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Have you ever been picking fruit or veggies in the garden, and you’re certain you’ve found all the ripe berries, or all the mature pea pods, only to find out you’ve missed tons of them? This happens to me quite often.
I’ve learned to pause and change my physical position. If I’m standing up and picking raspberries, I get down on my knees and look up instead of down and find buckets more. If I’ve been picking from one side of a row of peas, I move around to the other side of the row and see enough mature pea pods to fill my basket again.
Perspective is everything, isn’t it?
When I have someone in my office, sharing an experience which I’m struggling to relate to, I simply change my position and pause. I know I need to look again to hear differently.
90% of communication involves listening, not speaking. Real listening, hearing between the words, hearing pain, sorrow, and a wealth of other powerful emotions. Real listening is NOT about staying silent while you craft your response inside your head. Sometimes, to really hear the person I am speaking with, I need to shift my position, my perspective.
Our personal truths reflect our personal experiences. In hearing a persons story, I need to share their perspective. What influences have shaped them? Are they marginalized, experiencing racial discrimination? Are they in an abusive relationship, feeling robbed of power, of personal joy. Are they wealthy and powerful? What physical or emotional challenges do they face in their daily lives? I often ask a person, after they have shared their story, to reflect on what that experience reminds them of. Not only does this shine a light on repeated patterns, but it helps me understand what has shaped their world view, their perspective.
I remember a young girl in a congregation I served some years ago now. She was the subject of disapproving frowns from many of the ladies of the church, you know, the ones who bake really great cookies and bring them all to church to eat after the worship service. This young girl was 6 years old, and even at that young age had lived in four different foster homes before being adopted by a congregation member. She had learned to take what she wanted or needed in life as that had been her experience. Her life experiences had taught her that she was the low kid on the family totem pole, the one with no voice, the one to whom only leftovers were given. Left over love, left over clothes, left over food. Every Sunday, this young girl would cram as many cookies as she could into her pockets and into her mouth, much to the embarrassment of her new mom, and to much disapproval from the church ladies.
From one perspective she appeared to be ill mannered, greedy, perhaps even selfish. I simply paused one day, shifted my personal and physical perspective and grabbed a plate of cookies, winked at her, and invited her to help me eat them outside. Her eyes popped open, startled. Was this a trick? Was this offer for real?
Sitting outside on the church steps, I sit so that we are both at eye level. I offer her a cookie, and she cautiously takes one. Just one. I ask her if she wants more, she can help herself, which she does. Then I ask her to tell me what she will do with all those cookies. Her response helped me understand her perspective. That new experience also helped her to begin to dare to trust, that takes strength and courage and resilience. Not a shred of selfish, greedy or ill mannered behaviour. Simply learning to let go of old survival tactics and learn a new way to relate to grownups.
Perspective is everything.