The Psychology of Perspective

By Arlene Kahn Therapy • February 20th, 2010

Keep your perspective,” “Keep it in perspective,” is usually good advice.

What is perspective, actually?  Oxford dictionary says it’s an attitude, a position, angle, outlook, even a lookout.  It can be a point of view, a viewpoint, a standpoint.  A perspective is something that guides us.  We tend to act, based on how we see things, what we believe about someone.  When our point of view clashes with conflicting information, it can be confusing and either our perspective changes or we hold on to it tenaciously.

Consider some of the recent news items, for instance:

1.  We knew Tiger Woods as an upstanding golf hero but after his fiasco of affairs, he became a different person.  Did his apology publicly change him for you?  Do you see him differently now? Can you hold the opposites of Woods the hero and Woods the disgraced?

2.  Recently, I was looking at  Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit edition.  This is their largest yearly magazine edition– Does it represent sports?  What is your “take” on Sports Illustrated having an issue solely to show female models in swimsuits? Again, it contains a conflict of opposites:  illustrating sports vs. showing off models.

3.  Reviewing Toyota’s claim to have excellent quality control after blatant failures with power steering, the accelerator pedal and brake system, along with their denial of these problems could make you wonder what kind of manufacturing they are actually doing? How does it change your view of Toyota?  Again, the contradictory position of Toyota the upstanding company and Toyota the company that has not been  honest.

Everyone needs a perspective, a standpoint, a way of seeing in life.  Even so, sometimes, losing our perspective (our standpoint) can be a good thing.  It might be a time in our life that requires a new attitude.  We might be engaged in new education or a life-cycle change such as getting married or divorced,  going into business, or experiencing the death of someone we’ve depended on–for their helpful point of view.  On the other hand, the mark of a leader such as Mahatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King,  is one who can maintain a balanced perspective even in the midst of crisis and turmoil.

Picasso-Girl-Before-Mirror.perspectiveSometimes however, we need to change our perspective.

Picasso changed our perspective of art when he painted in a cubist style, basically using four dimensions instead of two or three.  We see further into his figures than the typical two or three dimensional plane.   His painting The Girl in The Mirror, shows us our inside view of ourselves, and others.

In   relationships,  people often see in only one or two dimensions instead of a more whole, complete view of a person.   Likewise  our  perspective on ourselves.  Sometimes that too, becomes too narrow.  Hence we can make too much of something we’ve done, or diminish the full value of our own worth.  Holding opposites in life is an art and an achievement.

Letting go of our perspective often allows an openness to something new, different and creative.  It can be the basis of taking new risks, making new choices, having better relationships and working more effectively.

Next time you  get stuck in a conflict with someone, have difficulty moving ahead in your job or hear that critical voice inside, try asking yourself:

1.  How am I seeing this issue?

2.  Could there be another perspective?

3.  What might the other person see that I don’t?

4.  If I did something differently, would my perspective change?

5.   How is my vision keeping things from changing?

Changing a perspective is not always easy.  Letting go of outworn views can lead to more grounded insights, providing guidance for ourselves and direction  for others in our role as leaders.

When a trusted view of a situation or a person fails and suddenly we are without a perspective, we can feel confused and lost.  At that time there are often inner forces re-organizing, re-forming new ways of seeing, often with a new maturity and inner growth and  suddenly, we ‘re recognizing something new in ourselves, our children or spouse, or in the larger world.

C. G. Jung the Swiss psychologist often said that when you see something in someone, you bring it out in them.   When we perceive positive aspects in someone we bring that out in him or her, when we see negative traits we bring that out as well.  So it is important to keep in mind that the perspective we hold about someone matters whether it’s how you see yourself or others.

 

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