Suzanne Reisler Litwin: Half Full or Half Empty?

When I teach my classes, I drink a lot of water. I usually start the class with a full glass of water and by the mid-break time, I need to fill it up again. On this night I was giving a lecture on perspectives and how it affects writers. I was explaining how everyone has a different perspective and you can easily change your perspective by looking at life differently. Looking up more, looking down more, and looking at a bigger picture or at smaller details. It’s all in the efforts you wish to take. If you only look at the mid-point of everything, you will miss out on the peripherals of life.

At this time, my glass was half filled with water. I was just about to take another sip of, when I asked my students if they saw my glass to be half full, half empty or something else. Each student answered and I tallied their responses on the black board. Most students thought the glass was half full. Some thought the glass was half empty. A few students attempted to measure the water level to the height of the glass to find the midpoint. No one had my perspective.

I looked at the glass and said, “This glass is totally full!” All my students were shocked by my answer. Instead of explaining my response, I went around the classroom again and asked each student if they considered my glass to be half empty, half full or totally full.

None of the students could figure out why the glass was completely full to me, when it was clearly half filled with water.

Then we had a full discussion about perspective. Those who looked at the glass as half full felt the glass of water had hope and more water than none. Those who looked at the glass as half empty felt they needed to conserve what was left of the water, as it was emptying. I, on the other hand still looked at the glass as completely full. Why was this?

My perspective was that even though the glass was half filled with water, the other half was filled with clean air. The glass, water, and air were all clean. For me, a clean glass with clean water and clean air is what we need to survive. There are some places in the world where it’s difficult to find clean glasses, clean water and clean air. Therefore, everything in my glass had worth, the clean air, the clean glass, even the clean water; although half filled. My perspective is there is nothing to be taken for granted. When you change your location in the world, your perspective will also change.

Perhaps the bed you currently sleep on is old and getting uncomfortable, but sleep on the ground and you will appreciate your bed and that perspective too! Perhaps you don’t like the food you are eating, but imagine not eating for a day or two and you will appreciate the food and suddenly your perspective will change. Perhaps you don’t enjoy the work you do, but without work and the inability to pay your bills, you might suddenly appreciate what you do and try to make it more enjoyable.

Perspective Dear Watson!

So in fact my glass is always full of something useful, even if it’s simply clean and empty. Perhaps full of hope or suddenly fresh orange juice which will explode with flavor when entering my mouth. Maybe full of wine, the nectar of the gods! Maybe full of candy and joyful to share. Maybe full of coins to buy a meal with.

I’m lucky to say my glass will always be full for simply having a clean surface as it can be washed often. I’m lucky to have an excellent dish washer to make it spanking clean anytime I want to use it. I’m lucky to have electricity and money to buy that service. And…I’m so lucky to have an amazing job for which I can take this clean glass into my classroom and drink clean water from it.

This is my perspective. It’s full of gratitude. Therefore my glass is always full even when it’s half filled with water.

There is so much which is taken for granted. Living in Canada provides us with a baseline of fresh drinking water, clean glasses to drink from and clean air to breath. This is never assumed as a baseline in many other places in the world.

Being able to work in a clean, climate controlled room with new furniture, in a brightly lit classroom filled with the freedom to teach and learn is perhaps baseline in Canada. This opportunity is a gracious privilege in many other places in the world.

Perhaps I am going overboard with my perspective of my glass being full. Perhaps I am simply over joyed with all we are fortunate to have, that a half filled glass of water is actually totally filled when placed in my work space.

Three hours later, my students left the clean, climate controlled, brightly lit classroom filled with new furniture, with a very different perspective. I told them to go home and look around their living space. Imagine the same space in other countries of the world. Then adjust their perspective to what they are given by simply living in Canada. They were told to fill a glass half way with water and ask themselves this question again: In a room in their home, is their glass half empty, half full or something else? The assignment is to write their perspective.

I look forward to their responses the next time we meet in our perfectly clean classroom in which we can teach, learn and share our freedoms of expression in our writing and in ourselves. Sounds pretty full to me!

—Suzanne Reisler Litwin

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