Perspective and Choice
Updated: Oct 17, 2022
From the stillness of perspective, you get to choose the quality of your experience. It is the power of this choice that determines our lives.
One of my favorite movies is Life Is Beautiful, which tells the story of a fictional Italian couple and their young son in World War II Italy who face the indignation of rising antisemitism and the eventual horrors of life in a concentration camp. Remarkably, the movie is able to tastefully make us laugh and smile, mainly as a result of the father’s comical and valiant attempts to convince his son that they are not in a Nazi death camp but rather are characters in an elaborate game in which keeping the boy successfully hidden is the key to winning. Played by Academy Award winning actor Roberto Benigni, the father makes a powerful choice to manufacture joy amidst the most horrific of circumstances. Watching the movie, one can’t help but recall the famous quote from Victor Frankl, himself a concentration camp survivor: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
The film offers so many valuable lessons. Lessons about parenting, about courage, about love, about leadership. There are two lessons in particular that I want to share. The first is about perspective – the ability to place one’s experience in a wider context. Perspective always came naturally to me. As a young boy growing up in Europe in a Jewish family and culture, I remember regularly grounding my own (often volatile) experience in the awareness that someone, somewhere had it much worse than I did. Life Is Beautiful reminds us that even in the toughest of times, there are others who are experiencing something more challenging.
With perspective, the second lesson of the movie – choice – becomes available to us. The actions of the father remind us that we get to choose how we experience any situation, no matter how difficult. In the film, an innocent little boy escapes the horrors of a concentration camp because of a powerful choice made by his father. It was the power of this choice – one that is available to us at all times – that defines the movie. It is the power of this choice that determines our lives.
Today, we face a political, social, and economic reality that is increasingly unclear and unsettling. In your role as a parent or leader, now is the time to ground yourself in perspective. In the lessons of history. In your relative position in the world. And even in the cosmic insignificance of being human. And from the stillness of perspective, you get to choose the quality of your experience. Choose wisely.
A song I’ve been listening to repeatedly this week: “Alive” by Rufus du Sol. When the song was released last year, I dedicated it as an anthem to my dear friend Peter Fortenbagh who, at the time, was entering the final stage of his multi-year battle with cancer. Peter passed a little over a week ago. He leaves behind his beautiful wife and three children, and a community and thousands of children indebted to his two decades of selfless service as the CEO of the Boys and Girls Club of the Peninsula. Over the past year, I have had the privilege of watching Peter’s heart open completely as he learned and taught how to love and be loved fully. He left the world a significantly better place.
David Brooks’ recent opinion piece, “The Crisis of Men and Boys,” is an important read.
A quote I discovered recently: “Action is the antidote to despair.” Joan Baez