Relativity and Perspective

Posted on October 7, 2014 by Robert Ringer

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Some years ago, while on a nationwide seminar tour, I happened to be staying overnight in Houston. After a particularly tiring, stressful day, I made an appointment for a massage at the health spa in the hotel where I was staying. By the time my appointment rolled around, I was in a pretty gruff mood and looking forward to having someone work on my tired body.

As I finished putting my clothes in a locker and wrapping a towel around my waist, a spa worker greeted me and asked me to follow him to my assigned massage room. It crossed my mind as a bit unusual that the masseur himself did not come out to greet me, but, being exhausted and stressed, I didn’t give it too much thought.

After entering the massage room, the masseur introduced himself, shook my hand, and asked me to lie facedown on the table. As I began to get onto the massage table, I happened to notice that the masseur was staring straight ahead. I immediately did a mental double take, then instantly was jolted out of my own little myopic world. It was evident that the masseur (“Paul”) was blind.

I soon felt comfortable enough to ask him if he had been blind all his life. “No,” Paul responded, “it happened about thirty years ago, when I was nineteen years old.” He went on to explain that he was planning to become a doctor, and was attending a summer orientation session at a special training school in Oklahoma for a few weeks.

While there, he became friendly with another young man (“Charles”), who took him into his confidence and told him about a lucrative scam he was operating. Charles explained that he had a ring of college students cashing counterfeit checks he had printed up, and was giving them a percentage of the take.

After a time, Charles asked Paul if he would like to get in on the deal. Paul immediately told him that he wasn’t interested, and thought that would be the end of the matter.

But later that night, Charles came to Paul’s motel room and pulled a gun on him. He told Paul that he had no choice but to kill him, because he knew too much about his criminal enterprise. Without even giving him an opportunity to promise that he would never mention it to anyone, Charles shot Paul in the head. He assumed he was dead, and left him lying on the floor in a pool of blood.

The bullet had severed Paul’s right optic nerve, and he was later told that his left eye could have been saved had he been taken to a hospital right away. Instead, he lay on the floor for eighteen hours before he was found, and blood clotting and other complications caused him to lose the sight in his left eye as well. In a voice of resignation that I will never forget, Paul concluded his tragic story by saying, “And I’ve been blind ever since.”

I suddenly found myself thinking of all the things I take for granted that Paul had never experienced. In his entire adult life, he hasn’t seen a beautiful woman, a spectacular sunset, or a magnificent painting.

Lying on the massage table, my fatigue and stress seemed to fade away as these sobering thoughts pervaded my mind. How right Socrates was when he said, “If all our misfortunes were laid in one common heap whence everyone must take an equal portion, most people would be contented to take their own.”

My experience with the blind masseur in Houston had a major effect on my life by helping me keep perceived problems, injustices, and adversities in proper perspective. By perspective, I’m talking about the capacity to view things on their relative level of importance.

Today you’re passed over for a promotion, and you think the world is coming to an end. Tomorrow you lose your job, and a promotion is no longer important to you; you just yearn to have your job back. Then you lose your health, and suddenly you realize how good you had it when your only problem was not having a job.

When it gets down to it, I believe that one of the main reasons we have such difficulty seeing our everyday problems in a relative light is that we take ourselves too seriously. There’s a fine line between pathos and humor, and one of the many advantages that a human being has over every other species is that he possesses the capacity to transcend himself, i.e., the ability to detach himself both from situations and from his own thoughts.

One of the unique ways in which he is able to accomplish this is through the use of humor. As with transcendence, man is the only living creature who can laugh at himself. He can choose not to see every problem, every injustice, and every adversity as a life-or-death matter.

Fortunately, we have been given the ability to view our problems in a relative light. Not every bad break turns out to be a problem; not every problem is a bona fide injustice; and not every injustice is of major importance when juxtaposed against the millions of injustices that occur daily throughout the world.

To paraphrase Charles Dickens’s first paragraph in A Tale of Two Cities: It was the best of times; it was the worst of times; it was, in fact, pretty much like any other time. Which is to say that crises come and go, but only one time in history is the world going to come to an end — and one thing about which you can be certain is that you won’t be around to remember how it happened anyway.

Learning to view things in a relative light is a skill that is almost certain to add many quality years to your life.

Robert Ringer

+Robert Ringer is an American icon whose unique insights into life have helped millions of readers worldwide. He is also the author of two New York Times #1 bestselling books, both of which have been listed by The New York Times among the 15 best-selling motivational books of all time.

47 responses to “Relativity and Perspective”

  1. RAM says:

    There is an old saying that God invented whiskey to prevent the Irish from ruling the world. I imagine He created laughter for the same reason. However, as Irish as I am and as much as I enlist humor, I find it difficult to laugh at the Kid from Kenya…if you know who I mean. RAM

  2. Marte says:

    Thanks Robert. This is a message I needed to hear today. I'm dealing with something that I know is temporary, but is a major annoyance and hindrance right now. I COULD be like the masseur and dealing with something permanent.

    Thank you again.

