Sunday, August 05, 2007

Perspective, Appreciation and American Football

A friend was selling me on American Football. I had to take him seriously, he is a Kiwi and therefore surely pre-disposed to thinking that American Football players are pillow-clad pussies. From what I knew of the game, besides the legendary one-hour-of-play, three-hours-of-advertising ratio, the silliest thing about it is that the players, instead of having to think about their own tactics are merely pawns, blindly doing the coach's bidding, banging and crashing into each other without any real skill.

He explained that, from his point of view, the merit of the game was in just that - the skill of each coach as he battles it out with his opponent, planning moves like a chess player, using anticipation and surprise, and manipulating the skills of the players to achieve a planned result, while working in a flexible, ever-changing framework. Yes, the players are pawns. That is the beauty of it. His appreciation of the coach's role changed my perspective.

Now to babies. My mother always told me that my ambivalence towards children would change when I had my own. I never felt that this was sufficient reason to have them - what exactly would make my kids so compelling? Would they do tricks just for me? Is it the endless cups of tea you can train them to bring when they get older? No need for a dishwasher?

Two conversations: Firstly, a friend who had also been ambivalent, and now has a baby daughter. He explained, very succinctly and clearly, the problems associated with having a child, the lifestyle changes, the lack of time for self, the restrictions on freedom both financially and geographically, the need to move house to a less desirable area to accommodate the baby, to forgo travel and films, the sleeplessness.... And then, he described, in succinct and clear terms, the joy of watching her grow, her little arms waving and fingers grasping, the ooos and aaahs of first vowel sounds, and her smiling at him, how everyday is something new, how this little person comes into being. He would sit for hours and just watch her wiggle her fingers. The emotional attachment surprises him, I think, but it's a welcome surprise. Clearly, the benefits outweigh the ambivalence; she gives so much, without even trying. His appreciation of her, just as she is, so far outweighs the negatives as to make them like stains on a shirt you were never that fond of anyway.

Another friend tells me her one year old has started painting pictures with his poo. I tell her she's not helping my ambivalence.

Appreciation, it seems, is a catalyst in refreshing a view into a positive perspective.

Our world, our life, whatever meaning we give to it and the happiness we find in it are intrinsically tied to our perspective. If happiness is what we want, then can we use appreciation as a tool to gaining a more positive perspective?

I saw Transformers a few weeks ago. Now, considering I had no choice but to stay in the theatre, (Dad was blocking my way out), would it have been possible for me to appreciate something about the film, and therefore make it more enjoyable for myself? Probably.

In the very least, changing perspective at least changes a memory - rather than recalling a sense of anger or frustration, (eg at Transformers), my memory of the event may as well be neutral. This wouldn't mean I;d recommend it to anyone else, but at least I'm improving my experience of it.

Some grown up children seem to shed appreciation for their parents. I saw Michael Moore's Sicko last week, and besides convincing me to go back to New Zealand should I ever have a serious illness, the film examined a couple who, because of ongoing chronic illnesses, were forced to move into their daughter's basement.

The daughter hadn't even cleaned the room, it was covered in her kids' junk. The parents, one suffering from cancer, the other having had multiple heart attacks (or strokes, I'm not entirely sure), were then subjected to a tirade by their son who complained of having to move them every few months because of their reduced financial circumstances. The parents responded to his angry words by apologising for the situation - apologizing for having cancer! Apologizing for having had health insurance, but still being unable to pay! They were miserable.

Would it have been possible for the daughter and son to have changed their perspective on this situation through appreciation? In such inevitable circumstances, I'm sure even the hardest of hearts could not have turned away their parents . How they dealt with it though, was up to them, up to how they used their minds.

Appreciation of their parents, especially given the very real possibility that they might not be with them a whole lot longer, could have given the adult children a new perspective on spending time with them.

(a quick note - this IS a Michael Moore film and I have no idea of the background of this family. Also, it is very possible that the whole untidy- room set up was supported by the documentary makers, and the son's anger was in fact directed towards the healthcare system after all).

To appreciate being alive is, in my opinion, at once the hardest to keep top of mind, yet and the most rock-solid in the infinite universe of possible subjects of appreciation. Whether subjectively or objectively, the mere being here, right now, is wondrous.After all, death, or, not-life, is inevitable. Life is not inevitable. Or rather, this life, this one I am living, this one where I get to choose...this is not inevitable. Unless I'd rather be dead, which I wouldn't, then I can consider myself fortunate.

And yet, in wealthy countries, our levels of depression continue to rise despite measurable gains in wealth, health and education. One of the factors involved is our continual desire to be not who we are, to compare ourselves to others and to want what we have not got. Our media feeds it to us everyday, telling us that happiness comes in a bottle, from a fast car, new handbag, or from being prettier and more popular than everyone else.

So it's easy to forget that simply being alive is incredible. Perhaps this is a factor in what makes babies the little delivery vans of joy - here's proof, right here, that life is amazing! Each baby will have its own unique story. Nothing in its life is inevitable, except death.

Would the prospect of death incur a similar response -a reminder that life is incredible, or a reminder that life is so brief? We do not have joy about people being old, cancer-ridden or dependent on us in old age, in the way we thrive on dependence in the young. It's like we hardly believe it'll happen to us. To me. To you.

The parents of the children in Sicko will die, and most likely, before the children do. The lives of the parents, once so precious to their parents, will have expired. But right now, they are alive. And the fact that they are alive, and have unique stories, is in itself incredible.

Sometimes when I'm walking down the sunlit road in Manhattan, on days when the trees are green and there isn't too much traffic, it is easy to appreciate my life just as it is. Then it's also relatively easy to compare: I am better off financially than many of my peers. I live in a great area, my work circumstances are stable. And then, even more, I am better off in myriad ways than women all over the world (the burka clad women of The Bookseller of Kabul often come to mind). I am better off than people living in previous centuries. There are infinite ways to compare my circumstances that lead to a further appreciation of my state - just as there are myriad ways to compare myself unfavorably. And since it is my mind, I can choose.

In a capitalist society choosing to appreciate current circumstances, well, it isn't really the point, right! Especially here, in the heart of capitalism.

Appreciation is the catalyst for gaining a positive perspective, and therefore a happier mind.

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