In this shining new Grecian age of the perfectibility of man, people curiously look upon the past as a barbarous relic. In those days of yesteryear, mediocrity and incompetence became a fine art. Clay feet were the norm, and the wider culture reflected this norm in its art: movies about drug addicts, musicals about squatters in Greenwich Village, paintings that depicted nothing save a jumble of spatters of paint on canvas. The men and women of today scratch their heads in confusion over the people who inhabited this previous world. What on earth motivated them to wallow in their simpering, empty, listless lives?
The people also recall that their recent ancestors lived on the brink of destruction, electing ever more dictatorial leaders who boastfully prided themselves on their ignorance of history and economics. Then, at a critical juncture, a new age of rationality began to take hold as people rejected the nostrums they heard everyday in the mass media. A once silent minority of men who valued their lives so much that they refused to give into the irrationality they saw around them set about forging for themselves a new future. The culture at large saw them as kooks and radicals, but they failed to see the one thing that set these men apart: they possessed an indomitable sprit. They refused to give up.
The above is a fable, of course. My goal in presenting it was not to wish for a utopia that doesn't exist, but to highlight how one's focus can determine the outcome of one's life. Over dinner some weeks ago, one of my housemate's friends dominated the conversation by insisting that she could discern other people's character flaws. She thus possessed the ability to figure out how messed up the people around her were, or so she claimed. I said little in reply, other than to point out that my method was to look first for virtues in others and only reject them if they proved unworthy of my attention.
I rarely have found reasons to reject people I deal with. Most everyone I have known over the course of my life has had some good traits and I have found their company valuable to me to one degree or another. I choose my associations carefully and if I sense that someone is lacking in virtue, I minimise my contact with them. Put simply, I don't have to become best friends with a barista. I only care that he makes an excellent coffee. And so it goes for all the people I choose to deal with, from co-workers, to friends, to romantic partners.
It is extraordinarily difficult to maintain my position, but as I have grown older, it has become easier. Habits begun as a young man are now second nature to me, but the world today can constantly challenge a positive outlook. I rarely find others willing to challenge cultural norms to the degree that I do, but they do exist. Those others who do exist prove to be the ray of sunlight I need to soldier on.
Over that dinner conversation, I struggled to come up with an expression to describe the disagreement with my flaw-obsessed interlocutor, but then it hit me: this person looks through the eyeglass in reverse. I find it describes the viewpoint perfectly: in looking through the wrong end of a telescope, objects appear smaller and distorted - flawed even. If, on the other hand, one looks through the right end, one's field of vision expands, enabling one to see with greater depth and clarity those objects ordinarily invisible to the naked eye. It's what I do every day.
Perhaps, instead of blindly accepting the popular wisdom of the day by looking through the wrong end of a telescope, you too can widen your field of vision by flipping it around for a change. Try it sometime. The results might surprise you.