These might sound like simple questions, but there’s a lot that goes into it. Often so much that we don’t even realize.
Our perspective is the lens through which we see the world. Our lens is shaped by the way we grew up, the communities we’re a part of, the messaging we received, our relationships, and so much more. All of our lived experiences fuse together and tint the world to a certain shade, a certain perspective that forms a narrative. This narrative tells us how the world operates and why. This doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true, it’s the story we’re telling ourselves.
As meaning-makers, we humans need to see the world through story. And whether it’s conscious or not, we tell ourselves these stories to help create a sense of safety: if we can “make sense” of it, we feel comforted.
To help ourselves become more conscious about the perspectives we take, we can ask ourselves questions like:
• Is the story I’m telling myself true?
• Where did this perspective come from?
• How might I expand my perspective?
• How is my perspective creating and/or preventing a sense of safety and connection?
• Does my perspective align with the person I want to become?
As you read through the following reflections by Dr. Rebecca Bailey, Jaycee Dugard, Margie McDonald, and Carmen Theobald, consider what “perspective” means to you.
Reflections on “Perspective” from trauma therapist, Dr. Rebecca Bailey
Over the years, this word has shown up in many of my sessions. Starting 30 years ago, fresh out of school, perspective meant showing clients what I thought they needed to see. Arrogance and blind spots often color the lens of young psychologists. In time, it became clearer that perspective has a lot to do with not only one’s perspective, but the perspective of the other person. In some ways, this seems counter-intuitive, but from a polyvagal informed perspective, it makes perfect sense. If I look at a picture and see one thing, another person can easily influence me to see it differently. A picture of a person sitting on a rock can be peaceful to me but suddenly become sad when the person next to me sees it differently. Words don’t even need to be spoken between the two viewing the photograph.
Perception shifts often occur without conscious awareness. As a psychologist, my job is, and has always been, to be sure I hear and understand my client’s perspectives and to help them identify how they came to the conclusions they did. Once I can understand how they see what they see, we can begin the work of untangling the areas and pieces that have kept them stuck or unhappy. Perspective means acceptance of an alternative viewpoint, which in today’s polarized world can be easily overlooked. As a clinician, do I have a responsibility to accept and support others’ viewpoints, even when counter to my own? It’s a question that lingers over my head daily. I am not sure of the correct answer, but what I do know is that an important first step is to at the very least understand that there is never one clear perspective for everyone. What I see is likely not what you see and, to quote a cliché, “the truth is somewhere between. ”
Reflections on “Perspective” from trauma survivor, Jaycee Dugard
I had to really fight to keep my perspective in captivity. My captors did everything possible to make me see things their way. I think, well, at least I hope, I kept my perspective during that time of physical and mental abuse, but I was very young. I feel much of our perspectives in life are created and supported by those around us. Luckily, I had 11 years prior in a loving home to hold on to, so I had a lot of ideas and opinions about things already. I won’t lie, though; it was hard to keep my perspective. Especially when changing it meant I got yummy food or a chance to go outside.
I don’t know if it is a side effect from trauma, but sometimes, I can see many perspectives on a topic. This can be hard because I must consciously ask myself, “what do I believe?”.
Being around horses and working with them on and off the ground, I have gained many new perspectives. Horses teach us to slow down and be present in the moment. This helps me to see a new perspective. I realize I must slow down enough to recognize there might be another way to see things.
I love those pictures that have more than one thing in them. One is a horse when viewed from top to bottom, but a frog when viewed from left to right. Or the vase that has a face on either side of the silhouette. We use these pictures in our Wisdom of the Horse workshop sometimes to make attendees slow down and see that there are other ways to look at the same thing or problem. We are all so quick to judge these days and offer our opinion and miss that there might be a better way of doing things. I remember this when I feel conflicting perspectives and remember we have all been through life differently.
Reflections on “Perspective” from horse specialist, Margie McDonald
I recently body clipped my miniature horse, Nemo. He is a beautiful black mini with a long flowing mane that hangs past his shoulder and has a tail that touches the ground. His forelock hangs down past his nose and hides his amazingly inquisitive eyes. I don’t shave past his knees, and in this way, he looks like a tiny fancy Friesian stallion. Last night, when I went to put his blanket on, I had a surprising reaction from him. As I approached Nemo with the blanket in hand, he suddenly bolted and acted like a monster was out to get him. He reared up and made it clear to me he did not like what was happening. Now you need to understand that this little horse had been wearing this same blanket for weeks. I could not get near him unless I put the blanket down. Something had changed for this horse, and he was seeing the blanket with a totally different perspective. Instead of it being a comforting warm blanket, it was now something to be deathly afraid of.
As a horse trainer, I am always looking for what I can do to help make the task that I’m asking of the horse easy and understandable. I’m always focused on building trust and respect. When I’m working with horses who have a sudden change of behavior, I need to slow down and discover what changed their belief about something, what changed their perspective.
I did not want to leave Nemo with the belief that the blanket was the enemy, so I slowly and quietly reintroduced it to him. I put his halter on and encouraged him to approach the blanket on his own terms. My goal was to simply have him be comfortable around the blanket. I placed it on the ground and asked him to sniff it, then touch it and even step on it. Once he could do this with ease, I picked it up and let him explore it from this new perspective. He eventually became relaxed enough that I could place it on his back and then carefully put it on him. I took off the halter and he walked away as if nothing had ever happened. I observed him for a few minutes just to be sure that he was okay and then watched as Nemo walked over to his hay and finished eating his dinner in what appeared to be a state of contentment.
The blanket changed from being a friend to being a foe, and why I may never know. The only thing I can do is allow horses to express their needs, listen to their wants, and accept that perspectives are fluid and changeable. I respect Nemo’s ideas and accept his perspective about the blanket. It’s not about wearing the blanket; it’s about understanding and appreciating different perspectives.
Reflections on “Perspective” from empowerment coach, Carmen Theobald
A good friend once told me “I love when I’m wrong”. This made me pause, smile, and love her even more. This also helped me embrace and love being wrong too.
I’m not a person who is easily swayed, and it’s pretty unlikely someone could talk me out of believing something I know in my bones to be true. And yet, there are times where I was so sure, so certain, that my perspective was correct, but I learned something that completely transformed how I saw the world. After recovering from the aftershocks of those kinds of moments, I am deeply grateful for them.
Widening our perspective is a gift, even if it comes with some discomfort. For those of us who want to create a healthier, safer, and more connected world, widening our perspective isn’t just a gift, it’s a necessity.
Now it’s your turn!
What does “perspective” mean to YOU?