RECALL A TIME WHEN you had some trouble
with someone an argument, a tiff, a criticism, some hurt
feelings and imagine what would have happened if this
question came drifting into your mind: What does it look like
from there? Go through the whole incident looking at it from
the other person's position and I mean physically,
not metaphorically. Imagine you are physically over there, looking
out of the other's eyes. Pretend you are the other person. How
does the situation look? Imagine what the person is thinking
When I first started using this method,
there were some painful things about it, because one of the things
I was looking at from other points of view was me. And
sometimes I'm not pretty. Well, actually, I've never been pretty.
But sometimes I'm a jerk. Of course I'm usually full of justifications
about why I'm doing what I'm doing and I always feel right as
far as I'm concerned. But from another point of view, it's very
easy to see that I'm not always right. It's a disconcerting,
humbling, and illuminating realization.
Naturally, you can never know for sure
what things look like from another's point of view unless you
ask them and they tell the truth. But imagining what you'd guess
it looks like is worthwhile anyway. It'll change the way you
treat other people. It'll change the way you think about yourself.
You'll be calmer and more peaceful, and your relationships with
others will be more harmonious.
One of the things you discover, looking
at things from other peoples' point of view, is that people hold
their views with as much self-righteousness as you hold yours.
And further, that they are right just as much as you are, or
at least they feel that way, and they think in a way that justifies
their position. Their point of view is valid from within their
worldview. And their worldview is valid from their experience
of their life since birth. If you got completely inside their
life, you'd see that their point of view is more valid than your
own from within their worldview. It helps you realize that you
have a worldview based on your limited experience, and that it
is only relatively valid, not absolutely valid.
This understanding will change the way you interact with people.
"But Maggie, you know we can't afford
"You never listen to me, Rob. I said
we can skip our vacation."
"Then what do I have to look forward
to? A remodeled house? That isn't something I'd really look forward
"But Rob, you'd come home to it every
night. You only get to enjoy the vacation once."
"I'd enjoy the memory for years."
Here they are, any two people with different
points of view, and where is their effort directed? At getting
the other person to see how things look from here. What
would happen if one of them tried to see what it looked like
"You think about your vacations a
lot, don't you Rob? You look forward to them and then remember
them a lot afterwards?"
"I do. Don't you?"
"Do you daydream about them?"
"Sure I do, Maggie. It gives me something
pleasant to think about when my mind is idle, in between tasks
and when I'm falling asleep."
"You think about an upcoming vacation
every day? Or how often?"
"Every day for sure. Usually several
By getting information, Maggie is improving
her ability to see the situation the way Rob sees it, and it's
changing the flavor of their interaction. It always does.
But keep in mind, this is not a formula
to be a doormat. Just because Maggie can see the way Rob views
a vacation doesn't mean she loses her own point of view. The
choice is not one or the other point of view. She can have both,
and more than that. The greater her flexibility, the more able
she will be to understand others. She will be better able to
come up with solutions that satisfy both of them.
Anybody who is skillful at dealing with
people has the ability to look at things from other peoples'
points of view. You already have this skill to some degree, and
the better you are at it, the better you are with people. And
when you're doing it sincerely, when you're really putting yourself
in the other person's boots, you're not only highly skilled with
people, but a truly Good Person. Being moral, being ethical,
has as its main injunction: Do unto others as you would have
them do unto you. The best way to do that is genuinely,
and the best way to do it genuinely is to look at the situation
from the other person's point of view not as a tricky
technique to take advantage of people, but really and truly.
When you learn about other people who did
some good in this world people like Mahatma Gandhi and
Abraham Lincoln and Alice Paul what's inspiring, what
stirs the heart, is Goodness. It's doing what's right even when
it's difficult and for no other reason than it's right. And the
spring from which this kind of honesty and decency flows is seeing
how it looks from there looking out the other's eyes.
Those exceptionally good people were exceptionally skilled at
seeing things from another's point of view.
When Northerners spoke harshly of Southern
people during the Civil War, Lincoln replied, "Don't criticize
them; they are just what we would be under similar circumstances."
He imagined how he would feel about slavery if he was born and
raised in the South, if his mother and father believed in it
and survived by it, if everyone he knew and cared about believed
Lincoln had the ability to look at things
from another's viewpoint. This skill is rare, but people who
have it make things happen.
LOOK FROM THERE
In 1927, a woman was straining peas for
her infant daughter. This was the third time today she'd done
this task. These were the days before you could go to the store
and buy baby food. Her husband ran the Fremont Canning Company,
and she asked him why the heck a canning company didn't do this
"To press the point," she said,
"I dumped a whole container of peas into a strainer and
bowl, placed them in Dan's lap, and asked him how he'd like to
do that three times a day, seven days a week."
Dan said later, "The following twenty
minutes shouldn't happen to any man...I pushed and squashed valiantly,
and the peas were everywhere but in the strainer."
"You can puree tomatoes at the plant,"
she told him, "why not vegetables for Sally?"
Dan Gerber went to his plant to try it
and Gerber baby food has been a household name ever since.
Mrs. Gerber had insisted Mr. Gerber look
at the situation from her own point of view physically,
not metaphorically. And Mr. Gerber was willing to look, and their
interaction produced something. Instead of simply complaining
and bickering, their conversation became productive, in this
case, not only for themselves, but for millions of others.
Ask yourself, "What does
it look like from there?"