Shifting Perspectives – Often a Key Requirement of Resilience
“Triumph over adversity on behalf of a noble cause” has long been my favorite film genre, and I’ve just come through my annual immersion in the Mill Valley Film Festival, 200 films in 11 days for them, 26 films for me, learning so much from the intense, inspiring, illuminating examples of how other people cope with adversity and celebrate their own triumphs.
Films about Somalian refugees, education for disabled children in Tibet, a hospital operating underground during the Syrian bombing of its own citizens, Afghani women needing health care in a restrictive patriarchal culture, Harriet Tubman who never lost a passenger on the underground railroad from slavery to freedom, defusing landmines in Laos left over from the Vietnam War, an integrative medicine veterinarian, a new film about the Dalai Lama, etc. So much need for compassion – and resilience – in our beautiful, hurting world.
One of the main take-aways for me was that shifting perspectives, seeing things from a new point of view, challenging old paradigms and traditional responses to current challenges and crises, was not only helpful, it was usually required to be truly resilient, effective, and triumphant.
Even standing in line, chatting with a fellow filmgoer about other films we have seen, Israeli-Palestinian youth, in a context where their fathers are actively fighting each other, shifting perspectives by playing music together, or playing soccer together, or learning ballroom dancing together.
It’s a deep dive into common humanity, regardless of political/religious/racial/gender divisions. Powerful examples of the sons and daughters of Holocaust survivors and Nazi SS officers sharing rituals to heal the deepest wounds humanity has known. Etc.
So how do we learn to do that? To see someone’s struggles and challenges from their point of view. To see our own struggles and challenges from a more liberating point of view?
We can be bewildered and flummoxed when people closest to us hold opinions we believe to be wrong or immoral; differences of opinion about gun control v. the right to bear arms; pro-choice v. pro-life; eating meat or not eating meat; strict or flexible parenting; etc., etc.
On the most simple, personal level, we can practice the exercise below in imagining/shifting perspectives. On a more community-national-global level, we can learn by participating in programs like the “Consciousness, Communication, and Change program below.
Shifting Perspectives by Imagining A Different Perspective.
[Adapted from M.J Ryan, learned in Awakening Joy course years ago]
When you hear someone voice an opinion you profoundly disagree with:
1. Notice your own reaction/judgment/condemnation, because we often have a deeply rooted visceral reaction when we encounter a view that we believe/know to be harmful to ourselves or to other people in general.
2. Even before engaging in discussion or argument, even before trying to hear and understand why the other person thinks the way they do, see if you can come up with 2 or 3 possible explanations (5 or 6 in the original exercise) why the other person might feel/believe the way they do:
* learned patterns in their own childhood, never questioned, carrying on the family tradition, the culture legacy
* beliefs/behaviors the person believes will protect them from harm or trauma
* lack of experiences of anything else beyond their own small world
3. Sometimes it helps to remember times when you have believed something profoundly, only to grow to have a different perspective from experience and empathy with others.
4. Simply make room in your own mind for: “I don’t know everything, I certainly don’t know everything about this person and their needs/fears/history. I can try to listen, withholding my own reactivity, judgement and counter-arguments until I get their perspective from their point of view.
If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility. – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
It’s a stretch of capacities for compassion and empathy, and we may not want to take the time to do this with everyone in our larger world. But with people in our close-in world, it can be a powerful practice make room for more than one perspective in the room.
Consciousness, Communication, and Change course
When we do want to create social/political change on a larger scale through effectively challenging and changing other people’s perspective, we need to become very skillful in our own communication skills, encouraging other people to listen, understand, empathize with our point of view as well.
I’ve experienced some of the tools offered an upcoming online course on Consciousness, Communication and Change through its founder, Cassi Vieten, who led us fellow member of our NeuroDharma group in some of the very practical exercises of creating change through navigating implicit bias, appealing to identify and values, leveraging vulnerability, etc. Here’s a link if you’re interested in the course that begins October 22, 2019. It helps to share the struggle with other people who are also trying to meet the adversities in the human condition with effective, skillful resilience.
Adversity is the first path to truth. – Lord Byron