Adults are often in a position of teaching children. But it is equally important to recognize how adults can learn from young people by seeing things through their eyes, or perspective, as shown in this illustration.
“If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from his angle as well as your own.”
The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, told by A. Wolf, is a retelling of the familiar story “The Three Little Pigs,” told from the perspective of a wolf. In this adapted story, the wolf explains that he really isn’t big and bad. He was merely a neighbor to the pigs who wanted to borrow a cup of sugar. He knocked on the door of the first little pig’s house, and due to the pig’s failure to use adequate construction, the house fell down, accidently killing the pig. It would have been wasteful of the wolf not to consume the meat. He goes on to explain what happened to each of the remaining pigs. A very different story than the one we typically remember, but a thought-provoking example of what it means to fully examine a situation from a different perspective.
Literature often helps us see things from different perspectives; such is the case when famous literary character Atticus Finch, in To Kill a Mockingbird, speaks specifically about the importance of considering the perspective of another. “‘First of all,’ he said, ‘if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.’”
Empathic thinking requires a form of perspective taking that is both circular and causal. It can be described as, “I understand you and try to feel what you feel; you then feel cared for and return the same sense of support to me.”
Ellen Gallinsky’s book Mind in the Making identifies seven life skills that promote learning and achievement in young children. Perspective taking is one of those life skills. For children to be successful, they have to mature beyond a purely myopic view of the world and be able to take into consideration the needs and desires of others. A two-year-old grabbing a toy from his friend is a common scenario that creates a learning opportunity for the child. When an appropriate behavior (in this example, sharing the toy) is modeled and reinforced, the child is able to practice a desired behavior, grow socially and emotionally, and mature into an individual who gets along well with others.
Consider this example: Jen is a preschool teacher who recognizes that a two-year-old’s tendency to grab a toy away from a playmate is a common behavior at this stage of development. She also understands that to help him mature beyond this developmental stage, she must intervene by modeling and reinforcing the appropriate behavior: sharing the toy. Giving her student the opportunity to learn how to take the perspective of another person allows him to grow socially and mature into an individual who gets along well with others. This scenario offers a very early example of what it means to change one’s perspective in order to increase understanding.
Changing your perspective remains an important skill well into adulthood. It is essential to change your perspective to see the big picture of any system. In addition to considering the feelings, points of view and concerns of other people, it may also require that you suspend judgment in order to have a more complete picture of a particular situation.
After making an offer on a new home, Elena and Tom’s realtor recommends an independent home inspection in order to protect their interest in their purchase. A few days after the inspection is completed, a report is sent to both the buyer and the seller. As buyers, Elena and Tom have vastly different perspectives on the content of the report than the sellers. When presented with a lengthy list of repairs, Tom and Elena expect that the seller will assume responsibility to repair each one, even down to the broken light switch cover. The seller receives the same report, and since there are no major issues or structural concerns, he is confident that the work he put in to prepare the house for sale is sufficient. He expects that Tom and Elena will be delighted at the worthy investment they are about to make in a home.
These varying perspectives could result in loss of a sale if both the buyer and the seller are unwilling to suspend their own ideas about what constitutes a home in good condition and what the responsibility is of each party in the sale. Since Tom and Elena are committed to trying to see the report through the eyes of the seller, while keeping in mind what is important to them, they are able to come to a successful resolution. In order to practice changing perspectives, the buyer and the seller must be honest about their own perspective, suspend judgment, and consider multiple perspectives in order to arrive at a reasonable conclusion about what repairs are truly necessary for both a successful sale and a responsible purchase.