Understanding Perspective

Often wondered why people get into conflict with one another? Self interest, thoughtlessness, stubbornness, the need to be right (ego)… there are many reasons. I’m often amused listening to people involved in arguments who appear to agree on the same principles but seem intent to remain at cross purposes, hell-bent on winning the argument. The “winner” is not necessarily the one who was right, but is often the one with the greatest need to be acknowledged as being right. We’ve learned that no one truly wins a war – the real test is about who wins the peace.

Here’s my take on different perspectives: Imagine you’re walking in the foothills of the mountains. Stop and take in the splendour of the cliffs, the trees and the surrounding hills. After a while, commence walking again for another 150 metres. Stop and observe again. What has happened?

Although you have only moved a short distance much has changed. You can now see things you could not see 150 metres back, and some of the things you saw earlier have disappeared. In fact, the scenery is now almost completely different, despite the reality that you’ve moved only a very short distance. You’re really looking at the same thing, but from a different angle.

This is the essence of perspective. Different people look at the same things from different standpoints producing different “points of view.” When we appreciate and become sensitive to other people’s different ways of looking at things, we begin to develop an ability shared by few – the ability to “put oneself in the other’s shoes” or more simply, to see things from their perspective. Sometimes, it simply takes a pause to reflect before responding.

Differing perspective is a common basis of conflict among humans. Instinct leads us to pursue our own point of view. Wisdom leads us to explore the standpoints of others in order to acquire an understanding of their perspectives and the basis thereof. This exploration leads to a significant increase in communication skill and empathy. It helps us to pause before making assumptions. It allows us to consider the extraordinary possibility that we may, unlikely as it may seem, occasionally be mistaken.

Everyone thinks they’re right – often even when they’ve been proven wrong. The true test of wisdom is to check your instinct in the heat of the argument, bury your pride and ask yourself – is it possible that my opponent (sometimes read “spouse”) may have a reason for thinking that they are right?

Paul du Toit, Author and Certified Speaking Professional



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