Mindfulness

What I’ve Learned from Tweaking my Perspective

This post is the result of an off-hand comment Andrea made while I was driving her to work a couple weeks ago. Less than a mile from arriving at the hospital I felt the bright lights of someone behind me, driving uncomfortably close to my car. Tailgating is annoying at best, and I already wasn’t in a great mood that day.

So what did I do? I slowed down to hopefully frustrate my new-found enemy, as if I was doing them a favor by making them aware of their erroneous ways.

When I explained what I was doing to Andrea, she said, “what if that person is rushing to their pregnant wife at the hospital? What if you’re slowing them down from some emergency?”

This was a light-bulb moment. There’s no shortage of aggressive drivers in Vancouver so chances are high that this person did in fact fall in the ‘impatient jerk’ category. But in giving some benefit of the doubt that this person was in fact hurrying to some important event while I had all the time in the world, left me feeling sheepish.

And that little shift in perspective kept popping up in my head over the next few weeks.

It just so happened soon after I had a brief interaction with a super grumpy teller at the bank, and I left with thoughts of how inconsiderate he was. What was his problem?

So I applied my newfound skill, the ‘perspective tweak.’

This person could have been recently divorced. They might’ve slept terribly, had their bike stolen, or whatever. Maybe it wasn’t anything. But either way I was judging that person, as if they’re not some complex person with their own issues, fears, concerns, and dreams. They should simply be a bank teller that gives me some level of good service.

David Cain of Raptitude has a great line: “Every passing face on the street represents a story every bit as compelling and complicated as yours.” Assuming someone acts in a way you don’t approve of because they’re wrong or they’re a bad person, well… it makes an ‘ass of you and me.’

It’s really changed the way I react to the many interactions I have every day, for the better.

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Well, little did I know the mother of all opportunities to practice my ‘put yourself in their shoes’ technique would present itself: the U.S. election. For the last week following the astonishingly surprising outcome, people have been trying to process and come to terms with what exactly it means for our collective future.

Now, one of the most distinctive features of the race to the White House was that it represented two polar sides: red vs. blue, left vs. right, us vs. them. It played out like a movie, with the good guy duking it out with the villain (who in this case is different depending on who you ask).

Hearing the result last week made me feel utterly confused: how could people buy in to such frightening beliefs? I, along with many others, have been judging the choices made by those we likely don’t fully understand.

These people clearly want change from the current political system, and there must be some struggle that prompted this demand.

So I tried to see it from their perspective. It makes me hopeful that the decision will facilitate change. Hillary Clinton was more of the same, more of what the American people have had for nearly a decade; and the same clearly didn’t cut it. It could be terribly rocky to start, but I can only hope that in the long term the U.S. will emerge better off.

I have no shortage of opinions on many topics (what about all of our precious climate progress!?) and it’s easy to form “I’m right, they’re wrong” mentality.

But I can all but guarantee that I’m not right all the time (what? no way. yeah it’s true). My ideals just wouldn’t work for others and vice versa.

The best thing we can collectively do is listen compassionately to one another. Hear their side of the story and maybe it’ll will make sense. Avoid immediately writing off others as wrong. And realize that you can’t simply change others’ views, but you can ‘be the change you want to see in the world.’

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