When we think about things like perspective and attitude, we tend to insinuate that the particulars are inevitable. I see what I see. I feel and think however I feel and think. It cannot be helped. Our expressions are just a way of communicating with the world.
But what if we have more control over these things than we were led to believe?
Perspective is the lens through which we view truth. It is closely tied to our attitude. Where does this lens come from? Is there anything we can do to change it?
Is perspective something we inherit? Something we learn? Or something we choose?
What I See
Another definition for perspective could be, “the way we see things”.There is a lot that goes into our capacity to perceive. Our vision is affected by our upbringing, the context and community we are in, and our unique personality. We have biases that usher us more quickly toward the things that remind us of what we are good at or what we like.
Our parents teach us how to see, as do other meaningful models in our lives. Messages from media and advertisements suggest a perspective to us, and the sheer amount of input we take in makes certain messages seem more correct than others – just because of their prevalence.
So, without a doubt, there are a host of external forces that impact our ability to perceive.
This is why attitude feels like second nature to us. We have learned it and adopted it somewhere along the way. So much so that it seems to just spill out of us.
The same thing is true for perspective. Human beings are storytellers. Even when we get facts and figures, we are filtering them through narratives. A big part of perception is taking whatever we observe and folding it into the narratives that are most familiar to us. We do this without even thinking about it.
This is why it is so hard to change our mind about something. In many ways, we are resistant to such a change. We are constantly folding everything into our familiar narratives, mostly subconsciously, so anything new or invasive just doesn’t make sense to us.
And so, these finely tuned perceptions become self-fulfilling prophecies. If we have adopted a narrative that someone is out to get us, we will view everything they say and do as antagonistic. We will see what we want to see. And we will adopt an attitude, manifest feelings, and make decisions based on that ever reinforced perspective.
We would all be very comfortable and content with this arrangement except for one little problem. It doesn’t work. There are things we encounter that don’t fit our narratives. Life is complicated and messy. People are surprising. Ideas do shape and change us.
At the core of this change is a decision. A choice.
Although there are mountains of pressures, influence, and evidence that suggest a perception, in the end the choice is up to us.
The same goes with attitude. You don’t have to be angry about anything. In any given situation, you can catch yourself and say, “You know what, this isn’t worth getting angry about”. And that’s it! You take a deep breath and move on. Pretty incredible when you think about it, that we can overcome all of those influences, predispositions, and preferred narratives with a simple in-the-moment choice.
Every day we are coming face-to-face with a variety of people and circumstances. They are all inviting us to make our choices. They are all, or mostly all, suggesting what that choice should be.
But in the end, it is up to each of us to choose how we are going to perceive. What do we think? What do we believe? How are we going to behave? Each human has agency in determining these things for oneself.
Joey Willis is a writer and Servant Leadership Trainer with The Crossroad.