The Importance of Perspective

Without historical perspective it is far too easy to become discouraged or depressed by the world around us. Lighten up! It’s not as bad as it seems.


I love online media. 

I’ve always been a devotee of newspapers and magazines, able to be wholly absorbed into as many as I can get my hands on; a trip to the doctor or dentist, although maybe not all that much fun in itself, has always held the favorite and peculiar fringe benefit of allowing me to go early and dig through the waiting room magazine racks without the guilty feeling I’m simply wasting time.  I have to be there, right?  And in college and graduate school both, countless trips to the library – with all good intentions of focused and efficient academic research – devolved into hours spent digging through and pouring over articles completely unrelated to my original intentions. 

So now, in an era where almost every major, minor, and specialty daily and periodical has an easily accessible – and usually free - online presence, we have ascended to reading junkie heaven!  We are firmly entrenched in the information age and more people than ever are able to instantly connect with literally thousands of media sources through their own personal computer – just like you’re doing right now.

Online media is uniquely revealing about its readers.  Rather than being one-way conduits of information, most online media follows the philosophy of the internet as community and allows and encourages readers to talk back, either by creating comment boards for individual articles or the publication in general, or by maintaining a social media presence wherein content is posted for all to see, share, and talk about.   

Unfortunately, what’s often revealed through comments made in response to articles or news stories is a glaring lack of historical and cultural perspective.  That’s probably not a surprise to most of you; that most Americans lack such perspective is hardly news, and has been decried for generations by those who have it and care about it.  What really concerns me about it, however, and is the central point of this article is twofold: 

First, reading comments posted by law enforcement professionals on this and similar online police sites clearly shows many of us have no better grasp of those historical and cultural perspectives than the common citizen and,

Second, that lack of perspective may promote a sort of fatalism within the profession that threatens the well-being of officers afflicted with it, the morale of their agencies and peers, and ultimately the communities they serve as morale bleeds effective police service.     

Distance has the same effect on the mind as on the eye. - Samuel Johnson

Perspective is most easily understood when first considered as a function of vision and how the “view” changes relative to distance.  If you’ve ever flown into a relatively poor tropical area you may be able to relate to this.  As you approach for landing and peer out the window of your plane, a lush green landscape unfolds below.  Small settlements and villages, suburbs of sorts for the busy tourist area you’re traveling to, pop into view and you are struck by their picturesque quaintness and how simple life looks from above.  You see buildings of bright pastels, meandering streams flowing through the villages and specks of what must certainly be children splashing in them and playing on their banks.  Interspersed with the green vegetation are brightly colored trees and flowers, lending an exotic beauty to the scene.  The villages pop out of sight as you get closer to the airport and eventually land, and then you’re whisked off to the resort. 

Later, on a tour to the jungle, you are driven through one of the villages you earlier passed over at 3000 feet and are shocked by how relative distance changes impressions.  The people are living in abject poverty.  Children indeed play on the riverbanks and cavort in the water, which your senses tell you doubles as playground and raw sewage reservoir.  The angry screams of a man and woman, and the fearful cries of an infant, emanate from a shack - the tongue may be foreign but you’ve been a cop long enough to know a domestic when you hear one – while a surly crowd of youths stand outside and pay the fight no mind as they eye your tour bus contemptuously.  A dead animal, decomposing beyond recognition, lies rotting in the street where it fell days before.  No one can be bothered to move or bury it.

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