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A sense of perspective

Updated on October 6, 2013

So is the grass greener?

A sense of perspective is one of the most valuable things that a person can have. This is a statement that I am happy to make almost categorically. Having a broad sense of perspective means being able to see things from both sides of the argument. It enables one to have an opinion whilst being open to debate - open to understanding and empathizing with a differing point of view. Without a good sense of perspective there can be no true dialogue - only people taking turns to say conflicting things.

The reason I am writing this hub is because I feel that broad perspective (which too often has been a luxury of the well educated middle classes) is an under appreciated thing. People seem happy to rail against closed mindedness without encouraging and celebrating its opposite.

What is perspective?

So, let us begin by being clear with our terms. By perspective I mean an individual view point - a subjective understanding of a set of circumstances or state of affairs.

One of the reasons that people shy away from celebrating 'perspective' is the threatening shadow of relativism and subjectivism. These are philosophical positions which in their basic form posit the world and reality as a purely subjective experience - i.e. there is no truth but your own truth. This makes a lot of people very uncomfortable.

Critics would say that, ethically this leaves you on dodgy ground. If each 'personal truth' is correct then if your personal truth is that killing people for fun is fine, then that is just fine because that is that person's subjective ethical 'truth'. Where I think that this criticism falls down is that it doesn't recognize the fact that morality is for the most part a social phenomena. Ethical decisions are in a very real way, a social transaction whereby the parties involved agree upon a mutually beneficial code of behavior. In this situation the belief of the one (clearly deranged) individual that clocking off people at random is ok - is clearly unethical because it is not a mutually beneficial behavior. Thus, one person can have an entirely correct personal perspective that is socially and ethically unacceptable. Their opinion in and of itself is not wrong... but in the context of society it is very wrong indeed.

I think to clean this up conceptually we should go as far as to say this: Perspective is never correct or incorrect objectively - an individuals perspective is the set of beliefs that individual holds about a state of affairs. Prior to engagement in dialogue the beliefs cannot be considered right or wrong - they are the starting point from which the individual shapes their interaction with that set of circumstances. They are almost a thinking tool by which the individual tailors their reality in that situation.

Upon engagement in dialogue proper each party's perspective is put under scrutiny by comparison. However, the individual perspective remains objectively unjudgeable - it can only be judged and altered by the one who holds that perspective based on their subjective evaluation of the alternative perspective compared to their own.

What's the good of that then?

So... now we've cleared up what we actually mean by perspective... what is it for? Why is having a broad and malleable one a good thing?

When it comes down to it, perspective is a mental technology - a tool of thought. It enables you to ascribe value and perform mental triage with your experiences. What things in your life should you expend how much attention and energy on? Your sense of perspective is that thinking process that allows you to weigh up one experience against another and decide which is the more important.

Unfortunately - we do not always ascribe value in ways that are actually most beneficial for us. This is mostly the result of social conditioning. The most obvious example of this is money-orientated materialism - an endemic issue in capitalist societies. We mistakenly ascribe objective value to money - which is is nothing more than a social convention. We confuse real wealth, with money - which is a mere abstraction.

When perspective is at its best, it enables us to make the decision to take our kids to school in the morning rather than stay in bed, take that night-school course that leads to a higher paid job, save for the future rather than blowing our wages on fashionable clothes and clever gadgets. In other words - it gives us the bigger picture.

The other place where this un-sung hero of our mental landscape comes to the fore is in debate and negotiation. A broad and flexible perspective is the enabler of progress because it gives two opposing schools of thought the space to meet, blend and reach compromise. The ability of one party to understand another's point of view and let it inform and evolve their own point of view... is essential for progress. Without this broader, unegoistic way of interacting with opposing points of views both parties might as well be talking to the wind.

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    • Dan Barfield profile imageAUTHOR

      Dan Barfield 

      4 years ago from Gloucestershire, England, UK

      Thanks for the comment Rog :) I agree - the grass is always seems greener... but we often wouldn't like to know what went into the fertiliser. I think in reality it is more the case that the grass is merely a different shade of green, and to recognise the type of grass your are standing in it is important to be able to compare it with other patches of grass...

      ... if that makes any sense :)

    • Radical Rog profile image

      Peter Rogers 

      4 years ago from Plymouth

      The grass is always greener, but with a farmer uncle I know the reason its green is all the s***, dung, cowpats etc that you don't see from afar. However, when you get to the other side you find yourself up to you neck in perspective.

      Good conceptual piece.

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