The Problem of the Pedestal

Photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel

In the iconic scene from the Dead Poet Society, Robin Williams encourages each of the students, members of the class to take their turn standing on top of the desk. One by one each pupil files up to the front of the class, stands on top of the desk, and looks out at the world from atop their new perch. The purpose of this exercise is to gain new perspective, a new view on the world. Instead of viewing their world, in this case the classroom, through a single, unvarying lens, they were given the opportunity to view the world from a fresh point of view, looking down at the world from the above. The point made is well taken and is critically important. Even small changes in a familiar situation can be large shifts in perspective and provide new ways that one may think of the world. Visiting the next door neighbor and looking back at one’s own abode provides an entirely different view and understanding of the house in relation to other houses than is typically enjoyed on a day to day basis. 

The reverse is also true. There is always the danger when standing atop the desk that this becomes the new status quo. That looking down upon the world becomes the new normal, the perceived reality. In extreme examples of this, such as the rockstar or movie star, one believes they are truly worth all of the hype, all of the adoring fans which they now enjoy. The top of the desk takes the place as the new status quo, and escaping the deadly grasp of the fame and applause can be all but impossible. The problem of the pedestal is not distinct from the problem of the pupil’s desk. Both are problems of restricted perspective and the acceptance that the current perception of reality from a fixed vantage point is objective truth. The problem is not a problem of the pedestal itself, but a problem of how static one’s place upon that pedestal becomes. The problem of pupil’s desk is not a problem of the pupil’s desk itself, but a problem of the inability to find another perspective. 

Multiple perspectives is the antidote to the problem of the pedestal. Triangulation, that is using multiple sources of information and data to locate an object or person, increases in accuracy with the number of sources of information that are utilized. Gaining multiple perspectives provides the same increase in accuracy. Seeing one’s position in the world, one’s place and role, one’s own striving and shortcomings from multiple perspectives more accurately paints a vivid picture of one’s true standing in relation to the world and others. At every stage in life, multiple perspectives should be sought out. Teaching and learning must occur simultaneously. If you often find yourself in a place where you are placed on a pedestal, seek experiences where you are unranked, unproven, the bottom of the totem pole. If you often find yourself at the bottom of the pecking order, always in the learner’s chair, find a place where you can practice leading and stick around long enough to train any newcomers. 

Seek out many perspective. Often change your view of the world and your place within. If you find yourself embracing the comfort and familiarity of your current perspective, the time has come to add a new perspective.

The best perspective is multiple perspectives.

Published by JR Stanley

I am an MD, PhD student, training to be a physician scientist, with a deep interest in science, faith, and living life as an adventure. Join me as I entertain ideas from new findings in science, evolving interpretations of faith, and experience life one day and one adventure at a time.

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