonymous with conformity. But at some point for her and others, she says, this gave way to "a sensitivity to the impulses of grace in our lives." For Joan Chittister, this has included responsiveness to other faiths.

She is known for the Sufi Muslim parables by which she often drives home a Christian point in her speeches and writings. She co-chairs a global consortium of religious women and spiritual leaders — Protestant, Hindu, Catholic, and Buddhist. For Joan Chittister, such partnership represents a deepening, not a refutation, of Catholic theology. If God is one as Christianity asserts, she asks, why are we surprised that different religious people can think and work as one on matters of justice and poverty and the human spirit?

We are living in a crossover time, Sr. Joan declares. We are at a moment in history when every structure and institution is in flux and up for grabs — religious, political, marital. The old answers don't work as they once did, and the new answers have yet to be discerned. People are searching within and beyond spiritual traditions — reading books, seeking new community, and perhaps even listening to public radio with a new ear — as they pursue answers that make sense in the context of their lives.

Joan Chittister, I think, is a public figure for this crossover time — articulating the questions and holding them up boldly. We will not all agree with all of her ideas. But in consonance and dissonance with other bold voices and ideas, she is helping to energize our most important discussions and move them forward.