The Power of Perspective


A couple of nights ago I came home from work seriously bummed out. I work a junior position at the UN that I’m grossly overqualified for and yet there is virtually zero chance of upward mobility due to the UN’s medievally hierarchical and absurd human resources machinery. Nevertheless, I was not even pissed about that. I had discovered that even a lateral move within my office (which would involve more writing) was also not an option. So I trudged home grumpily and started to get depressed – not a withering clinical depression (that attacks out of the blue) – just a garden-variety mope.

However, what started as resentment at the UN morphed into anger at the whole Christmas period. My loathing of Christmas is deeply rooted in my father walking out on my mother and I on Christmas when I was 12 years old (and already confused and exasperated enough with suddenly having a terminal erection day in and day out). The bitter memories of my mother descending into an alcoholic abyss of despair in the ensuing months have deeply tarnished my feelings towards Christmas. Beyond that personal bias, I am also at the head of the pack of those who abhor the tsunami of greed that is unleashed, especially here in the developed world, at this time of year. It especially irks me to see this in these times of grave economic uncertainty where the very same individuals who are screaming at their governments and business communities for having so stupidly and recklessly pissed away or loaned away so much money, are now maxing out their own credit cards. And so many of these cards have credit ceilings on them that are so astronomically high they cannot ever possibly be paid back – unless, of course, the Grinch truly does steal Christmas next year and means it this time or… guess what? They are bailed out – typically by people who can’t even afford to bail them out. Retired parents living on a modest pension come to mind.

Anyway, I could spend the rest of this blog railing against Christmas but to get back to tracking my crappy mood the other night – I also began getting down on what an awful year 2011 has been. On a personal level, at the beginning of the year I underwent a devastating breakup with my girlfriend of 7 years – a breakup which has left me shell-shocked and heartbroken and single for God-only-knows how long (people my age typically bore me and most of the people I hang out with are 10-20 years younger than me). I am also extremely concerned about my daughter. To my utter dismay, she is gaining weight at an alarming rate. All of my concerns about this have fallen on the deaf and indifferent ears of her mother (who has my daughter under her care 80% of the time in lovely Hamilton, Ontario where sunken-cheeked people wander around fruitlessly searching for a pleasant place to die). Also, my daughter is almost 11 years old and I think she may be going through early onset puberty as she has been quite sullen and morose recently. In any event, I was feeling anxiety about her and the sense of helplessness and sadness that she is not here with me more just exacerbated my mood.

I then started thinking about all the general upheaval and turmoil in the world in 2011. Disaster in Japan. Arab Spring. Occupy Movement. Eurozone Crisis. Climate change…

Feeling waves of anxiety swelling in I came back to ruminating on the betrayals of trust I endured growing up that have left me damaged and damaging throughout my adult life.

And then I couldn’t write and… just as I was about to curl up under the covers and cry myself to sleep, I read a chapter of a book my mother gave me awhile ago. It’s a simple financial advice book titled The Wealthy Barber Returns by Canadian David Chilton. It dispenses very basic but essential advice for idiots like myself (thanks for the subtle hint there Mum). The chapter I read is called ‘The Power of Perspective’ and it contains the old call for a good, old-fashioned reality check when you start to feel down and overly sorry for yourself. Here is what Chilton reminds us:

Frustrated that you can’t locate a high-speed wireless connection? Remind yourself that more than a billion people don’t have electricity. Annoyed that you don’t have stainless-steel appliances? Keep in mind that one in six people in the world goes to bed hungry every night. Our pets live more comfortably than half the Earth’s population… It’s mind-boggling but true that the average Canadian lives a much better life than did the kings and queens of wealthy empires just decades ago. That’s decades, not centuries.

As I put the book down, my iPhone suddenly lit up with a text message reminding me about meeting for beer after work the next day. I stared at the message lying in the gadget in my hand and I suddenly thought of my foster child. Through Children’s International, over the past 3 years I have sponsored a young girl in India named Mashiha Zakir. This is her picture:

Mashiha lives with her parents and 3 siblings. The family’s income is $106/month. My iPhone costs me, with all the bells and whistles I put on it, $115/month. My toy phone costs more in a month than Mashiha’s entire family of 6 earns in a month. I supplement that monthly income by chipping in an extra $25/month = almost 25% of the family’s monthly income. I am like a God that has come down from heaven to this family. For what? When I go to the pub after work, which is once or twice a week, I have 2 pints of Moose Head Ale = $15 tax and tip included. In other words, two trips to the pub costs me $30. That is $5 more than I give Mashiha’s family a month. For what? For 4 pints of beer. That’s what.

I looked around me. I live in a beautiful condo – one that I own on the Plateau in lovely Montreal, a city I adore and which has been my home for almost 25 years. I don’t have many possessions but I have top-of-the-line appliances, a big TV, an iMac, a laptop PC… the iPhone…

I think how I was being pissy about my job. That job brings in what an $85,000/year job would bring in if I wasn’t an international civil servant and had to pay income tax. The hours are 9-5, I get 6 weeks of paid vacation a year, an awesome pension plan, full health and dental… and I’m complaining?

I think of everything I have that most of the world’s population would kill for. A beautiful home in a beautiful city. A good job. Friends and family who love and support me. And the most beautiful daughter in the world. She’s gaining weight, is no longer a child and lives in Hamilton (not the prettiest place on earth but no shithole either). So what? Get over it Andrew.

Thank you David Chilton and dear Mashiha. I wish you both a very happy Christmas…

About Requiem for the Damned

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