Points of View:

A person standing at one place who moves to another will find that things look different from each of the two places.

Two people standing at different places who are looking at the same thing will see the thing differently.

So the point from which a person views something affects what information is received and how the thing looks.

A dramatic example is how a city looks when you are walking on its streets and how it looks to you from the top of a mountain. Confucius suggested that everyone climb a mountain once a year in order to see familiar things differently. Mark Twain recommended travel for similar reasons.

Many fruitless arguments can be settled if both parties come to realize that they have been viewing the same thing from different points. The famous Indian story of the elephant is a good example: Different blind men touch an elephant. One touches its leg and thinks it's a tree, another touches it's trunk and thinks he is touching a snake, and another touches its tail and thinks it's a whisk broom. Yet they are all touching the same elephant. The disagreement between them is solved when they all understand the situation.

Other things contribute to how a person sees something besides his or her physical position. People raised in different cultures, for example, see countless things differently. People in the same culture who have had different experiences growing up will see things differently. And the same person will see things differently when old as compared with when he or she was young.

For example, the same type of woman might appear beautiful and desirable and worthy of pursuit to a young man of 20 but as a selfish and even dangerous creature to a man of 92. Similarly, a political idea or a political party might be experienced differently by a youth of 18 and by the same person when he or she has been through the mill of life for another twenty years or so.

Life itself (and time) looks different to a boy of 6 and to the man, years later, on his death bed.

So it is natural to extend the use of the concept of point of view from a physical one to a metaphorical one. Each person, at any particular moment is at a point in his or her life. This point colors how things look to the person.

Many arguments can be resolved if one party recognizes that there is a difference in metaphorical points of view. The father stops lecturing his son when he realizes there is no way the son, from his point in life, can view things the way the father does from his vantage point. Neither lecturing nor arguing nor beating can have any effect whatsoever (though there is possibly one thing that might, a discussion of which I will leave for the lesson on Imagination.)

Many married couples have an ongoing argument about whether their bedroom is too hot or too cold at night. It is obvious that this is a difference due to point of view, and any rational argument one person may come up with to convince the other is frivolous. There is no rational reason to use a thermometer to prove that it really is hot or that it really is cold. And it's not relevant to ask the children what they think. Everyone in the world can think its hot, and if you feel it's cold, it is cold -- for you, and arguing about it is a waste of everybody's time.

However, even if both parties realize there is no rational point in arguing about it, it does not mean the tension is over between them. There still has to be a decision about what temperature to make the room, what blanket to use, and so on. But, if they stop arguing about who is right and who is wrong, at least they can now focus on the real issue.

In larger and more important disputes it is the same. If two nations are disputing a fertile piece of land lying between them, it will not help for a mediator to point out that they have different points of view. It is the difference in their points of view along with the difference in their needs that is leading to the problem.

With religion, some people seem to be content with saying, "Each to his own. What you believe is really just a matter of where you were born." But most people who are seriously religious will not accept this.

The concept of point of view can be useful for a person, like a marriage counselor, whose job is to mediate disputes and who wants to remain objective and not get sucked in to either side too much. And it can be helpful, at times, for the two sides in such disputes. It can be especially useful to help them see that at least some of their arguing is not just painful or unpleasant but actually pointless and useless. If both parties come in such a dispute come to see that the issue is not who is correct and who is incorrect, they are in a position to face the real issue which is that the two have contradictory needs. And, if there is good will between them and each cares about the other as well as about him or herself, it might be possible for them to find a practical resolution.

That the concept has limited use in real life situations can be seen in the often repeated story of the couple who goes to the rabbi to seek help with their marriage. The husband tells the rabbi his side of the story, and the rabbi says, "Yes! I understand what you mean! I think you are right!" Next the wife, who is now angry at the rabbi, tells him her side of the story, and the rabbi says the exact same thing, "Yes! I understand what you mean! I think you are right!" Now both the husband and the wife are angry and say, in unison, "You said the exact same thing to both of us! This is ridiculous! How can we both be right?" And, of course, the rabbi says, "Yes! I see what you mean! I think you are right!" The rabbi may appear wise to the couple, but it is possible that they will see him as silly and weak.

In fact there is a danger in being good at seeing the point of view of others. It is possible to become so good at understanding the points of view of others that you forget your own point of view and wind up getting stepped on.