What does the phrase "put things into perspective" mean?
That means to put things into context, to look at them not individually but in relationship to each other. Generally, things in contrast keep things in perspective. In other words, in order to form a correct opinion of things, always bear in the big picture.
Or relatively correct because a sense of relativity is crucial here.
In picture drawing, perspective is a method that makes objects in a picture look solid (three-dimensional) and shows distance (things closer looks bigger while those farther away in the background look smaller) and depths. Traditional Chinese portraits, however, do not have perspective. Persons in traditional Chinese paintings look flat and thus less lively than those in, for instance, Western oils. Western oils, with a clever use of colors, also portray light and shade (darkness), thus lending to a painting a great sense of liveliness that's often elusive in traditional Chinese paintings.
Western oils, therefore, are drawn with perspective or with an effect of perspective. You got the picture.
Figuratively, when things are said to be kept in perspective, they are treated not separately but are viewed in relationship to their background, their surroundings and their environments. In fact, things are what they are only due to different perspectives, relative to what's different, thanks to contrast against other things. There would not be light, for instance, if there weren't darkness. We wouldn't understand the concept of "day" unless we also understood "night". Hot depends on cold; big and small live off each other; high implies low and vice versa; bitter pills make candies so much sweeter and love readily morphs into hate – that's why it bemused Alan Watts considerably to once observe that till-death-do-us-part vows at weddings "often leads to murder".
Joking aside, if you talk about "black" with "white" in mind, pursue success knowing you might fail, begin to enjoy your friends before you lose them, you're able to keep things in perspective, or "in a correct perspective" but the adjective (correct) is really redundant, as is the adverb (really).
Anyways, here are a few examples to help you put that phrase, and hopefully everything else, into perspective.
1. Wall St flat as investors digest Friday rate cut (Reuters, August 20, 2007):
Fresh news from the beleaguered mortgage market continued to unnerve investors. Thornburg Mortgage's shares fell 9.6 percent to $13.59 after chief operating officer Larry Goldstone said there was a crisis in investor confidence in the mortgage sector.
"The market is taking some baby steps, trying to build on Friday's rally. We're digesting the Fed's move last week and putting things into perspective," said Richard Sparks, senior equities analyst at Schaeffer's Investment Research in Cincinnati.
"But I don't think we've gotten the 'all clear'; the market still knows there are some hurdles to overcome."
2. Realizing China's Potential (Speech at the 2003 Asian Investment Conference by Yukon Huang, Director, World Bank China Program; www.worldbank.org.cn):
But what does 6 or 7 per cent growth mean over the next two decades? Let's put it in perspective. In terms of purchasing power measurement of GDP in China today, it would be about US$3,000 per capita. In nominal dollars it's more like US$800, but if you take US$3,000 per capita as a purchasing power concept, China 20 years from now, even at 6 or 7 per cent growth rates would be the second largest economy in the world – second only to the US.
3. Constructive criticism puts book reviewing in perspective (Boston Globe, October 27, 2007):
Book reviewers have been upsetting and pleasing – but mostly upsetting – authors, publishers, and academics for hundreds of years. In her critique of the book-reviewing craft, "Faint Praise," Cambridge writer Gail Pool enters the debate as the reviewing culture in newspapers, magazines, and online sites is undergoing a gigantic and mostly unhealthy transformation.