There is one idea that shapes my work and dominates my thinking more than any other. I run into it everyday. I lay awake at night pondering its impact. It holds the key to relational effectiveness and business strategy. It determines whether I am grumpy after a Carlton loss and … wait for it … it is the foundation of world peace. You might think I’m joking; but I’m not.
It is perspective.
Most of our lives we get taught to defend our point of view. This is a great skill and provides us with confidence and a sense of conviction. In a western democracy we are led to believe that in the market place of ideas the competition for truth will yield a worthy winner. Undoubtedly this is a noble context in which to live, much more desirable than a forum that is regulated to the point of public censorship. (Not withstanding the argument that in the West big media shapes the public consciousness.)
I think it is time to add another major idea into the mix. That is, ‘We cannot presume to understand reality until we have explored it from alternative vantage points.’
As I write I sit in a North Melbourne Café, only a pane of glass separates me from the people walking past, presumably on their way to work. I wonder what Monday morning means to each of them. I wonder what home context they have left behind. I wonder if they are loved, and if they love. I wonder how they process the news that an Australian soldier was killed this morning in Afghanistan, or if they care. All this might be interesting, but does it matter?
It matters when we share a stake in something. It matters particularly when they are the ‘other’. For too long we have presumed that we know the ‘other’. Who is the other? Today the other might be: an Afghani soldier, a teenage binge drinker, our difficult customer, the family member with whom we are frustrated, our indigenous neighbour ….
Einstein changed our appreciation of the world by introducing a simple idea; what you see depends on where you see it from. The predictability of Newton, as brilliant as it was, unraveled. We need a similar revolution in popular sociology. The rigour of argument and defence of conventional wisdom must be challenged by learning to see from the vantage point of the other.
We can start by asking some questions that we may not be used to asking; Who else is involved? What do they see, what are they experiencing? The critical piece of this is not to presume we already know the answer. We might think we do, but we don’t.
Our family lives will be enhanced by stopping to ask and listen. Our workplaces will change radically when we seek the perspective of all stakeholders and make decisions that embrace the collective good. Our communities will be healthier when we develop ways for people from different perspectives to come together to share. Our nation will adopt a radically new direction when political divides offer opportunities for new insight rather than lines for petty combat. Our world will feel a more hopeful place to be when difference invites dialogue.
What are some experiences you’ve had that on one hand have challenged your view of reality, and on the other have enhanced your appreciation of the ‘other’?
Travel is the greatest way for me to gain new perspective. Whenever I go away and come back I see everything just a little differently. I recently went to Iceland and came back with a new vigor toward my work. I felt a little stagnant which I really didn’t realize. I came back with fresh ideas and a willingness to tackle them.
Karl, so true. I find it offers me the privilege of looking at my life from a perspective that is pretty much unaccessible from within. My introduction to this was as an exchange student in Japan. My 12 months as a teenager their taught me as much about my home in Australia as it did about Japan. Love to ‘look at my life’ from Iceland one day!!