Monday, June 20, 2011

A Contrast in Perspectives

Rose-Breasted Grosbeak
My husband and I love to visit the mountains of Virginia and spend time with nature, especially the birds. In fact, we enjoy birds so much that I coordinate field trips for a state organization called the Virginia Society of Ornithology – a fancy name for a group of birding enthusiasts.

Recently we held a field trip around Blacksburg, home of my alma mater, Virginia Tech. After a caravan to a beautiful location with mixed woodlands, open meadows, and wetlands, we divided the 50 participants into two groups with experienced guides to explore different trails.

As the person who puts these trips together, I want to make sure everyone has a good time. Since I could only be with one of the groups during the morning, I decided to check with a couple of people in the other group as they returned from their walk.

The contrast in their perceptions of the experience was startling.

I asked the exact same question to two individuals separately: “How was your morning?”

Barry, in a dry, monotone voice: “We saw a couple of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and Blackburnian Warblers, and that was about all that was interesting.”

Jessica, with enthusiasm: “It was fantastic! We got great looks at three Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, and they were magnificent in the sunlight. There were some beautiful Blackburnian and Black-throated Blue Warblers, too, and we had lots of birds all along the trail. What a special place this is!”

Same guide, same route, same exposure to the birds.

Vastly different reports.

Factors such as personality, age and birding experience could partly account for the variation in their descriptions. But as I observed these two individuals throughout the weekend, I concluded that what they experienced and chose to share with me reflected something bigger – the lens through which they view life.

At times I overheard Barry complain about little changes in the schedule that didn’t align with his expectations. He was easily irritated by others in the group and didn’t engage much with them. Jessica, on the other hand, was generally positive about whatever direction the field trips took, helped less experienced people locate birds that others had already found, and was eager to volunteer in any way that might benefit the group.

As I watched their responses in a variety of situations, I reflected once again on the impact that our attitudes and responses have on those around us.

Why this matters to you

Whether it’s in a work environment, a social setting, or with your family on vacation, the way you perceive what’s going on around you – and the way you react to those events – can have a profound effect on the people who hear your words and observe your behavior.

You have a choice in every situation. The people around you aren’t perfect, and events don’t always unfold according to your plans. You can experience frustration or anger and react negatively when things don’t go your way.

Or you can acknowledge the unpredictable nature of human beings and situations – and still affirm the positives.

It’s your call.

I can tell you that Jessica not only made more friends that weekend, she left a positive imprint on the minds and hearts of many people.

Any time you can contribute to another person’s happiness, you achieve a significant success in your own life. It all starts with your outlook and attitude because those influence the way you view the world and determine how you interact with others.
“The meaning of things lies not in the things themselves, but in our attitude towards them.” - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, French author (1900-1944)
“Each of us makes his own weather, determines the color of the skies in the emotional universe which he inhabits.” - Fulton J. Sheen, American Catholic bishop (1895-1979) 
“A happy person is not a person in a certain set of circumstances, but rather a person with a certain set of attitudes." - Hugh Downs, American TV announcer (1921- )

5 comments:

  1. Reality is out there, but as soon as people sense it, their highly individualized brains go to work. They filter the input through their memories, associations, beliefs and attitudes. So their experience of reality is unique and different. We can control our beliefs and attitudes. We can choose how we end up feeling about what happens to us. We make our own happiness.

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  2. Excellent points, Denny. I think we sometimes forget how much power and control we do have over our thoughts and reactions.

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  3. Some people are happier when they are in a certain set of circumstance which is favored by their attitude.

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  4. This was a fun article for me to read. I'm usually in the Jessica camp where attitudes are concerned. So many people don't even realize how good they have it, but the ones tbat do, do better.

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    1. Glad you enjoyed the article, Elisabeth. I appreciate your insights, too.

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