Expert comment: Why, and how, to welcome another point of view
Updated: Jul 25, 2022
I was interviewed by Breathe magazine for my thoughts on the importance of being able to take different perspectives. For me, being able to process differing opinions is essential to growth and it was such a pleasure to discuss this topic.
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BM: Stepping out of our own perceptions is tricky, why is this?
AT: As we get older and gain more independence we have to trust ourselves, our instincts and our judgments. As learning and thinking beings, we will keep adjusting our approach to life based on our experiences and begin to form habits which have served us well on previous occasions. Because of the “success” of these behaviours in the past, we rest in the sometimes superficial knowledge that we “must be right”. If little happens to challenge our behaviours, it is not necessary to change…I do things like this, I’ve always done it, it’s always worked before…and any challenge feels like a theat. This sense of threat (a contradiction to what we believe to be “true”) – can make us defensive, as we strive to protect our view.
Added to this, as we get older there are more and more thing to remember; more to learn and take responsibility for. We are what psychologists call “cognitive misers” in any case. I find it a slightly negative term for explaining that as adults we need to hold so much information some of it needs to be “compressed” into habits, sometimes stereotypes – it’s not that we don’t want to think more widely, it’s just that we don’t always have the capacity.
BM: How might changing your inward view to a broader view have the potential to transform the way we see and experience the world?
AT: Drawing from computer science, the “Law of Requisite Variety” states that the system with the largest number of options will yield the most influence. We may learn from this in that, the more open minded we are, the more options we have, the more likely we are to find a behaviour or course of action to effectively resolve, address, or even take command of and influence any situation.
Taking a broader perspective also empowers us while a blinkered view can lead us down a blinkered path. Too often we ask children “what do you want to be when you grow up?” They may say “a vet”…so they are then told to do biology, chemistry and physics…when if you asked them “What problems do you want to solve?” they may say “I want to stop animals from suffering.” This can open the doors to veterinary work of course, but also to working in an animal sanctuary in a different country, or in a zoo, or even research.
Further, collaboration means we become as good as the very many brains around us rather than limited by the confines of our own (no matter how brilliant).
BM: What might be affected by taking the view point of ‘I’?
AT: Relationships are often negatively impacted by sticking rigidly to “I”. For example, Dr Gary Chapman talked about the “5 love languages” (Gifts, Time, Words of affirmation, Intimacy and Act of service) – we often have a preference for one, or some – but our partner may prefer another. If we do not take the time to communicate and find out what they like, then we may (because we enjoy it) give lots of gifts and feel rejected when they don’t appreciate them as much as we had hoped, and again when they don’t reciprocate…yet we may have missed that they spent the evening in an act of service – making a 4 course dinner, and ironing all our clothes. You do not have to “change” your preference, but you can at least question if your relationship is worth trying something new for…if it’s not, that’s a very different matter anyway!
Coaching techniques also often encourage people to try and see things from someone else’s point of view. Simply it may be that someone was shouting in a library because they genuinely did not know the “rule” is to whisper… If we just assume, then we often labour under a misapprehension.
BM: Is there such thing as truth or reality or are all views valid?
AT: This is a hugely philosophical question – so I’m afraid you’ll only get my opinion. Everyone certainly has a right to have a view, and everyone has a right to have the view validated ie “I appreciate you see it in that way…” (no "but" after that sentence – we are not there to impose our view!!) For me, some views – ie those of scholars who have spent a long time researching the field, or experts who have spent years practicing may have views which have more weight than the lay person…but even then, there’s still an element of “at least as far as we know”. Even when statistics suggest that something is “true” it is only statistics based on the sample taken.
Because of the complexity of “truth” we often do need to settle on what is true for us, and be flexible and open to learning.
BM: How much hurt in life stems from our own stories? And how much hurt might we be able to release through seeing the world from another point of view?
AT: One big reframing that “inner child therapy” proposes is that if we are upset because of hurtful things a parent has said – it may be that their words were an expression of their own hurt. Of course this doesn’t make it hurt any less, but it can generate reflection rather than the need to just reject or hate it. The more we can minimise raw emotion to allow us to reflect and think (although this does not mean we need to “forget”) the more it can help us move forward in our own lives without holding ourselves back because of a cruel - or misguided - word or taunt.
