Thursday, February 6, 2014

Looking Through Someone Else's Eyes

Is it possible to ever truly see the world from another person's perspective, or are we held so tightly to our own way of viewing the world?

If you can read, then you can view the world from another person's perspective. All you have to do is pick up a book and let the author transport you to a different world full of characters that can be more real than the people you see every day.

I think literature is particularly effective at showing you the world from another point of view. When you read, you have to step inside the shoes of the narrator. You see into their mind, or sometimes the minds of multiple characters. You have access to another person's thoughts, views and morals. You have to actively use your imagination to conjure up the setting, the plot, and to understand what's happening. You create the events like a movie inside your own head. You fill in the unknowns with your own information; you join the dots and solve riddles as you read and understand the story. You are transported into another world and you see this world through another's eyes.

Of course, it's possible to read a book and have none of this happen. You might disagree entirely with the narrator. You might not understand their motives. You might not be able to relate to them in any way.

When this happens, I wonder if it could have something to do with the skill of the author: some are just not as effective at drawing the reader into the story. Sometimes I think it could be because of the reader. Perhaps they are not ready for that particular text.

Of course, it's also possible to see the world from a different perspective in this way and not entirely agree with the narrative. I think this is actually a wonderful thing. It allows us, as readers, to consider things we previously had not; perhaps we gained new information or saw a different side to things that we didn't see before, but still walk away from the text holding the same viewpoint. However, we are not entirely the same. We are changed. Now that we know more, the issues we look at are no longer flat. They become three-dimensional. We can explore issues from other angles. We can play the (extremely fun) game of Devil's Advocate. Being able to see various sides of an issue can give us maturity and heightened morality.

After all, if empathy is being able to place ourselves in someone else's shoes, then aren't we, as humans, naturally adept at this? As social creatures, don't we naturally try to empathize with others? I think we do and this gives us the basis of morality. We know it is wrong to kill because we can put ourselves in that position and know we wouldn't like it to happen to us. Obviously this isn't fool proof: crimes happen every day. And there are certainly people with an absent or stunted sense of empathy. But I think those people are few and far between, and I think the cause of crime is much more complex than limited morality or empathy.

I think that being able to see things from another person's point of view, to see the world not merely in black and white but in shades of grey, is part of normal human development. Small children cannot fathom that anything is more important than themselves. As we get older and (hopefully) wiser, we understand that the world does not revolve around ourselves. We learn to consider the feelings of others, and we learn to consider the impact of our choices on those around us. These are pretty good indicators that we are indeed able to see things from alternate perspectives.


  1. Interesting post - it's always hard to see things from someone else's perspective. Last week there was a weekly challenge on exactly that topic. I gave it a try here: Good luck with NaBloPoMo - it's a challenge! Keep posting :)


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