The New Yorker Magazine trademark caught my attention the other day. A man holds up his monocle, a strange looking little lens dangling from a cord, to better focus on the world’s details. The monocle, like other lenses, changes your view of things around you.
When I conducted play therapy some years ago, I kept a variety of lenses in my office including binoculars, microscopes, magnifying glasses and kaleidoscopes. My goal was to help children look at things in a way different from how they usually saw them and later to look at their lives in a new way as well.
You have learned to see things in a certain way and tend to limit yourself to your own point of view. The story of the blind men and the elephant demonstrates that we may have very different perceptions of the same situation if we experience only one aspect of it. What would you make of an elephant if you could not see it but only touched the tail, foot or trunk and not the rest of the animal?
Israelis and Palestinians as well as liberals and conservatives have very different perceptions of their ongoing animosity. Opposing political parties differ in what they think is best for their nations, states or communities. Neighbors sometimes become passionate about seemingly small issues such as where to string clotheslines. Strong opinions abound on all sides of these issues, usually with everyone convinced they are right and that the other side is bullheaded, stupid or just plain wrong.
No one usually wins arguments about differences, and often everyone remains entrenched in his or her views, convinced he or she is right. You accomplish little in heated controversy other than releasing hot air and sometimes venom. What if you had a mental lens which allowed you to see and understand the point of view of others?
The lens would allow you to set aside your convictions for the moment and listen dispassionately to what others have to say. What is important to them? What do they want? What if their wishes were not so different from yours? What if others also had a magic lens and could understand your convictions. Both sides could then give each other a fair hearing.
Giving others a chance for expression may lead to seeing the similarities of seemingly conflicting views. What may initially look like very different positions may turn out just to be different ways of saying the same thing.
While listening with an open mind, you may also discover that the other person has a legitimate point of view. What you hold dear may not be in anyone’s best interest, including your own. You might find the best course is somewhere in the middle. Revising your thinking would require a level of humility and openness most people do not usually feel when it comes to their cherished beliefs. But what if you tried it and found it worked?
- What do you see when you turn your monocle on yourself?
- What do you see in others’ minds when you turn your monocle on them?
- If you can’t see what they are thinking, ask them?
- Look for areas of agreement.
- Be respectful of differences.