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What's your viewpoint?



When an accident occurs, and several witnesses, all telling the truth tell what happened, we might sometimes think they all saw different accidents. The driver of one car sees things from his position. The driver of the truck sees things from her position. The old lady on one side of the road sees things from her angle. And the man on the other side of the road sees things from his. When they all tell their stories, we sometimes hear honest people telling what they saw, but telling quite different stories!

What can the policeman doll see?

Young children often see things only from their viewpoint. They cannot imagine what it is like to see from another's. If they presented with a scene with a toy mountain and a policeman doll and a criminal doll, for example, they answer questions about what the doll might be able to see based solely on their own viewpoint. If the policeman doll is placed behind the mountain, and the criminal doll in front, where the child can see the criminal doll, when asked if the policeman doll can see the criminal the child will say he can (presumably because the child can see the criminal doll.) And when the criminal doll is placed behind the mountain, and the policeman doll also placed behind the mountain, the child will say the policeman doll cannot see the criminal doll.

Babies will totally ignore a desired Teddy Bear if it is hidden under a pillow, even if the child sees the Teddy being hidden. This is truly a case of out of sight out of mind.

Older children and adults tend to much better than these young children at guessing from another's viewpoint. Yet for many of us adults, we still seem to talk about things from our own viewpoints and fail to see things from another's.

Although Piaget (the psychologist who carried out many of these experiments) reported that older children learned to view things from other viewpoints, a lot of our experience with adults suggests this isn't quite the right explanation.

You are happy when I am happy

How many wives follow their husbands in certain activities, and the husband assumes that because he enjoys these activities, so does everyone else? How many husbands follow their wives, and the wife thinks that because she enjoys herself, so does he?

How many bullies think their victim enjoys being bullied because the victim smiles, or something?

It seems to me that the ability to see things from other viewpoints isn't a common human characteristic.

Because I understand something and think it's easy, I assume that everyone else does too!

Would you like to be Hitler? Mother Teresa? Gengis Khan?

It may be that if we dislike someone, it is hard to get into their skin and try to think as they do. It seems to be so hard to be that person and to consider that their thoughts are, from their viewpoint, right and good. No one is really going to think, 'Let me do this bad thing.' They think that what they are doing is good. Whether this is a Hitler or Gengis Khan, they believe that what they do is good. Perhaps it is hard for us to be that person and to think that the things they did were good!

In the opposite way, if we really like someone we might find it equally hard to enter their beingness and to experience as good the really good things they do. Who could be a Mother Teresa, and give up all the nice things they enjoy doing and having? Even if this is an exercise.

Perhaps we also fear that if we enter the beingness of a bad person or a saintly person we might become like them! Both might be an anathema to most of us!

Yet the policeman might want to think like the criminal to learn what he will do. The salesman may think like his customer to understand what might persuade him or her. Lovers might try to be each other so they can understand the other's pleasures and pains. Yet these, I believe are rare skills.

Ghandi would actually dress, walk and talk like the person he was to deal with. He would try to be that person to understand his thinking and to know how he could be influenced. Getting into the viewpoint of others is clearly a valuable skill which we should learn.

If we had the genetic history of a certain person, we had the same experiences, the same mental processes with which to evaluate those experiences, and the same spiritual history, then we would act in exactly the same way that person acted.

Even if that person was a Hitler or a Mother Teresa!

Everyone believes they are doing good, from their own viewpoint.

When we slip into the skin of another we need to see what we might have seen, from our viewpoint as bad, from their viewpoint as good. Or what we see as saintly, as quite natural behaviour. I am sure that Mother Teresa didn't walk around thinking how great and holy she was!

Three ways of seeing?

We can consider 3 viewpoints:

  • Our viewpoint,
  • The other person's viewpoint, and
  • The 'Fly on the Wall' viewpoint (or objective viewpoint.)

We can analyse incidents or scenes or problems involving others by taking, in tern one of the 3 viewpoints and 'seeing' how things are from that viewpoint. We need to remember that the other is not going to think that what they are doing is bad, or extremely good. They will be human beings!

The objective, Fly on the Wall, viewpoint is that of someone (or a god) who has no interest (nothing to gain or lose) in the matter between the two or more human viewpoints. This is a dispassionate view. The impartial judge.

The better we get at assuming in turn, each of the three viewpoints, the better we will become at understanding ourselves and others. And the more we practice, the better we will become.

If it is difficult assuming a certain viewpoint, then we can practice by nipping into the beingness of that other for a very short time and then moving into the objective viewpoint, or our viewpoint. You may then notice that the difficulty diminishes.

Give it a try?

Don't forget to give feedback!

Speak soon,

Ken Ward


PS The mailing list sites below now refer to web pages with the past mailings, so you might wish to see this stuff in HTML, or catch up !

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Most Recent Revision: 20-Mar-99.
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