Perspective is a good thing. It’s provides space to expand our view. It’s staring at a piece of bark and hearing someone yell, “Hey, there’s a whole forest out here!”
Gaining perspective almost always requires an outside catalyst: something or someone. We need this catalyst to help us take a step back and remember that there is more to life than what’s directly in front of us. To show us that there are other ways of seeing.
Without this outside catalsyst, our individualized perspective runs the risk of being a custom fit. In the song, Julian The Onion, a b-side from mewithoutYou, Aaron Weiss warns us, “but all perceptions are as mirrors: it’s your own reflections that you see.” You see the world the way you see it. Through your eyes. Your ears. Your reflections. Your past experiences. Your beliefs. You and I are never able to experience something in the same way because we have custom fit perspectives, tailored to who we are.
For example, have you ever listened to a recording of your own voice? Personally, I’ll never be able to hear my own music, let alone my own voice, the way anyone else does. I’m confronted with this reality every time I’m listening to a recording of myself. How people stand listening to me talk at all is a complete mystery. But this is not a hopeless blog. I’m not here to convince you that we are stuck in our perspective and in our way of perceiving the world around us. Perspective is a good thing. So here are two areas where we can enlist the help of others in gaining new perspective.
Learning from others. If we want to gain perspective on something, we need to expose ourselves to the perspectives of other people. One way we can do this is through reading. I have already shared about my reading habits. I read in broad categories so that I can stretch my thinking and perspective. But I don’t want to read only books with which I agree. I want to learn new things and see how other authors approach certain topics. I do not suggest we abandon reading critically, or simply accept everything new as ‘good perspective.’ However, there are times when reading about a different perspective helps one better understand her or his own.
Fair warning: sometimes reading books you disagree with can be incredibly frustrating. There was one book a couple years ago that came close to defeating me. I persevered and made it through. I have over ten copies of this book because they were already on my shelves when I moved into my new study. But I refuse to give a copy to anyone. I won’t even donate them to a library or church because I don’t think they will be helpful. All that to say, sometimes a book with a different perspective just won’t help you at all.
Another way to open ourselves up to the perspective of others is to listen to people. I’m not talking about listening with stubborn disagreement. It’s too easy to listen only to know how to respond. We need to listen with the purpose of understanding someone. Why does someone see an issue in a certain way? How are our perspectives different? Again, this may not change what we believe, but it will help us fill out our perspective. Or maybe it will help us see a blindspot in our thinking.
Learning from feedback. To gain perspective, it is important that we share our perspective with others. I’m not talking about going around, forcing our opinions on others, hoping to convert them. Instead, we should share our viewpoint with others to receive feedback or questions from them. Again, we don’t need to fear that we will lose our long-held beliefs, but it may help us see areas where our perspective is flawed or incomplete. I’m starting to do this through writing this blog. I’m sharing my thoughts and reflections with you, the reader, not to try and convince you of my perspective. I’m sharing so that I can work out what I think and then receive feedback (be nice, please).
A while ago my wife couldn’t find her earbuds so she asked me to borrow mine. Later, when she returned them she quickly commented, “The left earbud isn’t as loud as the right.” She couldn’t believe that I was putting up with a broken pair of headphones. Her comment of disbelief was, to me, a huge relief. I wasn’t aware that the headphones were broken. For months I had pushed away the thought that I had somehow damaged my left eardrum irreparably and was going to have to live with hearing loss in my left ear for the rest of my life. I didn’t tell anyone about this because I didn’t want to believe that it was true. I didn’t want to think about it. But every time I used those earbuds I was reminded of it. That was until I let someone else hear my perspective and they were able to tell me, “Hey, the left earbud is quieter than the right.” Hallelujah. Seriously, I was so relieved by this fresh perspective.
That was just a pair of headphones. What perspectives do we hold that are flawed or incomplete? Where else in our lives can we benefit from open dialogue?