March 2022: Perspective

My favourite podcast tells stories of lesser known or forgotten events in history. Today I was listening to it and it really got me thinking about the power of perspective.The following is not a political commentary; it is about the psychological power we have to create narratives that work for us regardless of the particular set of facts.The podcast comes from America, and the couple who host it were describing an Allied plan in World War II to destroy a Norwegian plant where the Allies thought the Nazis might be developing an atomic bomb. The hosts talked intensely about how horrific it would have been if the Nazis ever got their hands on nuclear weapons.

What would the Nazis have done with nuclear weapons that was so terrifying? Drop them on big cities? Kill hundreds of thousands of civilians? Cause genetic defects in future generations from radioactive contamination? Of course, these things DID happen, but they weren’t perpetrated by the Nazis. They were perpetrated by America. And somehow that seemed MUCH less horrific to these hosts, who of course, are Americans.

Listening to the podcast, I started thinking about how a German podcast might have talked about the dangers of America developing nuclear weapons in Germany had won the war. The reality is that both sides tried to kill as many of the “enemy” as possible. That’s how it is in war, and that’s how it’s always been. Wealthy and powerful leaders tell young people to put on outfits and slaughter young people with different outfits, and for some inexplicable reason, young people (on all sides) agree and go do it.

But the point is perspective. One person’s “horrific” event is another person’s “heroic triumph”.

This example is about countries, but the same thing is true with individuals.  We embrace a narrative that works for us, and then reject or ignore anything that doesn’t fit in our narrative.  Whether it’s a country that dropped nuclear weapons condemning another country for even thinking of developing them, or a separated parent condemning their ex for even thinking of the ex’s own best interests, we seem to be so easily stuck in our own perspective and our own narrative.

Of course, the exciting opportunity exists to recognize our narrative is only one way of “spinning” a story, which gives us the power to change our own narratives, and thereby change our lives.