Someone else’s shoes

By Taryn Dryfhout

Recently, I found out about something that a close friend of mine was involved in. I was astounded by what I learned, and was shaken for several days, as I struggled to process the news and understand how this could have happened. My mother, though shocked, was able to make sense of what led up to this event, which made me realise, she is much better at seeing things from someone else’s perspective than I am.

In Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus tells Scout “you never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb in his skin and walk around in it”. This seems like a simple concept, but it’s not one that I have mastered yet.

Though few will admit it, people, by their very nature are self-centred. I’m not talking about those ‘mum’ moments when you lock yourself in your closet with a Pinky Bar, just to ensure that you won’t have to share it. This self-centredness is a much deeper social reality that we are all engaging in. We understand the world from where we are and make ourselves the reference point for how we understand everything. We are programmed to have a built-in bias that says “it’s all about me”. While we might give a passing thought to other people (“Bob looks sad sitting in that dark corner of the office”), we do so whilst at the back of our minds, thinking about what we want (“I’m starving. I wonder if I can get to McDonald’s before they close off the breakfast menu.”) While this can be the kind of survival mode that we need, it can also be limiting, as we fail to understand people.

I am guilty of this self-centredness. Most of the time, I operate within the familiar bubble of my life – kids, husband, study. I need to see things through other people’s perspectives, to understand their motivations, and why they behave the way they do. I need to work on shifting my focus so that I see the world through other people’s eyes.

A few weeks back, I was re-enacting a disagreement I had witnessed, when my son piped up and said “I can see both sides of that.” He had been quietly eavesdropping, evaluating the information without any pre-conceived assumptions or bias. Children are particularly good at this. As adults, we tend to believe that the way we see things reflects how they really are, rather than just our perspective on it. Since children are more receptive to new ideas they tend to be more open to understanding multiple points of view. Even my nine-year-old has this down.

According to Doctor Phil, “no matter how flat you make a pancake, it’s still got two sides”. If I can manage to get better at this, then I am confident that not only will it help me to be more at ease with situations like I crossed this week, but will ultimately make me a better wife, mother, friend, and person. It’s a skill, like every other, and one that I intend to work on for my own personal development.


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