“When you really listen to another person from their point of view, and reflect back to them that understanding, it’s like giving them emotional oxygen.” – Steven Covey
Perception is often the greatest influence which creates dramatic differences in opinions, understandings, and beliefs. Was there a time when you witnessed a particular event and the person standing next to you drew an opposite conclusion?
Even the methods we use to form our ideals vary according to our life’s experiences.
Each time I publish an article, my objective is to present a topic in a manner which evokes and impels readers to examine the subject in ways they’ve previously never pondered. The biggest challenge I face is not being able to determine the different perspectives each reader has – which is one element I’ll never be able to control.
However, any time I personally reflect on the subject of perception, there is a personal story which always comes to mind.
In the seventh grade, I had a friend named Joe. One school night he invited me to stay at his home. The next morning, his mother made me a sack lunch to take to school. The featured item was a baloney sandwich. I was no stranger to this fare; my mother frequently included it as the main staple in my brown bag.
When I got home that afternoon, I told my mother, “Wow, Joe’s mom makes the best baloney sandwiches”!
“She does”? My mother inquired. “What does she put in them”?
“Baloney and mustard” I responded.
Needless to say my mother was perplexed. Not only were those ingredients included in her version, she used Oscar Mayer brand “bologna” on mine. She even went above and beyond the “best baloney sandwich,” by dressing it up with American cheese and lettuce.
I don’t recall the rest of our conversation from that day, but my mother and I constantly reminisce and laugh at that moment. How could something with less substance outdo what my mom had been making for years?
Once again, perception takes center stage. What influenced my preteen palette was my mom had been making these sandwiches virtually the same way for years. Devouring one with a different kind of bread, a Dejon-style mustard, and not the “same ol’ ” baloney was more of a welcome variation rather than an award-winning creation. The flavors blended in a way which my taste buds were not expecting and that little surprise gave Joe’s mom the advantage. Undoubtedly, had I continued with her version, my mother’s would have regained the crown.
The way we perceive things is vital to shaping every element of our life.
While the above statement may seem exceedingly obvious, I believe many really don’t give it the consideration it deserves. Seeing things from our own perspective has become second nature. We’ve always looked at things from our own viewpoint and, unlike baloney, other’s rarely taste better.
We’ve grown accustomed to our particular brand of baloney-sandwich-style perception and typically take a pass when anyone else’s “brand” tries to make its way onto ours. The methods we’ve used to establish and deduce discernment have served us well and it would take a lot of convincing to incorporate something new.
I don’t dismiss the idea that seeing another person’s perspective is easy. In some ways, it’s impossible to fully perceive other’s points of view. It would be insensitive and arrogant if I were to claim I completely understand what anyone has gone through, much less someone with a different gender, race, or even generation.
However, I can do my best to become aware of their viewpoints. Although I may never fully realize the depth of their challenges, I can certainly do my best to understand their efforts and better empathize with their struggles.
Thankfully, it’s not necessary to walk in someone else’s footsteps in order to be empathetic to their challenges. Neither is it a requirement to suffer what they’ve endured to offer help and hope. But how we begin to better understand those difficulties is first to carefully listen.
As the opening quote stated, reflecting back to others that we are listening is like emotional oxygen. When someone believes you care about their situation, it invigorates and encourages them to be earnest and truthful. Paying attention not only helps you with your understanding of their issues, it also inspires better communication and outcome for both of you.
The catalyst for strife and division lies in our own ego. The moment someone assumes their baloney is the best or maybe the only kind which ought to be served, immediately perpetrates division and sets the stage for an unsuccessful outcome.
Perhaps defending our brand of baloney is something in our DNA; or at least deep in our psyche. When I read a disagreeing comment on my articles, I do become defensive. However, I’ve also taught myself to stop and not completely dismiss that idea until I’ve had time to digest it. As much as I’d always like to be edifying and correct, if I do not allow myself to experience another point of view, the only thing I may end up writing would be a bunch of baloney.
This week, you’re bound to come across different perspectives; some which may directly impact you. Do your best to really listen and show them you are concerned. Put aside ego and see how well you can oxygenate the conversation and inspire a common good for all.