Einstein demonstrated to us in the early twentieth century that if we look at anything through a different lens, what we perceive will be different. In his example, he used a moving train through the perspective of two different people. One person who is sitting on the train, the other standing outside of the train. If lightning strikes the train at both ends, the person standing outside will say the bolts were simultaneous because the light will hit their eyes at the same time. However, the person sitting on the train who is facing towards the front of the train will say that lightning strike from the back of the train came afterward because the light wouldn’t reach their eyes until after the strike at the front of the train happened. Both perspectives are true, but it depends on which lens you’re looking through – it’s all relative. His theory mainly applies to physics, but we can also apply this to life as well.
Often, we need to change the lens that we see things through.
We tend to get stuck in our own way of thinking. However, any good leader knows that viewing things through a different lens and being empathetic is an essential tool to have. When you allow yourself to see someone else’s point of view, it minimizes arguments and disagreements. Let’s say the two people from the train met to discuss what happened. The person outside of the train would argue that the lightning strikes were simultaneous, but the person riding the train would say they weren’t. If they refuse to see things from one another’s perspectives, the disagreement would never be settled.
Can you think of a time when a co-worker performed a task differently from the way you normally would? Did it frustrate you because in your mind, the way you perform that task is easier? Well, look through their lens. From their point of view, the way they’ve decided to perform that task is easier for them to understand and is more efficient for them. Or maybe they perform the task that way because it’s the only way they know how to. Instead of jumping right to frustration, ask them questions. Gain a better understanding as to why they chose to do it that way, and who knows, you may learn something new to help you with your own work.
Take on different lenses to expand your empathy.
It’s best to have an assortment of different metaphoric lenses to use in order to try to see things from many different perspectives before making judgements. Immerse yourself in other people’s stories and perspectives. Dive into different life stories by reading books or blogs or watching videos or listening to podcasts or the radio. When you learn more about people’s life experiences, it’s more than just knowing facts about someone. You’re learning more about the decisions made and the mental path they took. Why did they take those steps? Why do they act the way they do? What is it that makes this person who they are? What knowledge can I take from their life experiences to apply to my own life? Put yourself in their position and think deeply about how you would feel in their position.
Think about the people you also have a hard time understanding. Is there a co-worker or someone else in your life that you typically don’t see eye-to-eye with? Try to examine these people on a more profound level. What is it about this person that makes it difficult for you to connect with them? Before you judge these people, try to see things from their perspective and empathize with them.
Perspectives are the key to understanding each other and why things happen the way they do. There is a lot we can learn from each other’s life experiences. Each of us has amazing pieces of understanding or knowledge to share, and the moment you realize that the more open you will be to gaining more perspectives. Empathy allows us to see not only how different we are from one another, but how similar we are as well. After all, we are only human.
“Whenever you are about to find fault with someone, ask yourself the following question: What fault of mine most nearly resembles the one I am about to criticize?” ― Marcus Aurelius