“It is a narrow mind which cannot look at a subject
from various points of view.”
– George Eliot
I do have a friend who would usually be mistakenly identified as me. There were many instances that people in the university where both of us are teaching called me by his name and him by mine. Why? I am not a dead ringer for him but very likely that our similar built, height, and rounded face would make people commit that mistake.
Seemingly bemused, he asked me one time, “Why would they think I am you? Do I look as old as you are?” I paused for a while, smiled then told him jokingly, “No, I think I just look as young and handsome as you are.”
As my friend laughed at my response, I thought that the contrasting way we looked at the issue has opened an opportunity for me to revisit the topic “perspective.”
Perspective – our tendency to look at the same things, events, issues, and concepts differently – is one of the most amazing things about us humans. According to Duffy (2019), “perspective is arguably the single greatest aspect of our uniqueness and that each of us has a uniquely valuable perspective of life – a lens through which we interpret our lives.” She (Duffy) explained that we can expand our perspective through a tool called perspective taking – learning from the way others see life.
In this article we will refer to perspective taking without consideration of the way others see things, events, issues, and concepts. Yes, there is a need to respect and learn from the way others view life but are those views correct? Are those views not inimical to our interest and wellbeing.
The kind of perspective taking that I think we should be doing is choosing the best vantage point of looking at things, events, issues, and concepts according to their own merits and not according to the socio-cultural frames set by anybody. Are they positive or negative the way that they are and not the way anybody wants to see them/or the way you want to see them?
Anything in this world can be viewed from different perspectives. We get to decide at what vantage point we would look at circumstances, problems, events and even objects using lenses that are uniquely ours. We tend to measure and interpret those things using our own value system. We label and define them according to our beliefs. We react to them according to our attitudes. Those beliefs and attitudes, as I explained (in my other self-improvement articles which I hope you have read), are shaped by the way we were raised by our parents, trained by our teachers, influenced by the people around us, and conditioned by our culture. Two persons could look at the same window one morning and one would see the speck in the window instead of the sun rising. It is in this context that I wish to discuss enlightened perspective.
The sum total of the experiences we accumulated since birth and the amount and quality of information we gathered through the years from different sources are the factors that contribute to the kind of perspectives we develop as persons. Our way of viewing things depends on the value system that those experiences and information impressed upon us.
Each person is entitled to embrace a particular attitude towards something. There are no specific measurement to determine the rightness and wrongness of perspectives. Only the consequences of a person’s action (or the lack of it) as a result of embracing certain perspectives could perhaps be labeled as right or wrong.
When we are about to take a perspective it’s like we’re positioning ourselves in the number scale and decide whether to go north or south. We can either be positive or negative with our perspective. Those are the only directions we could take when we look at issues and circumstances confronting us. It’s a matter of choice. If you want more choices, imagine perspective as the Cartesian plane.
When viewing an issue, an event, or a circumstance and you’re about to make a decision about it, place yourself at the origin or the center of the Cartesian plane. Decide in which quadrant you would focus your lens on when making a decision – positive/positive, positive/negative, negative/positive, or negative/negative. What I mean is you can decide to view what is happening or what is about to happen purely as good, or purely bad, or you are objectively weighing both the good and the bad. There are always the pros and cons – the advantages and disadvantages. You have to carefully weigh both before making any decision or before passing your judgement.
An enlightened perspective is a perspective taking devoid of biases, prejudices, and preferences.
Your perspectives affect the decisions you make. They inform the things you think, say and do. Thus, while you are entitled to have any kind of perspective, in the same manner that we are entitled to our own opinions, you should bear in mind that we will bear whatever consequences there may be for embracing the perspectives we take.
You also need to understand that you could not assume that what you believe or see is definitive. Different people have different ways of looking at things. The perspective of the world that dictates the lens through which you see it is not the same for everybody. You need to develop the ability to see things also from another’s viewpoint. This is what I referred to earlier as perspective-taking. But while you try to understand and respect how others view things and issues, you don’t need to embrace them when you deem that that perspective is negative and contrary to the positive outlook that you are trying to develop.
Perspectives can either be broad or narrow.
Having a broad perspective means being able to see the bigger picture. `
I once had a conversation with another friend about working conditions. He bewailed the fact that a truck driver in his country earns more than what he is earning in a year as an expat teacher. After listening to his litany, I told him to pause for a while and dig deeper into his comparison and consider other factors like number of required work hours and the physical demands for the job. When computing the number of hours, I reminded him that we as teachers are not actually working during winter and summer breaks but we get paid in full by the university as stipulated in our contracts.
He realized at the end that his pay per hour is actually higher than the truck driver and his working conditions are much better.
It is not really hard to train the mind to look at the bigger picture. It is easy to look beyond the obvious if only we’re open-minded. It does not require a special kind of training. All we need is common sense.
There are a lot more that could be explored in the discussion of perspective. At the end, the thing that matters is the answer to the question, “How do our perspectives affect the way we live?”
If the lenses we are using to view the world have brought us success and happiness, why change them. We’ve been told many times, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But what about if those lenses are seemingly broken and have caused us nothing but failure and misery? Is it time to visit an OPTIMIST?
Duffy, J. (2019). The Power of Perspective Taking. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.