The Generosity of Perspective

We know that other people see things differently from us. There are many different opinions about food, weather, raising children, pets, politics, movies, clothes, ice cream – everything.

We have no control over someone else’s perspective on life. We are unable to change their perspective, not matter how much we might want to.

What we do have control over is how we respond to their perspective and opinion.

We can do this well by asking one question – where do my own opinions come from?

As we begin to unpack that question and realise that our perspectives and opinions grow out of every single life experience we have ever had, then we can start to understand a little of how someone else can be so different from us. Their life journey has taken them down different paths, they have different values, they see things through different filters.

What is more challenging is when someone we know shares many of the same opinions that we do, except for one or two major issues in life. This can lead to strained relationships because ‘how can someone that is so much like me, think like this?’.

Someone once told me that the best way to approach marriage is to find the most optimistic reason why your spouse does the things that they do. In doing so, you don’t end up creating a mystical, negative narrative about someone you love, and it gives you the opportunity to discover more about them. This philosophy is not just for marriage relationships – it is helpful for all human interaction.

Just because people think or behave (or vote) differently to us, it doesn’t mean that they are evil, it means we don’t understand them yet.

We don’t have to agree with someone’s opinion to understand them.

In the Absence of Data…

I used to love writing stories when I was little. Tales about forest dwelling people and stories of weird animals, and bizarre worlds. I think I was quite a creative little guy. But I grew out of that, or so I thought. I discovered recently that I am still strongly involved in creating stories – about people mostly, and their motives and thinking.

Studies suggest that we spend up to 80% or our time each day in some form of communication. Only a small part of that is via speaking. Most of our communication is non-verbal and even when we do communicate verbally we can’t possibly say everything that is going on in our mind. So, for the majority of the time, people around us don’t actually have any idea what we are thinking or feeling.

Brene Brown, the well-known researcher and speaker, says that ‘in the absence of data, we always make up stories’. Meaning that if we don’t know what someone is thinking or feeling about us, we create a story around that – we make up what they might be thinking or feeling. Most of the time what we make up is much worse than reality. But until we get the real story confirmed, we live in a make believe world where our made up version is non-fiction.

One of the greatest acts of generosity to ourselves and those around us is choosing to assume the best. Notice when we are making up stories about what others are thinking and feeling, and seek out the data. Seek to find out what the truth of the matter is. If we must make up a story because we don’t have the data, let’s make up positive ones.