I started this a few days ago on Star Wars day so a quote from Obi-Wan Kenobi seemed appropriate. “…you’re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.” Perspective, or point of view, is the way we are able to frame our world, our place in it and how we make associations and even friends. It’s what keeps us sane. If left unchecked, it’s also one of the greatest limiters to new ideas and growth.
Perspective is shaped by experience, those around us and what we find comfortable. Perspective is a necessarily narrowed view of the world. It protects us from things that we aren’t quite ready to see or accept, sort of like a psyche armor. Like armor it’s not meant to be worn at all times. Doing so cuts us off from others and what once served as protection becomes a prison.
Think about a plant left to grow in a pot. Eventually the plant outgrows the pot and needs to be transplanted to continue to grow. If not, then the plant becomes root bound and eventually dies. Similarly if we stay locked into our singular perspective, we will become mentally bound and like the plant, our growth will be blunted. While we likely won’t die physically, mental stagnation can be a type of death unto itself.
To move out of the armor of a singular perspective, I’ve found empathy, open mindedness and a willingness to step outside of my comfort zone to be a highly effective combination.
The ability to feel compassion for others is what allows us to see things from another’s point of view, allowing us to understand them. Empathy isn’t just about when people are sad or depressed. Empathy can be used with happy emotions as well. Have you ever been happy and celebrated someone’s accomplishment even though you had no idea what they were talking about, or if it was something you’d never do? Empathy in action. The challenge is bringing that empathy to bear when you are faced with a point of view or opinion that challenges a core belief.
This might also be called acceptance or a suspension of pre judgement. Remaining open to the possibility that something you believe or “know” could be skewed, biased or flat out wrong is challenging for pretty much everyone. After all at one point, everyone “knew” the sun revolved around the earth and “knew” that the earth was flat.
Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone
Perspective is partially steeped in protection. A willingness and no small amount of courage is needed to step outside of that comfort zone. Being able to reevaluate your beliefs, judgements and ideals is one of the most difficult things to do. It’s also one of the most important when building trust, relationships and personal growth.
Applying these intertwined tools takes practice and patience but is well worth the effort. But if it’s so much work to take this step and so much easier to stay safe in the armor of perspective, why change? Why put in all that effort?
Because it’s one of the most powerful tools for growth we have at our disposal. Sadly it’s one that I see being utilized less and less. The adage of old that says you shouldn’t judge a man unless you walk a mile in his shoes comes to mind. It’s all about shifting perspective. Seeing things from someone else’s point of view. The reason to do that, is to better understand them and why they hold certain opinions and beliefs. This doesn’t mean you will change your beliefs or opinions, but you’ll gain a better understanding of why they believe the way they do. Understanding that is a cornerstone for being able to find common ground and acceptance.
Walking in Someone Else’s Shoes
If your entire life was spent in tight, pinching shoes, a pair of comfortable, fitting sneakers would be a delight. But if your life was spent barefoot those same shoes might feel constricting. The shoes didn’t change, only the perspective of the person wearing them. Neither person is “right” or “wrong.” They have an opinion based upon their prior experience and preferences. And when put in the same situation, they came to different conclusions. Understanding how someone else sees something, even if you don’t agree with them, is a powerful tool for making a connection and perhaps even learning something new. Who knows, maybe once you’ve tried running around barefoot, you’ll find you like it.
Like the plant moving from the comfort and safety of a pot to the open ground, there are potential pitfalls, challenges and opportunities for growth. I suppose you could say it all depends on your perspective.