Perspective Taking

It has been a tough week. I am not pretending that I have it tough, in a world where people are dying by the thousands daily and where others are out, shouting in the street until their voices are numb to undo injustices as old as time … . It has been a tough week for me, here in my little world.

In all of my dealings with people I either get filled with positive energy or I get drained, so much so in many instances that, after encounters, I have to lie down and close my eyes or stare into space before I can fully recover. This week has been almost entirely like that – one encounter at a time.

Being a leader in these times is unimaginably hard. Having to make decisions for an entire organisation, made of people, each a mother, a father, a provider, a soul, must be momentous. Being there to listen to each and every complaint, spoken to your face as if you had magic powers to undo it all and make it better and you don’t want to must be wrenching. Working for all of the hours of your days and nights, pondering over solutions to support all – a utopia in itself, discovering two good ideas only to uncover five more questions in this weird game of wack-a-mole that our working days and actual lives have become, only to be told that you have not thought of this particular person or this particular issue and that is unacceptable, must be the reasons why people utter words like “F.. it all, I quit!”

I watched my leader this week weather meetings I would have quit on five minutes into. And I have watched so many people – colleagues and clients alike – taking time and time again to write vicious emails, most probably with a lifted brow, or open their mouths to utter phrases filled with judgement and criticism, when it would have taken such a short time to pause, take perspective and ask questions instead.

In her life changing work Dr. Brene Brown talks often and very clearly about perspective taking as the very first attribute of empathy. And we do like to use this buzz word, empathy, to describe ourselves at all times. Because … it sounds right. But wait until something we hear about or others do directly influences us. We are all up in arms, ready to use the sharpest words we have and mistake courage for hiding behind the presence of everyone else to put someone in the corner with our criticism and righteousness.

Perspective taking is normally taught or modelled by parents. The more your perspective is in line with the dominant culture, the less you were probably taught about perspective taking. In the United States, the majority culture is white, Judeo-Christian, middle class, educated, and straight.

We all see the world in a different way, based upon our information, insight and experiences. Among other things, this takes into account our age, sexual orientation, physical ability, gender, race, ethnicity, and spirituality.

We can’t take off the lens from which we see the world.

Empathy is incompatible with shame and judgement.  Staying out of judgement requires understanding. We tend to judge those areas where we’re the most vulnerable to feeling shame ourselves. We don’t tend to judge in areas where our sense of self-worth is stable and secure. In order to stay out of judgement, we must pay attention to our own triggers and issues.

Perspective taking is listening to the truth as other people experience it and acknowledging it as the truth. What you see is as true, real and honest as what I see, so let me be quiet for a minute, listen and learn about what you see. Let me get curious about what you see. Let me ask questions about what you see.

Dr. Brene Brown

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

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