Expand Your Perspective

When was the last time a stereotype popped into your head? If you’re like me, it happens all the time. That doesn’t make us racist, sexist or whatever-ist. It just means that our brain is working the way it’s supposed to in order to make sense of the world around us. We have to put things and people into categories – notice patterns and make generalizations to be able to function. But the same thought processes can also make us biased.

This tendency to stereotype that passes spontaneously through our minds is called implicit bias. It sets us up to overgeneralize, and sometimes that leads to discrimination even when we feel we’re being fair.

For instance, there have been studies showing we all have perceptional illusions – such as white subjects in a study perceiving black faces as angrier than white faces with the same expression; or college professors being 26% more likely to respond to a student’s email when it is signed by Brad rather than Lamar.

But we don’t like to think of ourselves as having this “implicit bias” because it sounds like we are purposely trying to favor one person or group over another. It isn’t nice to think of ourselves as not nice.

So what can we do to avoid exhibiting bias towards others? First and foremost, just being conscious that we have that tendency, regardless of who we are can help us respond with compassionate intention, rather than just reacting impulsively when triggered.

Something else that helps tremendously is to just get out of our own heads as often as possible, and to keep our focus on the people and world around us – noticing (with curiosity, not judgment) what might be going on in their lives to trigger their behaviors. When we focus on only ourselves – or others like us, we severely limit our options of how we view the world.  When our thoughts are centered only on us, those thoughts cut us off from a whole world of possibilities.

It’s all too easy to become frustrated, disillusioned, angry and bitter when our own perspectives are the only ones we consider.  Our own narrow concerns can seem painfully overwhelming if we give all our attention and energy to them, and we can even become a little paranoid, believing others are getting more than we are; or that we don’t matter as much as other people or groups.

If we allow ourselves to stay with this perception of society, we eventually may even act out to prove in some way that we are also worthwhile – or to knock the *others* down a peg. The way out of this mindset is to expand our perspective beyond ourselves.  If we genuinely take other people into consideration our positive possibilities multiply dramatically.

If we pay attention to the concerns of others, we’ll gain valuable insights that otherwise wouldn’t be available to us. When the concerns of our own egos fall away, an enormous amount of energy is set free.  When we are no longer restricted to our own narrow perspective, a whole new set of magnificent opportunities will open up to us.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:

I have no idea where I heard this story, but it’s about a family (a father and several small children) that boarded a city bus. All the passengers on the bus prior to their boarding had been adults, who were enjoying their rides to their destinations – in quiet conversation, reading, listening to music or just looking out the window.

But when the family found their seats, the father just sat, staring into space as his children began running all over the bus, playing games, screaming at each other as they played, and generally annoying all the other passengers.

The passengers looked at each other in disgust, as this father did nothing to reign in his children. Eventually, one man had all he could take, tapped the father on the shoulder and said, “Hey man! Your kids are causing a lot of chaos here and disturbing all the rest of us on this bus! Can’t you do something about them?”

To which the father replied, “Oh, I’m sorry. We just came from the hospital. Their mother just died. I don’t know what I’m going to do now.”

Instantly, the attitude of each passenger on the bus changed to one of compassion. One by one, they started engaging the children in conversation or finding quiet things for them to focus on for the remainder of their ride. A couple of them sat with the father and just listened to him. They had expanded their perspective beyond themselves.

When we can see things from another’s perspective instead of just how we are affected, we can genuinely take them into consideration, and we’ll gain valuable insight that will change what we see in the world – and how we interact with it.