The Others Are Right… and So Are You.

Integrating Perspectives, An Act of Peace

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“Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.”                                                      -Douglas Adams

The ultimate road to establishing peace is through becoming conscious of my perspective and the perspective of the other. When I achieve integrating both an act of peace comes to life.

What better than football to help us understand perspectives? When I go to the stadium this becomes evident: if I am sitting in the upper bleachers, my perspective of the game is completely different than if I am sitting at the bottom.  It’s the same game because performance and results are equal, but it’s also another game because when I am sitting at the top, individuality of the players vanishes and the game as a team emerges. I can see how they all run in the field and I can recognize the formations. When I am at court level, the perspective is completely different, what I see is detail. My eyes follow a particular player, I also follow each pass and how the goal is scored. Everything I see is partial, it’s that simple. You could think there are no consequences sitting in places that are utterly opposed in a soccer game; but if we take this example to a discussion, the consequences can be more serious than only missing part of the game.

Moshe Dayan, a politician and Israeli military man said: “If you want to make peace, you don’t talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies.”  Lets imagine a weekend brunch with friends and family. When a topic that confronts different perspectives on sexual, political, religious or moral preference appears, typically what happens is a polarization and the need to prove that my point of view is the right one and that others are wrong. Those of us who are at the table start noticing how a conflict is emerging and that could potentially damage the relationship. As each part blindly defends their position on the matter, the potential disaster increases. We can see, then, that for a conflict to occur, it is necessary for both sides to think they are right. This happens because, within this paradigm, I am viewing the world only from my perspective, the principle of the world is as I see it. That is to say, I give meaning to reality and it’s conditioned by my world-view.

But why would I want to integrate the perspectives of others if I know I am right? Take a moment and think of someone with whom you are in a conflict.  Without knowing this person, I will dare say this person is right. Arbinger Institute explains it this way: “The more sure I am that I’m right, the more likely I will actually be mistaken. My need to be right makes it more likely that I will be wrong.” In other words, wrong means not being able to see what the other part sees.

In order to integrate perspectives, we need to develop and expand our consciousness. Remember that perspective means the place from which I see things; consciousness means to become aware of the place from which I see things; expansion of consciousness means integrating the highest amount of places from which I see something. For example, the concept of pain is different for a midwife than for a widower. It’s the same word, but the meaning is something different depending in who we are, how we are and how we see the world. In Nietzsche’s words: “There are no facts, only interpretations.”

In the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, the author shares his experience:         

I remember a mini-paradigm shift I experienced one Sunday morning on a subway in New York. People were sitting quietly — some reading newspapers, some lost in thought, some resting with their eyes closed. It was a calm, peaceful scene.

Then suddenly, a man and his children entered the subway car. The children were so loud and rambunctious that instantly the whole climate changed.

The man sat down next to me and closed his eyes, apparently oblivious to the situation. The children were yelling back and forth, throwing things, even grabbing people’s papers. It was disturbing. And yet, the man sitting next to me did nothing.

It was difficult not to feel irritated. I could not believe that he could be so insensitive to let his children run wild like that and do nothing about it, taking no responsibility at all. It was easy to see that everyone else on the subway felt irritated, too. So finally, with what I felt was unusual patience and restraint, I turned to him and said, “Sir, your children are really disturbing a lot of people. I wonder if you couldn’t control them a little more?”

The man lifted his gaze as if to come to a consciousness of the situation for the first time and said softly, “Oh, you’re right. I guess I should do something about it. We just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago. I don’t know what to think, and I guess they don’t know how to handle it either.”

Can you imagine what I felt at that moment? My paradigm shifted. Suddenly I saw things differently, I felt differently, I behaved differently. (Covey 33)

The idea that I respond to the world according to what I see and I see the world according to who I am becomes evident again and again in our complex human interactions. If this is clear to me, as we said in the beginning integrating perspectives means also to recognize the reason why others see the world in their own ways, therefore they also, like me, see the world as they are. It’s not about how I see it or how you see it, but how I see it and how you see it. The mechanism by which I can start to integrate perspectives of others is through the phrase: “Yes… and…” That is to say “Yes, I understand that it is this way for you and also for me it is that way, it’s just as valid.” Ken Wilber said: “There’s never been someone so intelligent to be always wrong, therefore we all have a piece of the truth.” Which means that we all have a point. Think of the person you are in conflict with. Beyond attaching to the belief that you are right, could you accept the fact that this person can’t be 100% wrong? Become aware of what happens inside you when you accept that the other person is also right. You can say: “Yes, for you it is that way, which is true and for me it is this way, which is also true…” To this we call integrating perspectives, perhaps the most convincing act of peace. Imagine how the world would be if politicians, businessman, militants, amongst others would start to integrate perspectives. Can you think how many resources could be saved should teams, instead of wanting to convince each other, learned to listen and integrate?

I invite you to see this 30 second video called “The Guardian”:

The Others Are Right… and So Are You.

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