The value of perspective

Human beings are programmed to perceive their surroundings -- a natural guidance system necessary for operating in an ever-changing environment. It is what we see, what we observe.  Our ability to perceive is an a priori mechanism, an instinct, hardwired into our brains working hand-in-hand with our senses. 

Because this is a “default setting” in all of us, it is easy to overvalue the assuredness of conclusions based upon it.  Every incident that emanates from our perception is validated for accuracy by observable confirmation.  Repeated confirmations create biases that can erroneously predict outcomes weighted heavily on past experiences and not on the present.

Perception comes from the Latin word, percepio meaning receiving, collecting, and possessing with the mind/senses.  Most of us mistakenly assign one-hundred-percent assuredness to our perceptions and this can lead to very wrong conclusions.

You’re stopped at a traffic light and the car in front of you isn’t moving although the light is green.  The drivers’ head is facing down and only after you use your horn does he begin to move.  As you approach the next light, the same thing happens, his head is down and he is not responding to the light turning green.  Again you use the horn, now thoroughly annoyed and sure in your thinking that the guy is texting, drunk or high.

If you had known that this man was just coming from the hospital after his wife had passed away, your perception of the events, although accurate, would have yielded you a very different conclusion.  While your rote observations were correct, your conclusion was based on too little information and too much conformational bias based on past experience and probabilities. 

What was missing here was perspective.

Many people interchange perception and perspective but the two are very different.  When these two concepts are understood and used to compliment one another, we are transformed into powerful observers with the added benefit of insight.

Perspective, in Latin: perspectīve as, the science of optics, to behold and inspect intensively, carefully.  Perspective is “Big-Picture” thinking from not only our point-of-view, but also from an observable distance.

You’re a movie actor struggling in your first Hollywood role.  The set of the movie is a single room and your role is to argue with your fellow actor.  The set is hot, you’re nervous, the director is a taskmaster and you get through the day not really feeling like you accomplished much.  You go home discouraged.

When the movie is finally release to the public, it is met with enthusiasm and excitement.  Your role is nominated for Best Actress and you can hardly believe it.  When you see the final product, you can hardly believe your own eyes.

While she was working, our actor’s perception was the accurate reality of hot, repetitive, and frustrating work, there was no connection or validation in that moment of a greater creation.  Only after the film was edited, produced, distributed, and viewed was the acclaim forthcoming.  In perspective, the whole of the parts come into focus and the earlier perception, although accurate in the moment, was not any indicator of the bigger picture.  Armed only with her perception, our actor might have quit midway and never realized her potential.

The tennis players on center-court at the U.S. Open, battling each other for the championship, both super-focused and dialed in, they demonstrate perception personified.  The man in the stands watching them, sipping a beer, and cheering on every great shot, he exemplifies perspective.

Adding the element of perspective to our arsenal of understanding encourages more examination, more insights, and more knowledge.  Being able to see not only the bigger picture, but those images as seen by the others involved with whatever it is you are attempting to understand, will allow you access to resources you never knew were available and make you a much more thoughtful and wiser person.  When you learn to observe the plight of others, from their point of view, and then deal with them in consideration of that understanding, you become a much more approachable and seemingly reasonable person, easier to deal with and more comfortable to be around because you took the time to see the whole situation from all perspectives and not just your own. 

You’ll know when you have successfully embraced this way of thinking and reasoning when the moment comes and you have a sudden change of heart about something you thought you knew and understood and yet you have the courage and the insight, to change your mind.


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