A matter of perspective

A few years ago I showed my older son a videoclip of the song 'All I Need' by Radiohead. I always loved the music of this band and when I saw the clip, which I find very beautiful, I thought he would like to see it. Student and practitioner of an instrument with an essentially classical repertoire, he is always open to learn about forms of musical expression different than the ones he hears in the conservatory. For those who do not know it, the video illustrates, in a screen divided in half, one day in the life of a first world’s boy and the same day lived by a group of child workers in some unidentified Asian country. This dichotomy between completely conflicting lives, with opposite degrees of difficulty and hardness, inevitably makes us think about issues such as the economic, social or cultural environment in which we are born and how it influences our lives and the opportunities that arise ahead. It also makes us relativize the apparent difficulties in everyday life and get the sense that, although at the time they appear to be insurmountable, under normal circumstances these problems are bridgeable with lesser or greater effort. In most cases, it is fair to say that the way we live depends essentially on the choices we make, adaptability we acquire and the level of demand that we impose on ourselves. We have or had the opportunities and for better or worse, we also have the free will to make of our lives what we want.

All these considerations are decidedly truer if our childhood was, in essence, similar with what is pictured on the left side of the screen in the video of Radiohead. I do not necessarily believe in determinism and I think that however obstacles life puts ahead of us, we can always aspire to something else, set higher personal goals and, why not, overcome them. We can even turn the page of particularly unhappy or painful situations and achieve objectives that may have seemed, at times, remote or absurd. That ambition, or aspirational quality, is essential to the realization of any project, whether personal or professional.

But I recognize that there may be circumstances where the influence of all that surrounds you can be so overwhelming as to cut any chance of realize your aspirations or even to have them. These are extreme situations in which what is at stake is the most basic daily survival. Many people around the world live in these conditions. Fortunately, I never had, nor did most people I know, to experience such extreme and miserable conditions. We may live in a particularly difficult time, discouraging or even depressive, but we move in a cocoon of comfort and well being that should allow us to relativize the difficulties. We also have the option to decide to change, risk, seek job opportunities elsewhere or in other fields of work . The adaptability I was speaking about. In the end, I think it's really a matter of perspective, to be able to achieve an objective weighing of the scales.

At the end of the video my son, then about 10 years old, told me he liked it very much, both the music and the images. Encouraged by his response I risked the obvious question: ‘With which of the realities presented in the video did he identified the most?’ His answer was not what I expected to hear and I confess the perplexity that I felt at the time. Probably influenced by the fact of being accustomed to having to make the bed, tidy the room and help with some household tasks, not always with evident pleasure, my son did identified himself with the hard everyday life of the child workers pictured on the right side of the screen.

When I could make him see the obvious injustice and absurdity of his answer, and how lucky he was to live how and where he lives, he changed, ashamed, his opinion.

Again, it's all a matter of perspective ...