My friend Jim had a way of continually inviting me to look at situations from a different perspective, to consider “the other side” of the story. Jim had a great gift for seeing both sides—which sometimes made it difficult for him to make decisions—but which helped him to be objective.
He cut me no slack when I wanted to promote my side of a story as the only/right/best side, but rather challenged me to look beyond my viewpoint, to try to put myself in the other person’s shoes and see the other side of the story.Jim used to talk about my “arms waving,” and I knew just what he meant. Often, when I felt dismissed or wronged, the extent my arms flailed usually corresponded to my sense of indignation and self-righteousness—and to how deeply intransigent I was. The more my arms flailed, the deeper my heels were dug in.
I could be very certain of my rightness.With a great deal of patience on Jim’s part—and much practice on mine—I came to recognize my own intransigence more quickly and got to the place where I could identify that I was flailing my arms before Jim had to say anything.
Jim’s encouragement helped me develop a deep understanding of the importance of stepping back from my certainty so I could see someone else’s viewpoint.
Now, when someone is telling a story, I remind myself that the storyteller’s perspective is just one side of the story, that there is another person involved in this story, and that person saw this experience from a different vantage point. It is not that the person in front of me is lying or concealing something, but I remind myself that there is another side.
I frequently hear myself saying, “There are two sides to every story.”
It happened recently when a middle-schooler asked for advice in dealing with a teacher who seems to have singled her out since the beginning of the school year—after this girl questioned the dress code (she said there was no edge to her question).
After listening to the middle schooler’s story, I pointed out that her questioning the dress code might have reminded the teacher of another student (or perhaps many students over the years) who asked the same question.
I suggested that perhaps the teacher was reacting to her from the vantage point of the teacher’s history with middle schoolers. Maybe one of those previous students issued the same challenge with an edge and the teacher was reacting to that.
Could this young girl see that? Could she see this situation from the teacher’s perspective? Could she even see that her side was just one side of the story?Considering other perspectives does not diminish my own experiences or feelings. Nor does it require that I change my opinions or beliefs.
Considering other perspectives helps me to be less reactionary and self-righteous—and seeing the other side helps me to be more objective.