  3. Anthony Schuman says:

    In elementary school we went to school assemblies about once a month. Every year a local resident came to give us a talk. He spoke about his youth growing up in segregated Alabama, the son of a sharecropper, grandson of a slave. During the Depression his family moved out to California for a better life. He got a scholarship to UCLA, starring in football, basketball and track and field. During World War II, he served as an officer in the Army. After the war, he went back to play his first love, baseball, starring in the Negro Leagues. Finally, on April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League baseball for the Brooklyn Dodgers. The 2 major points that he taught us kids were: 1) Don't complain. Branch Rickey actually wrote that into every one of his major league contracts. 2) There is no discrimination against excellence. It did not matter whether or not we were black or white, Irish or Italian, Puerto Rican or Polish. Every time I go back to a High School reunion, I am amazed at how successful so many of my classmates have become. Even though none of us came from wealthy or influential families and many lived in the towns slums, they became doctors, lawyers, teachers, professors, business people, authors and many other professions. One of my classmates had Tourettes Syndrome her entire life and recently wrote a book about her life experiences, My Life with Tourettes. Given the right encouragement and examples, it is amazing what kids will do with their lives. My sole question to you now is where are the Jackie Robinsons delivering this same message to students today?

  4. John M. Williams says:

    While I found your piece moving and sad at the same time, I had two thoughts based on the content of your piece. I grew up with a blind friend and he was quick to point out with the things he felt and experienced because of his blindness, he was pretty sure his classmates with vision couldn't experience the heightened tactile, touch, and smell experiences he had. He fully accepted his misfortune. Since a successful massage therapist is a professional who can experience another's body in extraordinary ways, he is fortunate to have found a profession that utilizes his gifts. While the circumstances of his injury were extraordinarily sad, I have worked with hundreds of clients with much greater misfortunes than his.The extraordinary person is the one who accepts his misfortune rather than resigns himself to it.

    • anon says:

      "While the circumstances of his injury were extraordinarily sad, I have worked with hundreds of clients with much greater misfortunes than his." And that makes this guy's situation good? I don't get people who always have to top somebody else's story

  5. Robby Bonfire says:

    Are not dissident groups taking themselves too seriously the biggest problem in our world today, and for its future implications?

  6. RealitySeeker says:

    "I soon felt comfortable enough to ask him if he had been blind all his life."

    Nice story, really, and I, too, have a few tragic, third-world stories like that one, but, unfortunately, I never have to travel very far to "see" how the ignorant masses with their 20/20 vision can still be blind, if you know what I mean.

    "but only one time in history is the world going to come to an end — and one thing about which you can be certain is that you won’t be around to remember how it happened anyway."

    In time it shall, indeed, end, but many, many times past parts of the world already came to an end as the blind where leading the blind. And once again the world is due for similar event. It's just a matter of time. In that regard I have my own little story.

    ………….While driving down the road one day I came upon a big, black crow feasting on a dead rabbit that failed to realize just how dangerous it was to hop across the highway. Because of this ignorance the rabbit's "world came to an end". The crow, on the other hand, was not blind and turned the road into his advantage by feasting on some roadkill. Just before I zoomed over the dead rabbit the crow paused and hopped to one side yielding and thereby avoiding the end of his world…

    I pulled over my car about fifty yards on down so I could observe the crow repeat his move over and over again. By and by another crow landed and joined the first so as to devour the rabbit. However, this second crow's world also came to an abrupt end because he failed to make the hop.

    The moral of the story is just before the end comes zooming down on the ignorant it's best if you know how to hop out of the way.

    Ebola is zooming down the road. Nuclear war is zooming down the road. Economic collapse is zooming down the road. One car after another is zooming straight at the rabbits, tortoises and birds of a feather. Somebody is going to be picking thier carcases.

  7. Jose Adame says:

    Very good article, as in most of your articles I always learn something new from your perspective. Thank you for sharing your wisdom with us.

  8. Penny says:

    Very insightful. Too bad that most people will never get it. Some think that the more drama they generate the better. I've been blind all my life, and if there's one thing I've learned it's that there will always be people worse off than I am. So, when adversity strikes, I puff and snort for a while. Then I solve the problem, or move on. Life is to short to take myself or my blindness seriously. BTW, did you hear the one about the blind guy who walked into a bar?

  9. JustWOndering says:

    Robert, were you raised Jewish? Some of these ideas are commonly taught in the Jewish community.

    • Richard Lee Van says:

      So many of my literary and intellectual heroes were or are Jewish. Is there something innately superior within the Jewish Genes? I've been curious. And then there are the seeming "dumb groups"… LOL

  10. Richard Lee Van Der Voort says:

    I met a man who during his first battle as a Marine in Viet Nam had one of his eyes knocked out by a piece of shrapnel. He was somewhat embittered by his loss of vision in one eye. I told him he was lucky! He thought I was crazy. Then I explained that he got out of the war in which he might’ ve been killed, and, received disability money thereafter. He replied that he’d never “looked” at his situation that way. How odd, I thought. PERSPECTIVE!

  11. A. Ganesan says:

    Dear Mr. R.Ringer, I admire your time you spend to get the "subtle message of life" you are trying to bring to all of us !
    Please keep up with your dharma of disseminating the intellect[knowledge] .
    May the Lord bless you for your selfless service.

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