Perspective — it makes a big difference

The (very old) story is told of a $20 bill and a $1 bill in the vault of a large bank.

“Hey, Twenty,” said the $1 bill, “I haven’t seen you in a long time. Where have you been?”

“Man, I’ve been having a ball,” replied the $20 bill. “I’ve been to the finest restaurants, to the biggest and best casinos, boutiques, shopping malls and even to an NBA game. How about you?”

The $1 bill replied, “Oh, I’ve been to the Baptist Church, the Presbyterian Church, the Catholic Church, the Lutheran Church, the Church of Christ, the Episcopalian Church, the…”

“Wait a minute,” the $20 bill interrupted. “What’s a church?”

Isn’t it amazing how easy it is to spend a $20 bill in some ways than others? It’s a matter of perspective.

Albert Einstein neatly defined perspective when he said, “When a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute. But let him sit on a hot stove for a minute and it’s longer than any hour.”

There are many other examples of perspective in everyday life.

Some folks, for instance, complain about paying $3.20 per gallon for gasoline but don’t flinch spending at least that amount for a coffee drink at a trendy coffee house or for a cocktail at the bar. For what it’s worth, I do flinch at paying $3.20 for a coffee.

When the neighbor kid rings the doorbell to sell a small box of candy for $5.00 to help his school we purchase a box (at least I do) but mentally question five-bucks for such a small package. The next day we cheerfully “invest” five bucks in a March Madness basketball pool.

Some folks will spend $50 or more per ticket to take the family to a professional sports event and help support multi-million-dollar salaries for people who can run, jump, throw, bat, tackle or kick better than anyone else. Others may visit a casino and gamble away a chunk of change. Back home, however, some of these same people will complain about a tax increase to boost the modest salaries of the folks who have the critically important job of teaching their children, clearing snow from the streets and highways and providing police and fire services.

When serving on a church board many years ago I was exasperated with a fellow board member who complained that we were overpaying our pastor. Our pastor’s salary was equitable but far from lavish. The complaining board member, by the way, was one of the wealthiest men in the congregation. His perspective was distorted.

When I was in the newspaper business more than 20 years ago I fielded an occasional complaint about the price of a newspaper subscription. At that time the cost of home delivery of our daily newspaper was less than 30-cents a day. I often asked the complainer what other business delivered a product to their door every day for 30-cents or less. Of course, the complainer could think of none. I explained that our newspaper was delivered each day for less than the price of a cup of coffee at McDonald’s. With all due respect to McDonald’s coffee — the best fast-food coffee in town, in my opinion — Ronald McDonald doesn’t make home deliveries.

Perspective comes into play when a network TV reporter refers to a “small town.” To the average New Yorker communities like Fort Dodge and Mason City are small towns. Where I grew up, those communities were cities. Shoot, where I grew up any town with a stop light or a police car with a “cherry” on top was a city.

To a resident of Georgia, six inches of snow is a blizzard. To a resident of Iowa, six inches of snow is just a start.

A former co-worker provided a great example of perspective when he said of his grandchildren, “I love to see the little angels come and I love to see the little devils go.” He loved those little ones but his perspective changed in a day.

All of this brings us back to the story of the $1 bill and the $20 bill. The $20 bill surely does look a lot bigger on Sunday morning than it did on Saturday night. It’s all a matter of perspective.


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