Sometimes barriers are there of our own choosing – I remember once I was eating an apple pie at work and a colleague said – is that your lunch? I said “Yes – I’m an adult, if I want to eat apple pie for lunch rather than a sandwich I will.” That’s not however the most healthy example though because of course there is a nutritional reason why we eat certain foods at lunch…at least according to some experts! But, just because there was a rule at one point ie. Eat your dinner before dessert, it doesn’t mean it’s there all the time/anymore.
Sometimes, it’s about looking at how things are now and if what we believe to be true still applies. My husband finished the World Cup sticker album back in 2018 (yes he’s 30 – but England did well) – but rather than being restricted by pocket money which meant swapping in the playground week on week with the other children (also something NOT advisable for 30-somethings!!) – he just went on ebay and bought all the stickers. He finished it within a week.
Some barriers were only there because physically they were difficult to cross historically – we do well to look at where we are now and how that corresponds.
The thing about hurt is finding a way to make it less raw so that we can deal with it. Emotions are simply a "warning light" - like your petrol light - notifying us there's something to deal with. Ignoring them - like a petrol light - is the real problem!!
BM: Why might a person be 'living in a memory' or 'inward reality' rather than experiencing what is really there? AT: Aside from the mental health diagnoses of psychosis which I won’t get into as it’s not relevant for this piece…some people may not want to live outside a memory – this is quite common in grief sadly. It’s why we encourage people to celebrate the memory (not “move on” – I don’t like the phrase; it’s about “living a new normal”). Also, when someone has had a really positive experience and change is pushed upon them (eg. they are made redundant, someone breaks up with them, accidents or incidents happen) – this can result in them wanting to return to what was, and to see anything new as a negative because it wasn’t as it was before. This takes a lot more work of course, but again it’s about moving towards acceptance of the “new normal”…and then learning to thrive within that. It’s not easy though.
Often people stubbornly hold to a point because they feel they haven’t been heard – hearing them makes all the difference. As a listener too, it is always important to VALIDATE the other person’s point of view. It’s all to easy when the slim, successful person standing in front of you says “I’m fat and I’m useless” to say “Oh no you’re not” – and then tell them they are gorgeous, and list the ways they are successful (it comes from a place of love) – but you’ve not validated how they really feel and anything you say after is less meaningful. The more effective response is to say “I’m sad you feel that way – why do you think that” – because then you have validated their right to feel as they do/see things as they do – but you are finding out why. It is through that information that any support can be better directed.
BM: Are there steps that can be taken to overcome being one-sided?
AT MY TIPS:
1. Try to avoid seeing a challenge to your perception as a threat, and view it instead as a chance to learn about another point of view. My grandfather a Buddhism teacher, in his book wrote: “We do not have to prove to others that we consider the path we have chosen is the right one – we need only solve it ourselves that it is the right one for us, but to always bear in mind it is not necessarily so for others.” (Seet,1961)
2. BE the person who seeks to learn constantly, to try new things, to “give it a go”. Sometimes positive affirmations can help eg “I am ready for anything that comes my way”. Affirmations, according to Richard Wiseman are much more a way of priming the mind. Humans love co-incidences, so if we think something positive will happen (and prime the mind through an affirmation), we are more likely to notice something positive.
3. Meditation to calm and clear the mind can help – just because when our mind is less emotional – or even less rational, we begin to see reality better. Emotion clouds judgement, and often hold us rigidly to rules or habitual behaviours as we struggle to cope…while a bit of clarity shows us there may be another solution, it’s just that we haven’t come across it before…so opening the mind to the possibility by taking a moment (or a day) before we respond, can help…”sleeping on it” can sometimes make a lot of sense if an immediate answer is not needed. This particular tip is key in the very fast-paced world in which we live. We don’t have to “just swipe right” if we don’t want to…sometimes it’s more effective to think on it.
4. Watch your language. In my responses I’ve tried to use the words “effective” or “ineffective” rather than good/bad/right wrong…because this is one way I keep an open mind. When we say something is “good” or “bad” we’ve weighted it and almost compartmentalised it…yet that very thing, which was “bad” (or ineffective) in one context, in a different context may be extremely “good” (or effective). Embracing the complexity fluidity of life, opinion and change through the language we use, while difficult, can help. In terms of the latter, you could say “but then you’re just on the fence with everything.” Actually if I see something as “effective” – it means I know what my goal is and have chosen that behaviour specifically because it will get me there in the way I desire!
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilienceFor coaching tips and tools including positive psychology: click WORK WITH ME or SKILL PILL and here for Media appearances or Psych Q&A. Twitter/IG @draudreyt
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