Each of us tend to look at life from our own point of view. For many of us it is difficult to even conceive that there is more than one valid way of seeing things – we think we are always right! That leads to an endless variety of disagreements, quarrels, and disharmony which make work and personal life difficult. Spiritually, there is a seed of truth in every viewpoint. When we genuinely recognize that truth, we find other people becoming reasonable and amenable to our way of thinking or to a better alternative that neither of us even thought of before. Taking the other person’s point of view is a spiritual method that expands your being and makes other people respond positively to you. Taking the other’s viewpoint is a Spiritual Skill.
Learn to listen
Everyone knows that the spoken word is powerful. Throughout our lives we use that power to get work done and get what we need. But it is equally or more true that listening is a great power. Good speakers are uncommon. Good listeners are even more rare. The capacity to listen to other people – patiently, carefully and without interruption – is a wonderful way to improve our human relationships and our effectiveness in life.
Hearing is not listening. Just because we keep quiet while another is talking, does not mean we are listening to what they say. Often our minds are filled with our own ideas, opinions, preoccupations, etc. When we meet others we are eager to share them. Even when others start a new topic, we immediately think about our own views on it and are eager to interrupt and speak out our thoughts. Or we politely keep quiet without taking real interest. One very successful salesman who was the top performer in his company found that when he stopped interrupting his customers, his sales doubled!
Speaking is a way people relate to one another for personal attention and companionship. Very often the subject matter is secondary. People want to relate. Even in work, often we are as eager to share what we have been doing as much as to communicate something essential for others to know.
- Casablanca: When Ilsa meet Rick at the Paris railway station as she promised so they could together escape the Nazis together, Rick concluded that she did not love him as she had professed. Little could he conceive that there was another interpretation of her actions that was wholly consistent with her love for him. Later when they met in Casablanca, Rick refused to even listen when Ilsa tried to explain the reason she did not show up. Finally the truth emerged after much acrimony. After Isla had promised to meet Rick at the station, she received word that her husband, Victor, who she had presumed dead in a Nazi concentration camp, was still alive. Although she was deeply in love with Rick, she could not run away when her idealistic husband needed her.
Try this experiment: Whenever someone starts speaking to you on any topic, listen without interruption until the person finishes speaking and then count to three silently before replying, just to be very sure the other person is finished. While the other person is speaking, listen carefully to what they say and why they say it. Take interest in the person who is speaking. Often you will find that people speak less when they are absolutely assured of our attention and interest in them. Many quarrels will also be avoided.
Recognize the truth in another’s viewpoint
People who receive expert training in sales or psychological counseling are often taught to identify the other person’s viewpoint and repeat it back to them, so the person is certain we have heard and understood what he or she meant. Most people are more willing to listen to what we have to say and accept it when they are certain that we have given them a fair listening also. This is a social method which is very effective.
Mind likes to insist on what it thinks or believes to be true. That insistence causes conflicts which can spoil work or human relationships. There is a truth in every viewpoint. When we insist on our point of view, others tend to insist on their own. When we genuinely recognize the truth in another's viewpoint, other people become more willing to concede the truth in our view as well. Even if they do not, circumstances often arise which result in a solution that reflects our view or reconciles all the views of different people. This is a spiritual method which is far more powerful and effective.
- Pride & Prejudice: When Darcy proposed to Elizabeth the first time, he had not even conceived of the possibility that she may not want to marry him, in spite of his direct interference in Jane's relationship with Bingley. When they exchanged views of each other, both were shocked and outraged to learn how they were regarded in each other's eyes. Darcy could not imagine that Elizabeth regarded him as selfish and arrogant until she expressed herself. After cool reflection, he was able to see himself from her poiint of view and take a sincere decision to improve his character. Elizabeth was bewildered by Darcy's attraction to her while being deeply offended by his description of her family and outraged by his indifference to Wickham's accusations against him. She could not conceive that there could be justification for his behavior toward Wickham, until she read his letter of explanation. Both ultimately learned that there was great truth in the other's point of view. When they came to terms with those truths, they also discovered they were deeply attracted and ideally suited to each other.
- Casablanca: when Ilsa meet Rick at the Paris railway station as she promised so they could together escape the Nazis together, Rick concluded that she did not love him as she had professed. Little could he conceive that there was another interpretation of her actions that was wholly consistent with her love for him. After promising to meet him, Ilsa received word that her husband, who she had presumed dead in a Nazi concentration camp, was still alive.
Don’t be contrary
When other people ask or tell us to do something or state an opinion, many of us have the habit of immediately arguing the very opposite. We ask ourselves or perhaps ask the other person why we should do as they ask. If our boss tells us something, we quietly think to ourselves that he has made the wrong decision or given an incorrect instruction. If someone states an opinion, we look closely to see if there is any grounds on which we can disagree with them. If someone states a general truth, we immediately hunt to find an exception to the rule, even if that exception is valid only in 1% of the cases.
This type of behavior arises out of a negative tendency of the mind that is quite common. It is fostered by the Western educational system that teaches people to evaluate ‘critically’ whatever they hear. Critical thinking is good for a scientist or a police detective, but it undermines and spoils normal work situations and personal relationships.
Observe the minds of other people and you will see how prevalent this habit is. Observe your own mind. See whether it has the negative habit of looking for an exception or grounds for disagreement. If so, you can make a great progress by freeing yourself of this habit.
This may not sound like anything great, but being rational is much more difficult than it may sound. It is a rare human endowment and a powerful means of psychological growth.
It is relatively easy for us to be rational with regard to issues that do not affect us personally or with which we have no prior experience or for which we have all the essential information. But most of the time we have to interact with people in circumstances where we do have a personal or professional interest in the outcome or where we have opinions, beliefs or prior experience that strongly color our views and preferences. To be rational under these circumstances can be quite difficult.
To be rational is not the same as being ‘reasonable’ or willing to compromise. It means being impartial and capable of seeing the situation objectively as if you were completely uninvolved. Practicing this one discipline can eliminate most conflicts between people.
Being rational does not mean insisting that others be rational too. It is not rational to expect others to do that! It means practicing rationality ourselves without judging other people, accusing them or finding fault with them for not being as rational as we are. The spiritual truth is that when we become fully rational and willing to accept the irrational views of others, they will become more rational and willing to accept our own viewpoint.
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