Seeing other viewpoints when we’re always at the center

by Kristin on January 17, 2013

in Culture, ideas & paradigms

“She’s being SO self-centered!”

The accusation might have had some truth, but coming out of the mouth of my 14-year-old daughter, who was expressing frustration with her younger sister, it was hard not to laugh, or at least not to smile.

“Welcome to the world of being 12,” I said. “And of being 14. And of being human.”

We each, of course, started our lives at a point of extreme self-centeredness. As babies, our world was all about us—our hunger, our discomfort, our frustration, and our occasional contentment. Gradually, we learned there are other people and actions in our world, but they still radiated out from us, like spokes. We were still at the center of that wheel and its steady revolutions.

Part of growing up is learning not just how to spell and define words like “compassion” and “empathy,” but also how to put them into action to change how we see others in our day-to-day lives. It does happen—I can measure this growth in my daughters over the years—but that doesn’t mean when we reach adulthood we’re automatically given new lenses through which to see others. I am proof of that—the ways I clung to MY way of seeing things through my 20s, and the impact that had on my first marriage. (Neither of us could muster much empathy for the other, which quickly becomes a vicious cycle of self-interest and -advocacy.)

Now, a decade after my divorce and many hours of counseling later, I have learned a lot about trying to see things through the eyes of others, but there is still so much to learn. Sometimes I think technology and social media have helped—I’m exposed to more people and diverse ways of seeing the world. Other times I think technology makes things worse. My iPhone, held in my hand, becomes my world. It contains my Apps, my music, my photos, my groups of friends on Twitter (chosen mostly because we see the world in similar ways). Even when I open Google maps, I am at the center of the universe. No matter where I am, even as I am in motion, everything that surrounds me shifts to accommodate. There’s even that shaded blue circle around the blue dot, as if to indicate, “This is all that should matter to you.”

It’s possible that technology has made it too easy to make everything about me—to curate and sort and block out what doesn’t suit me. Last night, I saw a gun-control-related tweet that really rubbed me the wrong way, and my first thought was, “Who is this guy? And why on earth am I following him? I need to fix that immediately.” But first, because I often can’t help myself, I typed a response. Part of me thought, “I should find out more—perhaps I’m misunderstanding him,” while another part of me thought, “This response will set him straight!”

We went back and forth for a while. It was civil, but each tweet piled up into a mountain of evidence proving how differently we see things, and how this conversation wasn’t going to change anyone. I kicked myself for engaging him in the first place—for not just hitting the “unfollow” button like my initial instinct urged. Now I couldn’t unfollow him! Not in the midst of an exchange I had initiated. The best I could do was to put away my phone and call it a night.

This morning, the conversation from the night before still sat there. I determined to wrap it up, one way or another. And do you know what? It wrapped up with apologies for not listening as well as we could have, and for putting words in the other’s mouth. It wrapped up with us thanking one another for the conversation.

No, his mind wasn’t changed, and neither was mine, but if I’m honest, that was never the point. The point was to get someone who sees something differently from me to broaden his view, just a bit. His goal was probably the same. And I believe that happened. If you think about Google Maps as an analogy, now my view of the world doesn’t center on my point, here in Illinois; it also includes his point, somewhere in Texas. The map has to zoom out to encompass us both, which broadens both our points of view.

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  • Joi

    Sometimes it feels like the world is one giant arguing machine. (Maybe the heat of those arguments are the real cause of global warming!) The art of disagreeing peacefully without damaging fallout seems like a supreme attribute of life only in heaven. Forgiving “debts” and “trespasses”, as the Lord’s Prayer teaches us to do, is probably 100% about the reality of this issue. Only with an attitude of continually repenting our self-centered righteous perspective, i.e. MY brilliant, perfectly correct opinion, will we be able to be channels of love and forgiveness to accomplish peace in our homes and the world. Listening begins here. I think this truth is at the core of the issues raised in your Jan. 15 post. Jesus calls us to this hard road. Jesus calls us to live according to HIS words. He says, “Take up your cross and follow me.” And we don’t get it.

    • kt_writes

      THIS is the truth! “Only with an attitude of continually repenting our self-centered
      righteous perspective, i.e. MY brilliant, perfectly correct opinion,
      will we be able to be channels of love and forgiveness to accomplish
      peace in our homes and the world.”

  • Barbara

    Beautifully written, and a perfect analogy–thanks you.

    • Barbara

      So eager to share, I stumbled into a typo! “Thank you.”

      There–fixed it :)

      • kt_writes

        Thanks for your comment—and for having a sense of humor around those silly mistakes we all make. :)

  • sarah louise

    This is very true. I got in a conversation with someone about theology and DID have to unfollow them, there weren’t going to be any apologies from his end. So I decided the more mature thing (in this situation) was to just stop. I’m glad your situation did end in apologies. And yes, I think that social media has made our world ME ME ME. All the ads are targeted to you, OR you can block them. Very provocative, Kristen, thanks for writing this.


    • kt_writes

      I should have mentioned this in the post, but I do believe sometimes it’s just healthier (for everyone involved) to walk away—maybe just from the conversation and maybe from the connection entirely, depending on how important/deep that connection is. (Also, good point about the me-targeted ads.)

  • Amy

    Really great post. And so very true.

  • Margaret Feinberg

    Love the picture description, Kristin!

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