I wrote a post back in August called a Sympathetic Look at Difference and I think this post is going to be similar but make a lot more sense of what is going on in my head lately. I can’t stop struggling with the idea of people’s perspective and experience and how much it defines and shapes someone’s life. The way people interact with the world, God and each other is different and so everyone will have different beliefs based on those experiences. It would be ignorant to think that whatever beliefs I come to must be true for everyone else. It gets tricky though, because there are obviously objective facts like mathematic equations, events and other such things. So how do we reconcile subjective people with objective reality? The question has haunted me since my first philosophy class when my professor told us relativism was a joke while another professor treats reality as if we define it by what we think about it.
So I offer a few thoughts that help me sit perfectly, content on the fence between the two; sympathizing with both sides until they break down (because they both do).
1. No perspective is wrong. To tell someone that their perspective is wrong is to tell them their experience is wrong. A perspective does not have right or wrong attributes. Perspectives can be well informed or little informed. They can clear or blurry. They can be painful or joyous. But in the end a perspective is the lens that people look through, and lenses can’t be wrong. However, the conclusions that are drawn from perspectives can certainly be inaccurate. This is what I think is important to land upon. Conclusions based on perspectives are the things that need shaping, molding, disciplining and cleaned up, not people’s perspective. We are to be in a community of people whose perspectives are all vastly different and where we all shape each other’s conclusions. So in a sense, relativism makes perfect sense when we are talking perspectives. Everyone is entitled to their own perspective on anything, but perspective doesn’t equal truth. Everyone’s perspective is true, just maybe not the conclusions they are drawing from them.
2. Closely related to number 1; we need to understand that perspective is all people have. People fight passionately for the way they see things because in the end, all you have is your perspective. Some people try to add other things to the equation by saying that they have the Bible, or tradition or the majority that believes the same things but they fail to realize that those things come through their perspective. Keep this in mind in all circumstances; that we are define ourselves to others by our perspectives. So don’t make your perspective to antagonistic to others.
3. Some people have an easier time seeing the world through other people’s perspective than others. I get really frustrated when someone makes a comment about someone who I know acts a certain way because of something in their past. Why can’t they just understand where they are coming from? I think some of us have an easier time at looking at the world through other people’s eyes and some of us have a very hard time doing it. They key is remembering this and not getting to frustrated at those who maybe can’t step out of their shoes as easy as you can.
4. I touched on this in my post in August, but I’ll mention it again. Not every belief, action or situation can be thrown into the categories or wrong and right, or good and evil. We have a tendency to do this, but it makes things way more complicated than they need to be. Sometimes I wonder if we like to classify things because we know by doing it we are also doing it to ourselves. If I think not recycling is a major sin, usually those that recycle will be the ones to point it out and make a statement about it. Sometimes we just have to let our dichotomy of everything slip through our fingers and just let it be. Everyone likes to be the one that knows the objective answer. We should all do ourselves a favour though and keep our mouth shut way more than we open them.
Update: This is a comment Brenda made, thought it was excellent and helps bring a different way to look at all this
Comment from: Brenda Melles
hi nathan. we haven’t met, but i am a friend of al and garry’s from kingston so know your name and blog through the church plant crowd. struck me from reading this post that you might be interested in cognitive behavioural therapy. CBT’s name for what you call “perspective” is “belief”. the worldview of this therapy is that beliefs are what drive everything about us, including our feelings, behaviour etc. one model is ABC – activating event, belief, consequence. the activitating event can be trivial or profound. the point is, though we all might have the same activating event, what sits in the middle – our belief about what the event means or how it was motivated – is what drives the consequence for us. change the belief; change the consequence. your post reminded me of this whole CBT world, which has been transformative for a lot of people. thanks for what you write. have a great day. bren