A particular attitude toward, or way of regarding something; a point of view
I have always been fascinated by levels. Yep levels, those simple rectangular tools.
A couple years back, on Easter (oddly), I received my own level as a present. I absolutely loved it. I loved its precision, and I loved how it all worked with just a little liquid, a bubble, and our mighty poles….really it’s nearly a perfect tool, or so I thought.
This summer, I took on the project of building new garden boxes with my Dad. I love doing projects with my Dad. We discussed our plan, gathered the materials and began. Soon we discovered the trickiest part lay in making the boxes level within the ground. This job, of course, required my level!
It was a bit tedious; we smoothed and dug, and smoothed a little more, until every edge was exactly, perfectly level. Once we had arrived at this bit of level perfection, we secured the corners with brackets, and then congratulated ourselves on one box completed. As we stood back to admire our work, it quickly became clear that something was off…really off. In fact, it looked awful. It’s lack of “level-ness” was glaring. But how could this be? Levels don’t lie.
I went back and set my level on every edge…all were level. My Dad got his level and set his on each edge…all were level. What could have gone wrong?
We backed up even further and looked upon our box. Slowly it became clear that though the box was level, my yard was not. Neither was my driveway, that ran the edge of the box. For that matter, very little around the box was level. This perfectly level box looked completely whacky in its un-level surroundings. There were factors we just didn’t think to consider. We had gotten so caught up in our plan, and what was happening right in front of us, that we had failed to see the project from this larger perspective before we began.
Once we looked upon the project from this new point of view, we completely shifted our plan. We realized, to my dismay, my level was not in fact the best tool for the job. I would have never believed this if someone had told me ahead of time. I truly believed you could not go wrong with a level. As we moved forward, we relied on our own eyeballs to make the best visual decisions. At the end of the project, we had five new boxes. And I, had a changed understanding about my beloved level.
The Missing Point of View
I thought a lot about this discovery in the following weeks. I think of myself more as an information gatherer than one who relies heavily on assumptions. However, obviously I have them. I wondered in what other situations, conversations, projects, debates, etc., I had brought more assumptions to the table than I may have realized.
How often had I gotten caught up with what was happening right in front of me, and had failed to see other perspectives as I moved forward in life? I am an open-minded person, and I do believe, when it is presented to me, I try to see things from other people’s points of view. But, what I don’t think I always do well, is to seek out the missing point of view, to actively pursue that perspective that I don’t have.
One of the great benefits of getting older is experience. Each year we log on this planet, we gain more living to draw from, to form our understandings and opinions. This is a true gift. But at the same time, through these experiences we also often begin to find more confidence in those beliefs we hold. It can be a double-edged sword; if we are not careful, we can start narrowing our understandings rather than broadening them. I’ve started to consider….
Do I seek information to form my beliefs, or do I seek information to support those beliefs I already have? What do you do?
If I’m honest, I think I probably do both. While that is not necessarily always a bad thing, I am beginning to believe, that I am stifling opportunities for wisdom, every time I look to collect information to support beliefs I already have. When I do that, I am limiting my world to my own perspective….and the essence of that is….I am limiting my world. That’s not good.
Have you ever entered into a conversation looking for agreement or validation for beliefs you already hold? Sometimes, you may ask for an opinion, but you secretly just want someone to confirm what you already think. And if they don’t, sometimes you feel a shift in your conversation mode where you want to convince the other person you are right. I know I’ve done this before.
I think we also all see this in the world particularly with political debates. We often plow forward with our own opinions, armed with our own assumptions and perspectives, and often varying news sources to quote, that will support our own points of view. (Goodness knows, you can find something on the internet to support any view these days!) The more of an opposing opinion we encounter, the more we may dig in our heels. We enter in conversations/debates wanting the other party to understand our own views, to change minds. Discussions are sometimes prickly, walls go up, and if you really think about it, often, very little true knowledge or understanding even gets exchanged.
But sometimes, you get in a conversation….those unique gems of human interaction we stumble upon, where ideas flow, even counter ideas. You feel like you are truly being heard, and there is a genuine interest in your perspective. AND, you feel yourself really listening, and asking questions. You are curious. Thoughts are thrown in the arena and they are pondered. They get pushed and pulled, and molded….and they get clearer.
Ohhh….I love that feeling. Those conversations are some of my favorite encounters on the planet. It is in those interactions where you feel your mind grow. You see things in a new way, you have a new perspective. Sometimes it’s with more confidence in your own thoughts, and sometimes you see things in an entirely new way. But either way, you leave wiser.
Truthfully, this just happens with some people better than others. People have different chemistry with each other, and some people are just good at conversing. But what I’ve decided is I want work to have more of my interactions play out this way. Obviously, I can’t change how the other person enters a conversation. But, I can change how I do.
I actually read these words by Steven Covey, many, many years ago. But they have kept coming back as I’ve been pondering this topic.
Seek first to understand, then be understood.
What a simple little nugget of advice. What if we all gave this a go? Not just in our political debates and conversations about ideas, but in all of our conversations and interactions.
Those interactions in all of our relationships; with friends, significant others, or people we are dating, with co-workers, or even just acquaintances, when feathers sometimes get ruffled, or misunderstandings arise. Instead of giving into that first instinct of feeling challenged, accused, or annoyed, what if we took a little of Covey’s advice and first sought to understand the other person?
We must attempt to acknowledged that we may have arrived at that moment with our own assumptions, and we may initially be seeing the interaction from only one perspective, our own. And though we may not be wrong, per say, we just might be missing some really important pieces of the bigger picture, or we might even be missing the most important part.
How Do You Collect Wisdom?
So, here’s my charge…whether it’s with someone I love, a person I just met, or anyone in between, as I interact with others, particularly in those moments that aren’t exactly flowing, I’m going to try to look up from my “level”, from my own beliefs, from what is happening in my own world. I’m going to check my assumptions, and really take a good hard look at things from the other’s point of view.
I think if we all consciously tried to take these steps, not only will we open our minds and our worlds, but I believe we also will find a much kinder way to live; a way that will feel better to each other and ourselves. Everyone is living, experiencing and growing in their own unique ways. Every person we meet can offer us something that can expand our thinking. I’m realizing, that if I don’t consciously work to make this shift, not just with the people I naturally enjoy and am interested in, but with everyone; I am missing out on some seriously untapped wisdom, and potentially some better relationships.
So, here we go. Here I go. Let’s do this….
It’s time to make a shift. It’s time to really understand.