Jan2020: It’s a Matter of [2020] Perspective

by Brad on January 1, 2020

“We make our world significant by the courage of our questions and by the depth of our answers.” – Carl Sagan

Think of a person (or an institution) who holds a viewpoint very different from yours. Today, this isn’t a difficult task. Regardless of ‘side,’ opinions are powerful, claims of certainty abundant, “truth” ubiquitous. For a moment, bring your attention not to the issue and not to your viewpoint but to your relationship with the issue. Chances are good you see yourself as right and the other as wrong. Yet chances are also good they see themselves as right and you as wrong. Did you ever stop to inquire more deeply as to how or why this is so? As long as you favor the right/wrong thing, you’ll probably fail to wonder why, when both of you have access to the same information, you’ve come to divergent conclusions. Yet that’s where the potential and possibility live. Let’s explore.

To begin the walk down this new path, I claim both of you are right. You’re both right simply because “right” is a personal perspective you hold, and has little to do with validity or truth. It’s a consequence of the thinking that came up with the conclusion, which is a result of how you learned to think. “Right” is more opinion than “truth,” then, it being a product of our [largely-unconscious] thought patterns. Unaware of this, and unaware that these thought patterns were once poured into us by others, and unaware that others’ thought patterns are simply the result of their lessons, and even unaware that attacking another as “wrong” doesn’t make us “right” … we risk making our disagreement the topic of our “conversations,” unaware that the value that once spawned the disagreement has been left far behind. No wonder things don’t change. We’re invested in keeping them the same.

A few examples: In both politics and religion, what began centuries ago as cooperative ventures aimed at shared values, self-reflection amidst life’s unknowns, faith in greater possibility of the collective (nation, congregation), and learning from others, has all-too-often been hijacked into literal interpretation, judgment, fundamentalist thinking, lack of tolerance, and refusal to engage in reflective, “constructive conversation” as a way to learn and grow – together. Perception has been so clouded and perspective has been so narrowed that the original intent has been lost … with a detrimental side-effect that we lose trust in the institutions to whom we’ve “entrusted” a piece of ourselves. And, the participants haven’t noticed! It’s the same phenomenon noted above. Why?

A more subtle example: I write with a perspective I’d like to think is all-inclusive. No matter how broad my view, however, it’s necessarily limited by my own experience and current level of awareness and consciousness. My writing interprets the world as I see it, “a place where my character and biography meet the world,” as Barry Lopez said. While I may have something to offer those whose story differs from mine, I can’t fully be a story that differs from mine, simply because I’ve not experienced it. It’s my intention to bridge this gap best I can. If I can’t appreciate the thinking of others, there’s no way they’re going to appreciate mine. Yet I know I’ll often fall short.

Here’s my take on why loss of perspective has become rampant, along with a possible path beyond – to a place of greater unity so desperately needed in our world. Humans have a need to feel safe … best created as a sense of inner self-trust. But, as we’ve done with other aspects of life, we look to the external world instead, forsaking the innate power of our consciousness. In so doing, we mistakenly equate safety with certainty. Certainty does not exist, however. Unaware we’ve misidentified the issue, we become growingly obsessed with a “futile pursuit of certainty” – seeing what we want to see, believing what we want to believe, ignoring evidence we find its “inconvenient truth” bothersome, and staunchly defending our “opinions” as if our lives depended on their flimsy foundation … unwilling to see/admit that we’ve made it all up in our heads. “Truth,” by the way, needs no such outburst of judgment. It stands quietly on its own. This often leaves “truth” drowned by the noise of opinion.

The “cure” for this malady (malady because it shows up as subjectivity but pretends to be objectivity), is to get to know your thinking, consciously … rather than unconsciously getting lost in it. This is tough to do if your mind has been hijacked by the need to be right. It’s a matter of creating [2020] perception and perspective.

