Since graduating with my bachelor’s degree, I have engaged in opportunities to keep learning in the past year. While I have slowed down with book reading – I have been listening to opinion pieces, podcasts, commentaries, and even different questions on prevalent social issues.
One of the habits I have consciously cultivated is asking people for their perspectives of things. I am not necessarily asking for what they believe, think is true, or right, but simply how they see something that I am seeing. Whether the topic relates to conflict, religion, a social cause like feminism, or an imminent social issue like the canceling culture, as usual, I extend the grace that what people think can change and doesn’t always define who they are. I also allow for a safe space in the conversations where it is my responsibility to establish such an agreement. With these practices, rather than judging people for their thoughts, I thank them for their honesty and vulnerability.
Often, we think a thought is a finished process when it comes out of people’s mouths, and we forget that we simultaneously think as we talk even when we have had practice. So, when people say something, rather than reacting with judgment, I respond with “let’s discuss that,” or I ask critical questions as simple as “well, why do you think that?” I also sometimes paraphrase what they say to ensure that I understand them clearly and they have communicated effectively. In conversations and, most importantly, listening to others, I find that it is easy to fall into a space of judgment, and worse, this new cancel culture to conclude “you’re a bad person because you said x y and z that I disagree with.” It is not our fault; it’s just how our mind is wired to make instinctive conclusions for safety and compartmentalize things. However, we do better when we train our instincts, from thoughts to actions.
Perspectives are important and affect our relationship with the world, the conclusion of our lives, and connections with people who matter or matter less to us. I will share a couple of things that I am learning from this issue and where this started from.
It started when two people I knew died. Besides my rambling to God, I couldn’t help but think in my sarcastic Nigerian pastoral voice: who do I blame, and what do I believe? On the one hand, I could say that the devil is a bad devil (as though the qualifications aren’t synonymous) because these people died young. Or I could say this was God’s time for them, and I am grateful to God that they lived fully during their time on earth. In that rumination, I realized that experiences are combinations of God’s intentions happening to us, our perspectives, and our actions. No matter the hypothesis we make as curious beings, we never see the full picture in several cases. We do not need to see the full pictures to keep moving, and sometimes, I wonder if God, who knows all, allowed us to see all; perhaps we wouldn’t want to move.
This topic dwells a lot in my conflict resolution. This perspective is yet to make full sense to me, but to some extent, when I have applied it, it was reasonable. When there is a conflict, people are always quick to say, “you made me feel …” fill up the blank with your best imagination. While there is no doubt that the actions of other human beings or world occurrences influence our feelings, I think the decision of that feeling settling and sowing seed in our reaction is up to us. I’ll give you an example. If you accidentally spill a cup of water on two people’s shirts (don’t do it, though), one person can react and say, you ruined my day and made me angry. The other person can say, this is an accident; I wish it didn’t happen, and I’ll get my shirt dry. Both responses are valid.
When I find myself in conflicts more recently, rather than concluding and attributing emotion to it or saying the person led my feelings, I say to myself what the person did objectively and how I am responsible for feeling about it. It is just like putting water on a hot plate. The heat influences the water, but ultimately, the thermostat controls the heat and how the water turns out. You are a thermostat, and if you dwell in a perspective that encourages you to take control of your influences rather than let your influences control you, you can get by conflicts much quicker.
The consciousness of my perspectives has also influenced my decision-making for important issues and less urgent ones. Before, I used to say that “I am confused,” “I don’t know what to do,” or “It is complicated,” and that led me to seek unnecessary validation. It also made me a “complainer” of some sort. What I found to be worse than being confused in such situations was seeking counsel from people who will provide unprofitable pressure, insights, and judgments. Most importantly, admiring myself like the Kanye West goddaughter that I am, I realized that it wasn’t that I was confused – I am a holistic thinker, which means that I am one of those people that looks at all the sides of the coin and evaluate all the possibilities associated with an issue. In a world where being left or right, blue or red is what’s marketed, it is easy for holistic thinkers to look and feel stupid. So rather than saying that “I am confused” or “it’s complicated” or “I don’t know what to do,” I switched my language to say, “I am enlightened about the multiple-perspectives there is to this situation which is causing a delay in my decision.” The icing on the cake is that time informs my enlightenment and often leads me to make the better decision or, if lucky, the right one. I have also gotten comfortable knowing that I won’t always make the right decisions, but I must try to make the best decisions in all situations.
In a recent journal, I wrote the following reminders for myself:
Our perspectives matter a lot to our conclusion of life, experiences, and relationships. However, just because that’s all you can see at the moment doesn’t mean that’s all there is to know about it. We should try our best not to be managed by the hindsight of where we lack knowledge. We should also understand that the power of our knowledge or our power in a situation lies in the perspective from which we see things.
So, when next you find yourself in that situation, discussion, or decision – rather than jumping to judgment, ask yourself, “what’s my perspective?” If you are even more curious, ask, “what other perspectives are there to this?” Then, “how can that inform my conclusion in a way that I can take responsibility for my actions where needed?”