It’s not what you look at that matters. It’s what you see. (Henry David Thoreau)
When a photographer can not change a scene, the photographer can change the angle or the lens on the camera to capture the best possible picture. Similarly, when you cannot change your situation, perhaps what you need to change is your perspective. A new perspective, a new approach, may make you see an angle you did not see before. Perspective is how we view a situation and is based upon our past experiences, education, values, culture, preconceived notions, present circumstances, and values. There is a lot of background knowledge and emotion that goes into constructing our perspective, and that influences our reality. Our response to a situation is shaped by our perspective, and some situations challenge our perspective and allow for our growth as an individual.
Is our perspective always right? Should we challenge our perspective and question if our perspective is the correct one, or the only one? Challenging our perspective and looking at other viewpoints is critical in developing a large base of knowledge and creating and having successful relationships. Part of the success of a relationship is being able to be open to another perspective and being willing to accept and understand the other person’s perspective. When you are open to another person’s perspective you are demonstrating compassion and empathy, and respect for their reality and who they are. You are building a relationship. This all sounds so easy but being able to stop and focus on another person’s perspective is much easier said than done. It is like the photographer who is changing the angle or the lens of the camera to capture the best photograph. It may take many angle changes and lens changes before the perfect scene is captured on the film. It also takes practice in listening to appreciate another perspective other than our own. Afterall, my perspective is my reality, and why would it not be the right one? Perhaps, each individual wants to keep their own perspective and can agree that from their point of view their individual perspective is correct, or perhaps, as is less common, each person gains some new insight, knowledge, and their perspective is altered just a little. It is called growth.
Teenagers are having this happen constantly, and are trying to understand why their reality is so quickly changing. A teenager, is developing metacognition (awareness and understanding of one’s own thought processes) and critical thinking skills. Now they must learn to adapt their perspective at an alarming rate as new information is presented to them and challenges their past reality. For example, the five year old who could not go to sleep without their special blanket that would keep them safe. That was part of their reality. Now as a teenager, they would not be caught dead taking that same blanket to a sleepover, or to a baseball tournament. The perspective of the safety blanket has shifted.
As parents and mentors of teenagers, it is our responsibility to facilitate their understanding of perspective and how it is changing as our teenagers have new experiences, gain knowledge, education, shift in values, and some of their preconceived notions are challenged and replaced by new ones. What are some steps we can do to facilitate this growth of perspective and the encouragement that their perspective will change and grow throughout their life?
One way to help a teenager understand perspective is to help with problem solving. Helping a teenager realize that there is more than one way in which to solve a problem teaches social awareness. Different people based on their perspective may have a different way to solve the same problem. The idea that there is more than one way to solve a problem can directly encourage the conversation of perspective and how each of us has a unique perspective that must be valued and respected.
Encourage conversations. Most people speak indirectly, which requires us to guess the actual meaning of what they are trying to say. This creates a lot of room for misinterpretation, especially through text or email. We all know too well that what a person says is not always what that person actually means. By encouraging conversation, teenagers learn the art of communication. That it is important to listen to understand what the other person is saying, and to respect the reality that is held by that person. It is by open, honest communication that we understand another individual and their perspective. Communication often allows for us to clarify our own perspective and even grow and change our preconceived notions, allowing for our own personal growth.
A great opportunity for teaching the diversity of perspective and to respect one another’s perspective is to discuss a movie or a book. A great book is Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White. The story is told by the spider, Charlotte. Imagine if the story had been told by a girl scared of spiders. The story would have been very different. You can see this illustrated in the movies “The Lion King” and “The Lion King 1&½” where Timon and Pumba share the story from their perspective. Opportunities are endless in teaching what is perspective and how to respect an individual’s perspective on a situation. It is about communication.
E.B. White (1952). Charlotte’s Web. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.