Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Gain Some Perspective Tuesday

Have you ever thought or said something like, "I just don't get it! I don't understand how someone could get to the point where he would..." or "Why in the world would anyone ever want to..." or "What the Hades were you thinking when you..."

These and statements like these accompany situations where someone's behaviors and actions are so outrageous that you have no clue as to what might motivate them. In other words, you lack perspective. In this case, it's the perspective of someone outrageous.

Almost all war results from the inability or unwillingness to fully appreciate the perspective of others (think art-appreciation, not your mother's gratitude for the birthday card that you made yourself). Of course, the inability to understand the perspective of others is a misnomer. It's not hard (let alone impossible) to understand someone's perspective... if you want to.

However, there are often good reasons not to want to. You might believe that there's no benefit in understanding the other's perspective. Understanding might equate to opening Pandora's box. Perhaps it's not worth the effort. You might believe that understanding would require you accept and adopt that perspective. Nonetheless, understand you can.

On the flip side, imagine a world where everyone fully appreciated the perspectives of others. It wouldn't mean that they bought into them. It would only mean that they understood and respected them. Imagine a world where every time anyone observed an outrageous act, she would say, "Oh, I know why Charlie did that... he was..."

What would happen? What would change?

Doing Their Best
In general, I think that understanding perspective is better than not. I also believe that it's entirely doable if desired. If you agree with me, then the only remaining question would be How? How do you understand the perspective of someone whose beliefs and actions run counter to your own? The first step in gaining perspective is do adopt the belief that:
Each and every one of us is doing the best he can to take care of himself given what he believes.
There are no evil, wicked or bad people; there are just people who are doing what they believe best given the context of their situations and beliefs about their situations.

Adopting and embracing just this one belief can change everything. Further, adopting this belief precedes finding the evidence to support it. I can't tell you how times I've shared this belief with someone and he's responded with, "Yeah, but what about Hitler?"

This is one of those beliefs that's causal in nature. As you believe it, the evidence emerges to support it. So, for example, when you see a little kid acting like a brat in the grocery store, you can say to yourself, "Oh, this is how he's learned to get what he wants. He must do this because it works."

In fact, pretty much every behavior and action (aberrant or otherwise) is adopted simply because, somehow, somewhere, it worked. It worked once, so you do it again... and again... and again. In fact, you continue doing it long after it stops working. You forget why you started doing it. You bury the motivational beliefs, and yet, they continue to influence your actions posthumously. Before you know it, you find yourself lacking perspective even on yourself, saying things like, "I just don't know why I do that!"

When we adopt the attitude that everyone is doing the best they can given what they believe, we open the door to the idea that:
For every action there is a good and logical reason (even if that reason is not grounded in current reality.)
Knowing this, even if the reasons are not readily apparent, opens the door to exploration and understanding. Without this, there's no reason to pursue reason.

So, if everyone is doing the best she can motivated by good and logical reasons, all that remains is ferreting them out. Once you eliminate the answers "I don't know why..." or "I can't understand why...", pursuing why becomes much easier. You just start asking.
Why do you do that?
What did you think would happen when you did that?
What were you hoping to achieve?
What were you afraid would happen if you didn't do that?
Question by question you peel back the layers and eventually get to the core. And with that comes perspective.

Gain Some Perspective Tuesday
Given the state of things, it seems to me that it couldn't hurt for each of us to get a better understanding of the people around us, especially those with whom we find ourselves at odds. So, I've decided to declare today, September 21, 2010, Gain Some Perspective Tuesday. It's one of those walk a mile in someone's moccasins kinda holidays. To celebrate, pick someone whom you frequently don't get, someone who gets you steamed or leaves you shaking your head or rolling your eyes, and take some time to understand her.

It could be a coworker or a boss. It could be child or a friend. It could be that guy who talks loudly on his cell phone in the coffee shop despite all the signage to the contrary or the woman who rides your tail all the way into town. Pick someone (or some ones). Decide that he is doing the best that he can given what he believes and that therefore, there must be good and logical reasons for his actions and behaviors. And then, without judgment or condescension, ask, "Why?"

Happy Gain Some Perspective Tuesday

1 comment:

  1. Ah, perspective… a topic on which I seem to spend a lot of mental energy. Teflon, you supply very useful questions and tips designed to help us understand other people’s motivations and perspectives. But you touched only very lightly on Why; “In general, I think that understanding perspective is better than not”. In my experience, that’s the missing piece. People who have no desire to understand the motivations that drive other people’s actions are usually the ones you see fuming and fretting when things don’t go their way. To them, the world looks quite harsh and hostile, even unpredictable and erratic. I remember having that experience early on in my life, and it drove me to ‘figure out’ the world, or minimally, get a model that would explain more of all the inexplicable stuff happening in my world. Perspective is like having a rear-backup camera feature in your car when you’re backing into a tight parking spot. If you have the benefit of the view before the accident happens, it saves you a bumper repair bill. But even if you have it only after the fact, you at least know why it happened, and what you can do next time to prevent it.

    So, insight into other people’s motivations helps us
    - Be friends with the world
    - Get what we want more often
    - Spend less effort getting what we want
    - Be more at peace during the times when we don’t get what you want
    - Have closer relationships with the people in our life; understanding people is the first step to building trust
    I’ve seen this described in books as being tuned to the radio station that everybody is on: WII-FM: What’s In It For Me?


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