Wisdom in Common Things

A typical zoo, lots of kids, and two bears. Or is it something more?

Perspective is everything.

We are in Berlin. The time is the early 1930s.

The question becomes, who is behind bars and who is on the outside looking in? The past gives us one answer. The photographer’s subject appears to be German Jews or any people imprisoned within a totalitarian state.

Yet the image provokes us to reflect upon our “point of view.” Do we accept our way of perceiving the world as the only valid one? Do we think twice, look again, reconsider our history, our actions, and the people around us?

The process of psychotherapy demands this on a personal level. Peaceful protesters in the streets also challenge us to recognize conditions we don’t wish to confront. The psychologist and the demonstrator carry the same message. As Rilke wrote, “You must change yourself.”

Counseling should cause the client to alter his frame of reference, clean the mirror he holds to his face, reevaluate whether his approach to life is working. If he does not, he remains like those children in the menagerie, on the wrong side of a high fence. But unlike them, he is incarcerated in a cage of his own making.

Try this photograph:

There’s a bit of a story here. I was on a morning walk. If you inspect the photo you will notice a quarter: a 25 cent piece. I bent to pick it up.

The hard object could not be separated from the walkway’s grip. What caused its fondness for the ground?? I suspect the coin dropped before the cement dried. The metal stuck.

Was it an accident or the result of someone’s plan? With what intention?

Several possibilities come to my mind:

  • to make a permanent mark lasting as long as the sidewalk. A kind of immortality.
  • As an experiment. Imagine the experimenter stationing himself nearby and tabulating how often people awaken to the object and hesitate over it. Or recording how many passersby attempt to dislodge the quarter and for how long.
  • Perhaps a prankster wished to frustrate anyone wishing to put it in his pocket.
  • Did the “two bits” offer philosophical instruction on the question, “how important is money, and what are you willing to do to get some? Break the pavement? Break the law? Where does the dollar fit in your system of values? Will you get on your knees in worship before its streetside alter?”

Here is one last picture to contemplate:

We all carry secrets. Perhaps the boy is sharing one and cautioning nondisclosure. The observer is left to consider how genuine and open we are. Anton Chekhov composed this about a man with a hidden life:

He began to judge others by himself, no longer believing what he saw, and always assuming that the real, the only interesting life of every individual goes on as (if) under cover of night, secretly. Every individual existence revolves around mystery, and perhaps that is the chief reason that all cultivated individuals insist so strongly on the respect due to personal secrets.

One wonders. For some of our friends, even those closest, is the most essential element of their life unknown to us? Might we also be unrevealed to them? If so, what is the cost of our concealed state?

They and we connect the observable dots of words and behavior, hoping we know the whole. Do we harbor shameful moments, episodes of cowardice, a haunted gender complexity? Is a sequestered, buried heart still bleeding, a boxed-up desire locked away, an ancient loss lurking?

Inertia resides in an undisclosed soul, just as stubborn in its stuckness as the 25 cents on my local sidewalk.

Will someone tell the person who left the melded money that there are those who would cherish the other side of the coin? Like the boy’s inner life, we only see half.

Shall I talk to the immovable, rounded copper the next time I pass its way? I’ll read him the Rilke poem about change. You’d think changing would come easily to a piece of change.


The Rilke quotation is the last line from his poem, Archaic Torso of Apollo. The Chekhov quotation comes from his short story, The Lady With the Dog. The first photo is Roman Vishniac’s People Behind Bars.

9 thoughts on “Wisdom in Common Things

  1. gb fragmented gumdrops

    Another great post, Dr. S. Is there any existentialism behind perception? If so, how would that manifest? Just curious.

    What helps me to want to change my perceptions is data. I need evidence that what is being said to me is true, as opposed to the blind faith I used to have in many things that harmed me. Evidence tells me that victims are highly likely to be revictimized, depending on a number of factors. So, I remain, sadly, hypervigilant. But when I can learn to trust again, then maybe I won’t have to be as cautious anymore. Or as dissociative. I am trying.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, gb. I think the perception comes first, then the question an existentialist might raise: “Now what are you going to do with it (the new knowledge or awareness you’ve acquired)?” Of course, if you are closed to the perception, then you don’t get to the point of asking the existentialist’s question, so there is a feedback loop present. I don’t doubt the validity of your point of view. It might be of interest, though, to “see” the world “as if” it was one you could fully inhabit. This too would carry the risk of regret at not being ready to do so. I would add one other thing. Trust can be understood as different from an either/or decision. Only a fool would jump into every pool with is eyes closed, believing he would come out in tact. Be well, gb.

      Liked by 1 person

      • gb fragmented gumdrops

        Thank you. I want to see the world as you suggest, but you are correct in that I am not ready. I never took a perception course, nor did I receive the conventional course on cognitive science. I have always wondered about perceptions and their roles. I also wonder if I am permanently stuck in dissociation and ptsd land. I want to change. But I want to be out of this pandemic first.


      • gb fragmented gumdrops

        Regarding trust, I am learning how to build trust with my therapist, which differs from trusting fully and completely or blindly. I am learning that many things are on continuums as well as dynamic. Trust can change, depending. My trust levels during this pandemic have decreased, but there are some people I trust more now.


      • drgeraldstein

        I am pleased to hear it, gb.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. “And those who were seen dancing, were thought to be crazy, by those who could not hear the music.” Perspective is everything, how right you are! As in photography, it all depends upon the lens you are looking through. Your life experiences dictate your perspectives. And though you might be able to understand how someone else views something from a totally different angle, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to validate another’s perspective if your understanding comes from dissimilar experiences. A perfect example for me is a Leonard Cohen song, “Dance Me To The End of Love”. Many view it as a song of love and use it as their wedding song, little knowing it was inspired by the Holocaust and the horror of prisoners being forced to play classical music while their friends and relatives were being gassed and thrown into ovens. Quite different and opposing perspectives: two contradictory truths, depending upon your own perception and interpretation.

    Liked by 2 people

    • drgeraldstein

      I agree that experience influences perspective. It does not always “dictate” it. Indeed, our task in life is to look with fresh eyes, hear with fresh ears, read with new questions, etc. If we take on new experiences and new behaviors we can often add to or alter our understanding of the world. The alternative, as I hope my post underscored, is to be caged voluntarily, with the key to escape still at hand. Thanks for your observation, Brewdun.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Dr. Stein, you raise some interesting questions about the secrets we harbor as individuals. What caught my attention were the questions you raised about the quarter stuck in the sidewalk. You suggest four possibilities for its existence. I would like to comment on the question raised in #4: “how important is money, and what are you willing to do to get some?” Based on the historical record of the human species, there are no limits to which we would go to enrich ourselves at the expense of others. We humans hold ourselves up as the pinnacle of creation, but we have much to learn from the so-called lesser living beings with whom we share this planet. As you note in the opening of your post, “perspective is everything.”

    Liked by 2 people

  4. drgeraldstein

    Thank you, Rosaliene. Money is one of those things onto which we project ourselves. A psychologist colleague once offered a quick way to know about someone new. She said that if you knew what his attitudes were to money, food, and time, you would know quite a lot about him. I imagine you would agree. While it is not the whole story, it is an important part of the story.

    Liked by 2 people

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