<vtclis12-ers, sorry if this post isn’t your cup of tea. I’m taking advantage of the freedom (protean nature) granted by Alan Kay being our recent author to say something on my mind.>
One of the things I think I love the most about my typical day-to-day is that I am constantly being poked, prodded, and challenged in my way of thinking. In LDRS recently, we have been talking a lot about “perspective-taking” as a critical skill for us each to cultivate as part of that whole being-a-better-human “life learning objective.” In talking with one of the leaders from SERVE on Thursday, I had an “aha moment” that broadened the concept of perspective for me. It wasn’t a totally new insight perhaps, but rather one of those moments where you feel like you finally discover two seemingly independent small chunks of puzzle pieces actually connect together (Nelsonian deja vu?). Let me try to describe — the two chunks were (1) how I usually think of perspective. A little video/image montage goes off in my head of looking at things from multiple angles. A thought bubble: How does this look from your eyes? How does this feel from your heart? and (2) Story. The many experiences and our interpretations that weave together to make us who we are.
The “aha” came from a conversation about a water bottle. We were talking about how whenever she goes to throw away a water bottle, she thinks of where it could end up – the many places she has seen it before, floating in the water, rolling into a gutter in a city, piled up somewhere in a mound of trash that kids might play on. <!!!! head explodes !!!!> Our brains do funny things. Something about this story (likely because it was a bottle, and my engineering research involved thinking about the full life-cycle of products and all the energy that made them) started this movie in my head “the life of the water bottle” — how it came to be, what/where it was filled, me drinking it, and then the infinite possibilities that exist afterwards. Perspective is not only about the angle, the mood, the knowledge, the belief, the values, the setting in this current moment. It is all the angles, moods, knowledge, beliefs, and settings in every moment brought to bear right now in this moment. The shoe metaphor for perspective-taking is more insightful than at first glance. It is not a simple instantaneous teleportation. It is not the switch from first-person camera to different first-person camera. It is not just “walking a mile in someone else’s shoes.” It would be walking everywhere the shoes had ever been. <!!!! head explodes again !!!!> And then shoes fail us. Because even having walked and seen all of a story, I can still only process that story from my own lens. Shoes don’t have feelings and don’t make meaning. And meaning-making, perception, is uniquely different for each person.
Perspective-taking as a skill will always be beautifully flawed. I still deeply value striving to listen to stories, to authentically know as much as is given, and to use that to be more considerate and more compassionate. But, at the end of the day, no matter how skilled, no matter how empathetic, we must always remember that shoes are not enough. The beauty is, that this means we must always engage. We must always ask. We must always affirm the agency each has to write their own stories and to make their own meaning. So go – catch stories, use them to cultivate skills in perspective-taking, use those skills to navigate the world in better, more compassionate ways, and embrace the beautiful tension that exists as we try to use as skill that focuses on judgement and prediction in a way that also needs to be affirming of an individuals voice. Said another way… I must carefully balance that my attempts to understand you better, to act more compassionately, to broaden my own horizons, that I don’t somehow stomp on your stories and your voice. That you maintain your ability to tell me how wrong I am and how I misjudged. How can we remember that while we may use judgements and categories to effectively navigate the world, that they are in need of continuous refinement? How can “perspective-taking” become “perspective-sharing”?