Exercise: Freedom, whether for individuals or institutions, is found in conscious clarity, broad perspective and objective inquiry. If you could silence your own judgment for a while (a challenge in itself), you could use your creative genius instead to create a perfect model of how their thinking led them to the position they now hold. You might then direct your attention inward, and see how your thinking led you to the position you now hold. No “right” or “wrong” here; just understanding. (You needn’t change your mind, or theirs; you need only understand your mind, and theirs.)

Here are a few deep questions that can start the journey. What if we could learn to see the world (and maybe even ourselves) with curiosity instead of judgment? What if we didn’t have our minds already made up? What if we were willing to have our questions change us? What if we had to think forward, to understand long-term implications of opinions we hold so strongly? What if we had to think backward, to understand the long-term thought process that brought us to those opinions in the first place? Would we still think as we do? Unlike judgment-based thinking, curiosity-based thinking leads to relatedness and compassion with others, to learning and self-love in ourselves.

Get to know – first-hand, deeply, personally – how you know what you know, why you see life the way you do, where your thinking rules your actions. Create some serious quiet time for this inquiry. Ask big questions – about life and your place in it. Ask even bigger questions about your own thinking. See ideas above. Notice where and how your answers cause you discomfort. Instead of retreating to your comfort zone, be with the discomfort; allow it to teach you. As you learn to trace the life you experience back to the thinking that created that life, you find your mind and body softening, worldview broadening, and positive energy emerging about your life and its potential. As your self-trust grows (it will), the need for certainty gives way to curiosity. Whereas before you felt safer in the smaller world you’d created with your thinking, you see how much you had missed, and how vast the world truly is. “You” are not smaller; you are part of something much bigger.

Life lessons from nature: Buckminster Fuller noted, “There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it’s going to be a butterfly.” Such is nature’s transformation. See for yourself. Go for a walk in the woods. Be an observer. Just notice how things work. If you’ve ever read any of Muir’s or Thoreau’s work, or even if you haven’t, you likely know both were very astute observers of the natural world. Most of their writing came from direct observation, processed through an open heart and mind. So, be a Muir or Thoreau for a bit. Turn your gaze outward; notice.

There’s phenomenal possibility out there; all you need to do is not miss so much of it. Ask questions. Why does this tree have branches on this side and not the other? What’s underneath the leaf litter on the ground, and why would it be there instead of somewhere else? Chickadees and nuthatches share the forest here in New England; what might their body plans tell you about how they divide up the territory of a single tree?  Make up your own questions. As you walk, you’ll know what they are. Questions are like that; they aren’t all known ahead of time.

Now, take another morning, at least a few days after the first. Go for the same walk. Instead of observing the world around you, turn your gaze inward and observe the world within you. Who are you? How do you “fit” in these woods? How do your thoughts define who you are? Are you your thoughts? Joseph Campbell asked, “Am I the light bulb … or the light … or the energy that lights the light in the bulb?” There’s no right answer; the “work,” and therefore the value, comes from being with the question for a while.

My book: Living Authentically … in a World That Would Rather You Didn’t. Its premise is simple: in the midst of a world that has lost its way, you need never lose your own. Get to know, then honor, your unique truth; the self-trust that emerges will light your way forever. Insights, perspectives, personal reflections and exercises … so you can make your life your own, not someone else’s. All you need to know here – intro, samples, purchase link – for you or as a gift.

Coaching programs: I appreciate the interest many of you have expressed in a personal coaching program to explore living authentically with greater depth and meaning. If you’d like support for the journey and are committed to your own authentic path, give me a call or send me an email, and together we’ll create a personal coaching program just for you. Just imagine living authentically … in a world that would rather you didn’t.

Book of the month: Welcoming the Unwelcome: Wholehearted Living in a Brokenhearted World, by Pema Chödrön. Insight and wisdom (as with all her writings) about creating a strong personal foundation in a growingly divisive world – a foundation based in self-reflection, awareness, compassion and learning. And if you’re on Cape Cod, you’ll find this book at the Market Street Bookshop in Mashpee Commons; 508-539-6985.

download January 2020 pdf

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