Suppose you’ve been with your partner for a long time. Your relationship is stable and your overall well being is good. Suddenly, you’re told to sit down “we need to talk”. By the way, whenever a conversation is started like this, prepare yourself as its not going to be a nice one. So you sit down and you’re told “it’s not you, it’s me”. You’re devastated, of course. The foundations of stability in which your relationship was built upon have crumbled and the walls close in around you. You may feel alone, sad and like no one will ever love you again. That’s normal, and that’s one perspective. A friend, will often provide you with an alternative perspective and say “there’s plenty more fish in the sea”. This phrase generally means that there is more than one person out there whom you will find happiness with and who will love you as much as you love them. This is a positive perspective to look at a break up. Although statistically true, if there is more than one person who can make you feel happy, who you love and find attractive, your partner wasn’t all that special, were they? Just one of many other perspectives, I guess.
I was inspired to write about perspective after watching Rory Sutherland’s talk “Perspective is Everything”. Although his talk focuses on economic perspectives, I would like to focus on how perspectives and attitudes are formed and influenced.
Anatomically, we interpret the world via electronic signals in the brain. The eye for instance, light enters through the pupil and hits the retina at the back of the eye. This is made up of millions of photoreceptors, which transforms light into electrical impulses, which travel down the optic nerve to the occipital lobe at the back of the brain. The way we interpret sound is similar but the journey from sound wave to electrical impulse is more complex. Sound waves are cupped by the ear and sent down the ear canal, which hits the eardrum causing it to vibrate. This vibration moves the hammer to hit the anvil (two bone structures within the ear). When the anvil is struck it causes the stirrup (the tiniest bone in your body) to move and make the signal louder. The signal travels into the cochlea (shaped similar to ammonite fossils or like a snail shell). The reason I am telling you this is because what we see and hear isn’t necessarily what we think we see and hear and this is based on perspectives, attitudes and experience.
I believe there are at least four elements to influence perspectives: geographical location, euphemistic language, family influence and personal experience.
Geographical location can assist in the shaping of a perspective. For example: terrorists or freedom fighters? That perspective depends where you are. In the Middle East, many may argue that the West are terrorists, whereas the people in the West may believe themselves to be freedom fighters, who look to liberate the countries who are “perceived” to be oppressed or corrupted.
Euphemistic language is a tool used to say one thing and mean another or to create a different mental picture. In this case for example the military use euphemistic and distancing language when talking to the media about their actions. Let’s imagine country X has bombed country Y. When country X dropped the bomb, many innocent civilians of country Y were killed in the attack. Here’s where it gets interesting, this is where euphemistic language shapes perspective. The representative of the armed forces for country X would no doubt refer to the death of innocent civilians as “collateral damage”. This term de-individuates, dehumanizes and distances itself from the action and responsibility. It creates a perspective that gives these lost lives no value. This tool is an effective way to generate an attitude towards something. By referring to an act as something different you can change the way it is understood and interpreted.
“Choose your frame of reference and the perceived value therefore, the actual value is completely transformed” Rory Sutherland
It’s possible that our family members influence a lot of our attitudes towards certain acts, places and even people. Their attitude can create a perspective to which a person would judge another. For instance, if your parents hate animals, and detest the notion of pets. It’s likely that you too will adopt this attitude towards pets and only view them this one perspective. This is quite a corrosive influence. For instance, children may not be open to change their minds for the sake of retaining their parents and family approval.
Finally, the last element of shaping perspectives and attitudes is your own personal experience. This is the most liberating as it gives you the freedom to make your own mind up. Let’s imagine you have never read a blog before. You have no prior experience of reading one and have absolutely no position of perspective. As you read my blog you think, “This guy is boring, who cares about perspective or attitudes?” Your personal experience of my blog could shape an attitude about blogs, and furthermore your perspective may be that all blogs are boring. That’s okay, I’m not judging you, it’s just your perspective, and you’re not the only one that thinks my blogs are boring! 😉
In conclusion, it’s important to understand that we all have different attitudes and look at the same thing with different perspectives. There are no wrong ways to look at something; much the same there are no right ways. But it is important to view something from a different perspective to truly make an opinion, in my opinion. I believe that if we try to view the many things in the world from different perspectives we would increase our understanding of the world around us. This increased knowledge could allow us all to make a real difference and change the way people are viewed for example. Think about a different perspective when you see “gangs” of “yobs” or “chavs” “roaming” the street, take a moment to see their world from their perspective. It might just be that they are a group of children with nowhere to socialise.