Ask any architect or painter what perspective is, and they might tell you that it is the representation of three-dimensional objects onto flat surfaces in the same way as the eye sees things. There are several ways of projecting, or drawing, objects onto surfaces, but the special thing with perspective is that it mimics the way light rays converge to one point—the eye—to form a clear image. As you read this text and appreciate the distinct curves of the letterforms, or as you look out the window and take in the myriad textures of life, all those visual details in the form of light rays have to travel and assemble through your eyes before you can perceive things.
One key principle of perspective is that as the distance of an object from the observer increases, its size as projected on the paper decreases. It’s not difficult to see that this principle in drawing, worded a little differently, is the same as an essential insight about life: that the further things are from you, the smaller it becomes in your mind. It’s not simply about physical distance, however.
Take the example of international travel. Those who are fortunate enough to have seen the sights of other countries come back only to say the same things. “It was an eye opener,” “It has broadened my perspective.” They say these as if their own country has nothing anymore to offer in the way of eye-opening sights. Send a teacher abroad, and she will come back talking about their wonderful, well-funded schools. Send a doctor abroad, and he will come back talking about their wonderful, well-equipped hospitals.
But would you expect the doctor to come home and discuss the quality of foreign schools first thing at the airport? Of course not. Because to broaden your perspective is to see more of the world, at the cost of missing the precious details. To project the three-dimensional world onto the stretches of your understanding is to draw the world in selective strokes. The things that you have seen in your life define your perspective. The things that interest you define the distance between you and the things you sense, such that the things that are physically right next to you may be the farthest things on your mind.
They say, give a man a hammer, and everything will be nails to him. I say, raise a child in the jungles among the beasts, and the Eiffel Tower in Paris will be no more than a monstrous hunk of metal to him.
And more than being a prescription from the past, perspective can be a deliberate decision for the future. You are an architect; the reality of the world is a beautiful structure for you to design with your mind. You are a painter. Life is a chaos of colors, and it is up to you to select which hues will fill your canvas. Be wise with each stroke because each trail of color defines what you see as well as what you don’t, becoming statements of which things you hold dear and which you don’t. But be bold, for who could say that their perspective is better than yours?