When I first started using this method, there were some painful things about it, because one of the things I was looking at from other points of view was me. And sometimes I'm not pretty. Well, actually, I've never been pretty. But sometimes I'm a jerk. Of course I'm usually full of justifications about why I'm doing what I'm doing and I always feel right as far as I'm concerned. But from another point of view, it's very easy to see that I'm not always right. It's a disconcerting, humbling, and illuminating realization.
Naturally, you can never know for sure what things look like from another's point of view unless you ask them and they tell the truth. But imagining what you'd guess it looks like is worthwhile anyway. It'll change the way you treat other people. It'll change the way you think about yourself. You'll be calmer and more peaceful, and your relationships with others will be more harmonious.
One of the things you discover, looking at things from other peoples' point of view, is that people hold their views with as much self-righteousness as you hold yours. And further, that they are right just as much as you are, or at least they feel that way, and they think in a way that justifies their position. Their point of view is valid from within their worldview. And their worldview is valid from their experience of their life since birth. If you got completely inside their life, you'd see that their point of view is more valid than your own from within their worldview. It helps you realize that you have a worldview based on your limited experience, and that it is only relatively valid, not absolutely valid. This understanding will change the way you interact with people.
"But Maggie, you know we can't afford that."
"You never listen to me, Rob. I said we can skip our vacation."
"Then what do I have to look forward to? A remodeled house? That isn't something I'd really look forward to."
"But Rob, you'd come home to it every night. You only get to enjoy the vacation once."
"I'd enjoy the memory for years."
Here they are, any two people with different points of view, and where is their effort directed? At getting the other person to see how things look from here. What would happen if one of them tried to see what it looked like from there?
"You think about your vacations a lot, don't you Rob? You look forward to them and then remember them a lot afterwards?"
"I do. Don't you?"
"Do you daydream about them?"
"Sure I do, Maggie. It gives me something pleasant to think about when my mind is idle, in between tasks and when I'm falling asleep."
"You think about an upcoming vacation every day? Or how often?"
"Every day for sure. Usually several times."
By getting information, Maggie is improving her ability to see the situation the way Rob sees it, and it's changing the flavor of their interaction. It always does.
But keep in mind, this is not a formula to be a doormat. Just because Maggie can see the way Rob views a vacation doesn't mean she loses her own point of view. The choice is not one or the other point of view. She can have both, and more than that. The greater her flexibility, the more able she will be to understand others. She will be better able to come up with solutions that satisfy both of them.
Anybody who is skillful at dealing with people has the ability to look at things from other peoples' points of view. You already have this skill to some degree, and the better you are at it, the better you are with people. And when you're doing it sincerely, when you're really putting yourself in the other person's boots, you're not only highly skilled with people, but a truly Good Person. Being moral, being ethical, has as its main injunction: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The best way to do that is genuinely, and the best way to do it genuinely is to look at the situation from the other person's point of view — not as a tricky technique to take advantage of people, but really and truly.
When you learn about other people who did some good in this world — people like Mahatma Gandhi and Abraham Lincoln and Alice Paul — what's inspiring, what stirs the heart, is Goodness. It's doing what's right even when it's difficult and for no other reason than it's right. And the spring from which this kind of honesty and decency flows is seeing how it looks from there — looking out the other's eyes. Those exceptionally good people were exceptionally skilled at seeing things from another's point of view.
When Northerners spoke harshly of Southern people during the Civil War, Lincoln replied, "Don't criticize them; they are just what we would be under similar circumstances." He imagined how he would feel about slavery if he was born and raised in the South, if his mother and father believed in it and survived by it, if everyone he knew and cared about believed in it.
Lincoln had the ability to look at things from another's viewpoint. This skill is rare, but people who have it make things happen.
LOOK FROM THERE
In 1927, a woman was straining peas for her infant daughter. This was the third time today she'd done this task. These were the days before you could go to the store and buy baby food. Her husband ran the Fremont Canning Company, and she asked him why the heck a canning company didn't do this dreadful chore.
"To press the point," she said, "I dumped a whole container of peas into a strainer and bowl, placed them in Dan's lap, and asked him how he'd like to do that three times a day, seven days a week."
Dan said later, "The following twenty minutes shouldn't happen to any man...I pushed and squashed valiantly, and the peas were everywhere but in the strainer."
"You can puree tomatoes at the plant," she told him, "why not vegetables for Sally?"
Dan Gerber went to his plant to try it and Gerber baby food has been a household name ever since.
Mrs. Gerber had insisted Mr. Gerber look at the situation from her own point of view — physically, not metaphorically. And Mr. Gerber was willing to look, and their interaction produced something. Instead of simply complaining and bickering, their conversation became productive, in this case, not only for themselves, but for millions of others.
Adam Khan is the author of Principles For Personal Growth, Direct Your Mind, and co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English). Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.