a particular attitude towards or way of regarding something; a point of view.
Similar to: outlook, view, viewpoint, point of view, standpoint, position
It wasn’t until I saw a tattoo with the word PERSPECTIVE inked onto my nephew’s arm that I really gave the word much thought. But it resonated with me so strongly that I said to myself that if I were ever to get a tattoo, I would choose PERSPECTIVE. And so I did (with his permission). And now I look at my own arm every day and consider the full impact of this word.
To my mind, everything boils down to perspective: love, war, happiness, justice, equality…everything really. Perspective is a mental view of something. How we see things around us depends on our own experience, schematic knowledge, culture, society and background. The way we are brought up shapes our perspective on things, unless we change it. Perspectives do matter – to you and to the people around you. To a man stranded on a desert island, seeing a boat is a sign of hope for him to be rescued and returned to his homeland. To a man who has been drifting in the boat for days, seeing land for the first time is a sign for food, life, and civilisation. What we perceive to be the truth depends on where we are standing.
Optical illusions are a fantastic way to teach perspective-taking because they illustrate that we all think differently.
One of my favourite parables that explains perspective is one of the blind men and the elephant.
A group of blind men heard that a strange animal, called an elephant, had been brought to the town, but none of them were aware of its shape and form. Out of curiosity, they said: “We must inspect and know it by touch, of which we are capable”. So, they sought it out, and when they found it they groped about it. The first person, whose hand landed on the trunk, said, “This being is like a thick snake”. For another one whose hand reached its ear, it seemed like a kind of fan. As for another person, whose hand was upon its leg, said, the elephant is a pillar like a tree-trunk. The blind man who placed his hand upon its side said the elephant, “is a wall”. Another who felt its tail, described it as a rope. The last felt its tusk, stating the elephant is that which is hard, smooth and like a spear. They began to argue about the elephant and every one of them insisted that he was right.. A wise man was passing by and he saw this. He stopped and asked them, “What is the matter?” They said, “We cannot agree to what the elephant is like.” Each one of them told what he thought the elephant was like. The wise man calmly explained to them, “All of you are right. The reason every one of you is telling it differently because each one of you touched the different part of the elephant. So, actually the elephant has all those features what you all said. The moral of the story being that while one’s subjective experience is true, it may not be the totality of truth.
In To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch says: “If you just learn a single trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
Perspective taking is the cognitive side of empathy . It refers to a person’s ability to consider a situation from a different point of view. It requires you to put yourself in the other person’s position and imagine what you would feel, think, or do if you were in that situation and is crucial for all of us in this globalised world. Whether it’s connecting with others across the globe through technology, debating an issue from various sides, understanding conflict from different points of view, perspective taking helps us question our assumptions and stretch our horizons.
What I have learnt to appreciate is that my perspective, my view, is a product of my own thought system, which means it will be limited by what I’ve seen, heard, experienced and believe. This makes it my reality, but not reality. I have learnt that I may not agree with and like what others say, but I respect their right to say it.
Barak Obama once said:
“Learning to stand in somebody else’s shoes, to see through their eyes, that’s how peace begins. And it is up to you to make that happen. Empathy is a quality of character that can change the world.”
Let us be that change and start by trying to stand in the shoes of others and realise that our reality is just that, our reality, not the reality.