Our differences can be our biggest source of grief , not because of the differences but because we can’t see how they change our perspective of the world.
I surround myself with interesting funny people, people worth being around, people who don’t see the world the same way I do, so I have some interesting conversations from time to time. I love talking to people who are different, even when we disagree, it makes my day. Even when it doesn’t always look like I’m listening I do, I always do. I take what they say on board and a lot of the time I adjust the way I see the world. I learnt a long time ago that people can be simultaneously right and wrong at the same time and wisdom lays on that razor edge between the two.
I had one such conversation a little while ago, a conversation with someone who cares about other people, someone who cares about others’ happiness and comfort. She felt put out that she took some time to make sure some other people’s lives were just that little bit easier but then that same respect wasn’t always returned. She isn’t a people pleaser and neither does she do this for other’s approval, she is simply a person that cares, one of those good people you stumble across from time to time. But I know something she hadn’t worked out for herself. You see she is different.
My friend is empathetic. Not in the mystic meaning of the word, just someone who can put herself in another person’s shoes. She is able to see how her actions, and the actions of others, affect her friends. She makes accommodations for the people she cares about because of what she sees. Yet I don’t think she has ever seen the world from the other side, the side where it’s harder to put yourself in another’s shoes. I don’t think it’s a perspective that she is familiar with. I don’t think she realizes what a harsh and cold place the world can be when it’s hard to fathom the motives of others, how much of a struggle life is when the fears, worries and concerns of others are hard to discern. It’s not that other people are being uncaring, it’s simply that they can’t see from her perspective either, or at least not as well.
We all suffer from this perspective conflict, we see the world as we are made and we mostly assume other people see the world this way too. That’s not wrong, at least not a lot of the time, and it does serve us as well. Most people do see the world similar to the way we do, or at least close enough. Yet this isn’t always the case, we are all different. We have biological differences from our DNA, we have been raised differently, raised in different cultures and even on different countries and all of these things go to influence how we see our world. Yet sometimes our perspectives can lead us astray. Have you ever noticed Australians are pretty quick to put on sun protection, and no, we aren’t weird or over cautious. Have a brief thought about what it might be like to live in a country without an ozone layer. Would it change the way you see sun protection?
I want to give another simple example of how this perspective conflict can creep into even just ordinary things. I’m 6”6’ built like a wrestler and I’m overweight to boot. Going to visit a doctor for me can be a nightmare. I have to train my doctors. Nearly every piece of medical equipment in a doctor’s office is not built with someone like me in mind. This includes the beds, the gowns, tape measures, scales, reflex hammers and even things like blood pressure bands which don’t fit. Thinking about it now, I’ve even had issues fitting into bone scanners and MRI’s. Every time I go to a doctor I have to work out if the problem they find is because the equipment doesn’t work on someone my size, or at least isn’t calibrated for my size, or whether I actually have a real problem. Then I have to convince the doctor that I’m different, yet the fact I’m 6”6’ doesn’t seem to mean a lot.
So what if someone else different? How do you tell if some conflict you are experiencing is because of a fundamental difference of perception, either by you or by that other person? It’s not as if you can just see into someone’s head. There isn’t an easy answer to this. I have an advantage over most people, I’ve been weird my whole life, I’m used to accepting that I’m almost universally different. One thing I’ve noticed though is that when the “E” word (Expectation) pops up I am almost always expecting people to behave from my own perspective and knowledge, not from theirs. The E word seems to be an almost universal signal that perspectives are conflicting.
Now that you know that others are sometimes different I have some bad news. There are only two ways to overcome expectations. The first is to have no expectations at all. This is a hard thing to do, we aren’t wired this way. Our brains naturally want to find patterns and meanings in the world and most of us don’t have the time or patients to become Zen masters. The second way is to spend some time talking to the other person. You have identified where your expectation falls flat on its face now it’s time to put down the “I’m right, you’re wrong” bat. You’ll have to dive in and try and see the world from someone else’s point of view. They won’t value things the same way you do, they won’t have the same priorities, and they may not even care about some things you are passionate about. Yet it’s the only way to understand their actions and words.
So what if you’re different? How do you resolve an issue where your perception is unique and the world ignores it? You’re taller than everyone else for example and that sometimes this can be a disadvantage. I have even worse news, you can’t force other people see from your perspective. No matter how often you scream and shout your pain and frustrations people are going to look at you and tell you to sit down and be quiet, the plane needs to take off. The world doesn’t care about your differences; it’s the big problem with awareness campaigns. If people don’t encounter a problem often enough they forget to keep looking at things from a differing perspective. If they only see someone in a wheel chair once a week they won’t think about ramps on buildings.
All is not lost though; there is one thing you can do if you are different. The world mightn’t care about your differences but your friends and family do. You can’t force your perspective on the world but you can invite your friends to see life from a different place. Your friends are the people who make your differences a pleasure to have. That’s part of what friendship is about, yes we can all sort of pretend to be like everybody else and hide our differences in a crowd, but your friends, your friends are where the magic happens. Your friends are the people you can say this is how I see the world and good friends will take the time to understand. If they are good friends they will be doing the same in return. Good friends love the differences in you. You may not ever be able to completely remove the issue of expectations but if you understand that expectations are the conflicts in perception it will be easier to resolve the differences, especially amongst your friends. You never know, you might see some wonderful things you’d have never noticed from your own perspective if you take the time to talk to your friends.
Photo: Getty Images
*A minstrel was a medieval European bard who performed songs whose lyrics told stories of distant places or of existing or imaginary historical events. Although minstrels created their own tales, often they would memorize and embellish the works of others. The Modern Minstrel observes the world around him and shares it with us as lyrical story. This series was inspired by Luke Davis, whose eye for story and ear for lyrical prose are featured here.
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