What I wrote about learning perspective taking under “The social error” in History of Bad Parties was about a major milestone in my life and a key social concept which I for the time being ponder quite a lot about.
Perspective taking is a fascinating concept. It implies that life is a sort of multiverse where everybody live in their own variation of the world. Learning to acknowledge that everyone has his or her own unique perception and logic opens up for mind travel through the social multiverse – for visits to others’ worlds, or at least brief snapshots of some of their views. Awareness of perspectives is the dimension that makes life multidimensional and full of nuances rather than flat and black & white.
The Art of Perspective Taking is the secret super power that enables people to make sense of what other people do and in a more overall sense, what happens in the surrounding world.
And I can see how people who are good perspective takers have a massive social advantage over people who are not. Perspective taking enables people to be empathic and genuinely helpful, but also to manipulate – be political and play mind games.
Perspective taking is an ability that often seems to be taken for granted in adults, but I actually suspect most people cheat with that ability most of the time. They convince themselves and others that they understand everyone’s perspective, but it is more likely they just imagine what they themselves would have done in a similar situation. If others are fairly similar to themselves, then that is probably good enough most of the time.
If they are not, then they’ll get it wrong, but they may not even notice their errors if they are confident of their perspective taking abilities.
I’m used to being in the receiving end of poor perspective taking. Peoples’ assumptions about me are usually way off base when they express them – and probably even more when they don’t. I suspect it goes the other way as well… so I prefer to ask people what they think rather than infer something based on my, with 99% guarantee wrong, assumptions.
I’ve discovered the Art of Perspective Taking unusually late in life, and freely admit that almost everyone I know is better at it than me – better at guessing most other peoples’ reasoning and views and feelings.
I do think I have one big advantage with perspective taking though: namely the awareness that I’m most likely wrong most of the time.
I know my mind works a bit differently from most people, so I can’t just assume that others feel what I would have felt or are drawing conclusions I would have made. Since I can’t rely on my assumptions, I know I have to listen and learn with an open mind. Every person’s perspective is a surprise and a reminder that everyone is different; and that there exists infinitely many versions of existing.
This is the first post of several brewing drafts where I’m trying to get my head around perspective taking and its related concepts.
Illustration by Anarres at Openclipart.org