On Perspective Taking


One of the best things about the Families in Global Transition Conference this past week was the diversity of perspectives from around the world. While all of us had an deep interest in living between worlds, we all come to it with different perspectives.

Perspective taking – it’s something I think about a lot. Below is a short video where I talk about perspective taking. Enjoy, and please add your comments on what you think it takes to hear the other side.

On Perspective Taking from Marilyn Gardner on Vimeo.


I looked out of floor to ceiling windows and gave a small gasp. The view was from the 31st floor of the Federal Reserve Building in Boston, Boston’s third tallest building. With the harbor directly beneath me and other tall buildings to the side, I could see for miles. It was what I think people call a bird’s-eye view – that view above the crowds, above the trees, seeing over all below.

Minutes before I had jostled and maneuvered my way through the thick crowd of people, down through one tunnel only to emerge two minutes later up another tunnel after a short subway ride. On the plaza of the building I could see only what was in my immediate vicinity; the man on his blackberry, an annoyed look on his face, evidence that it would be a long Friday;the woman with a baby in a stroller, perhaps en route to daycare; the school bus waiting at the traffic light next to a large red suburban utility vehicle, out-of-place among city cars and traffic as it honked its loud suburban horn. My view was only as far as my contact-lens corrected vision.

On the plaza of the building I could see only what was in my immediate vicinity

But up on the 31st floor that all changed. I had a 360 degree view. I could see the gold-dome of the state house from the windows to my left; the harbor straight in front of me;a helicopter about eye-view; the school bus and red suburban now at a different light. I could see miles instead of inches, the big view replaced the small.

Perspective. We have all kinds of clichés that attempt to capture this: “Can’t see the forest for the trees” or “In the long run” are two such phrases. But nothing really captures perspective in the way that this view did.

While the analogy was initially obvious, I keep on going back to the scene. I am fully convinced that there is a God who has a far wider, broader view than my beautiful perch on the 31st floor. I am equally convinced that part of my job is to remember this.

But. And I think this is a big But. I also think that my job of paying attention to the detail around me is equally important. There’s very little I can affect from the 31st floor. Had the woman with the stroller stumbled, there would be nothing I could do. Yes I had perspective of the bigger picture, but I was removed from being able to do anything about the smaller picture that fed into the larger. I couldn’t influence, I couldn’t affect change.

It’s a balance I think, but not only a balance, it’s a willingness to enter into my perspective completely, without reservation, even while having faith that there is something more going on. And maybe that’s the true meaning of perspective. Faith in what I don’t see in order to participate fully in what I do see.

What about you? When you think of the big picture, how does it affect the smaller?