Last week, I had an encounter with someone I love and care about that did not go well, despite my truest intentions. I replayed the scenario repeatedly in my mind trying to understand what I could have done differently, but all I could do is marvel at how different our perspectives were on the very same set of circumstances.
Baffled, all I could think of was the age-old joke:
An optimist, a pessimist, and an engineer walk into a bar and there is a glass that is half filled. The optimist says: “The glass is half full”. The pessimist says: “The glass is half empty”. The engineer says: “The glass is two times too big.”
A reminder, albeit a humorous one, that life is about perspective.
Perspective. I needed a perspective on perspective. Is that even a thing? Is that possible? Not sure what I would find, let alone if it would be helpful, I set out searching for a direction. And the best place to look for the answer to a new question? An old book. So that is exactly where I started.
While I found many stories and parables about perspective, what resonated most with me was a Sufi story. When I read it, I knew I had heard the story before, yet it remained long forgotten.
One day, a student of the legendary wise fool Mullah Nasruddin went to visit him at his home. When Mullah opened the door, he was overjoyed to see his student. “My friend, just in time … you can help me draw water from the well. Here take the bucket and follow me.”
The student followed Mullah to the well and watched while he began to pull water from the well and splash it in the bucket the student was holding. “No problem,” he thought to himself.
After a few moments, he began to notice that the level of the water in the bucket was not rising very quickly. He chanced to look underneath the bucket. It was leaking almost as much as Mullah put in each time.
“Mullah, you idiot! Can’t you see that the bucket is leaking!”
“My friend,” Mullah responded, “I was only looking at the top of the bucket. What does the bottom have to do with it?”
What does the bottom have to do with it? A matter of perspective.
And so it was. Only this time, the lesson was twofold.
First, when you question life, it is very frustrating to be confronted with the fact that what you were hoping could be attributed (aka blamed) on someone else, is actually, more often than not, your issue to begin with.
Secondly, just like Mullah Nasruddin, I was focused only on what I was getting. My mindset was consumed with calculating how much I could receive. I was looking for ”more,” more love, more understanding, more acknowledgement. Truth is, knowing that I could never get enough of these, despite the equally true intentions of those around me, my bucket will never be full.
The equal yet opposite perspective is I had never stopped to calculate how much I had already been given. Maybe worse, I never thought about how I had used the love, understanding, and acknowledgment I had already received.
And so it is. A matter of perspective.
Before you look at what you are receiving, before you calculate how much more your bucket can hold, whether it be love, understanding, friendship, or gifts, make sure that your bucket has a solid bottom. Because if it doesn’t, you will always be unsatisfied.
What does the bottom have to do with it? Everything.