The stage production of Fiddler On The Roof is based on a story about Russian-Jewish villagers written nearly 110 years ago by Sholem Aleichem. The production, first staged in 1964, was in its day the longest-running Broadway musical.* The 1971 Academy Award—winning screen adaption went on to set a record for the longest-running VHS tape most often played by my mother (clocking in at a whopping 181 minutes).
For my first 18 years I didn't much care about the symbolism of the title character. There were "cooler" movies a teenager could be watching and the fiddle wasn't my game. But damn it if that movie doesn't now bring a tear to my eye every single time I see it. And don't get me started about seeing Topol live a few years back during his farewell revival!
Oh the insights the Fiddler must have gleaned from looking down upon Anatevka! And so I've been thinking a lot recently about perspective. So much hinges upon it. The way we see our world, the way we respond to everything around us— all colored by our individual perspective. We snag bits from our parents, bits from our culture, our religion, our leaders, our past, and our rooftop. We jigsaw it all together so that our perspective makes sense to us and then guard it like a mother eagle over her nest.
The mind—blowing thing about it all? We can flip that perspective switch! We can consciously choose to see things from a different perspective. Sure it takes practice, but it's a healthy and I believe essential behavior to attempt. To have the courage to be flexible in a culture that demands structure. Listening to and respecting others' perspectives has quite simply gone out of fashion. Standing strong in our convictions, lest we be seen as flip—floppers is lauded as patriotism and the American way. And it has gotten us into a big mess.
But fostering compassion, as an example of an inroad to perspective shift, does not mean that we need to permanently change our moral/political standing. It means we're open to the possibility of a shared connection with our fellow humans. You’ve heard the saying, we’re more alike than we are different...
I'll use anger as an example: An angry driver can choose to shoot someone, with a bullet or their finger, out of road rage. Or, he can choose to forgive the driver of the Chevy for cutting him off because that other guy may have been on the way to the hospital to see his dying father. Angry driver can choose the perspective/mindset that people are selfish and awful or that people generally mean well and are doing the best they can. In that moment he might recall a time when he felt rushed by an emergency or was late for a job interview and so the human connection is made.
“That’s all well and good,” I hear people saying, “but changing perspective is surely not as easy as flipping a switch.” I’m not naïve to the challenge— each of us has developed firmly rooted habits and beliefs during our years on this planet. But if we have any hope of bringing unity to our global Anatevka — the milkman coexisting with the constable — we must each accept that challenge on a personal level. To step up and agree that we can retain our individuality, our independent spirit, our Constitutional rights, the duties of our job AND be compassionate of our neighbor’s perspective.
Because he is our neighbor, because he is more alike us than he is different. Because he too is up on that roof balancing the best he knows how.
Here are some perspective—changing activities for practicing the habit:
1. Visualize yourself as the metaphoric fiddler on the roof (I said visualize, please don't actually go up there!). Gaze down upon yourself immersed in your daily routines, your place in your family, your place in your community, your place in your world. Watch your demeanor, your expressions, how you treat people, and how you make assumptions. After watching for awhile, what would you say to yourself down there?
2. Turn off the mainstream news. News bites artificially create perspectives for you so that you don’t have to do the work. Do the work.
3. When someone makes you mad or frustrated, get in the habit of asking yourself: "What might they be going through today?" Remember, they aren’t making you mad, that control lies fully within you.
4. Take the high road. Try to be a little more conscious each day of how you ultimately have control over your emotions and reactions toward people.
5. Suspend your judgement and labeling of every little thing you observe. That alone consumes an incredible amount of time and energy in our day. Choose mindfulness and nonjudgment.
6. Shake hands and share a laugh with someone of a different viewpoint. Former presidents and political rivals Bill Clinton and George HW Bush have developed a visible friendship since leaving office. If they can do it, so can the rest of us!
7. Imagine what it would be like at the end of your life to look back on the choices you made and where you directed your energies. Might you wish you had not wasted so much energy on stupid little things of little or no consequence? You have to admit, the deathbed is a real change in perspective.
8. Try a change of location for attending to something in your usual routine. Pay bills in a park. Eat your take—out meal on your fancy china. While you’re there, notice any shifts in your body, your mood, your thoughts. How did the perspective change affect the activity that has otherwise become routine and automatic?
9. Use crayons instead of a pen, use a pen instead of a keyboard, write a letter instead of an email, eat with your fingers, chew slowly... with your eyes closed, call a loved one and deeply listen rather than talking about yourself, smile at a stranger, count the smiles you see on the street, have a sleeping bag party with your family, sleep in your garden on a warm night, connect with nature as often as possible, take a walking tour of the city you take for granted.
10. Grab that box of crayons, look at the array, and avoid “hating” or “favoriting” any particular color. Appreciate what each one brings to the whole box.
11. Rent Fiddler on the Roof and look for scenes where compassion and understanding was shared between neighobrs and family members of differing viewpoints. What was the fiddler's point of view? What was the mutual respect, despite political tensions, between Tevye and the constible?
12. Step back from the day—to—day buzz of your life and reconnect with your roots. What are the foundations and traditions from which your family has historically found connection, resilience, and balance? What do you do to pass along lessons of respect and compassion?
"...here, in our little village...you might say every one of us is a fiddler on the roof. You may ask, why do we stay up there if it's so dangerous? Well, we stay because [it's] our home. And how do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in a word! Tradition!"**
Brad Waters MSW, LCSW provides career-life coaching and consultation to clients internationally via phone and Skype. He helps people explore career direction and take action on career transitions. Brad holds a Master's degree in social work from the University of Michigan and Master's certification in Holistic Health Care from Western Michigan University. Brad is also a personal development writer whose books are available on Amazon and BradWatersMSW.com
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