I have a gift for you. I found it while reading and listening to Ken Wilber, a brilliant philosopher-psychologist-spiritual-teacher guy who has developed something called “integral psychology,” a theory that summarizes years of research by others on human development. I like a lot of it—not all of course. But central to integral theory is that there are “stages” through which we develop as children (having only our own perspective, then the ability to see another’s, then a group’s, and then “objectively”). Further stages are possible for adults. Cultures go through them too.
I know—what gift is this? Think of these first paragraphs as the gift wrapping.
Wilber calls moving through these stages “growing up,” and sees the ones you may or may not develop in adulthood as especially valuable. He describes two other dimensions on which humans can develop. There’s “waking up,” the hierarchy of states of consciousness found in every “mystical” tradition. And there’s a third necessity for higher human development, “cleaning up” (the “shadow,” complexes, the effect of traumas, etc.). Wilber really is interesting, I think especially to an HSP, but oh so wordy! One way to get his ideas is to listen to a Sounds True recording called “The Future of Spirituality”. I listened to it while driving. Or you can watch an interview with him on Buddha at the Gas Pump.
The Simple Gift
Anyway, while my 13-year-old grandson and I were listening to Wilber and discussing his stages, my grandson wanted to know how we could move faster through these stages. After later listening for several hours more on my own, I finally heard the interviewer ask Wilber our question and he tossed out the simple, brilliant answer: “See things from the other’s perspective.”
I instantly saw how valuable this could be. He means that this is how you expand your mind, your consciousness, your understanding, your morals. It’s also key to maintaining close relationships, being successful at whatever your work, raising children, and just learning. All of it.
The interviewer did not follow up. (I know the interviewer, who has told me she is not an HSP.) I’m sure my recognition of its potential came from my high sensitivity, so I hope it will come as a gift to you too.
Taking the other’s perspective does not require feeling compassion, although it can lead to it. I suppose you could use it to devise the ideal revenge or crime! I don’t think you will, but if someone has angered you or hurt you in some way, you do not have to decide they are right, but taking their perspective can take the sting out of it. “That’s just one person’s view.”
Looking At the Nice Details
Perspective starts literally with trying to see through the other’s eyes. What are they perceiving—seeing, hearing, smelling even. What are they doing? I did this at a Christmas concert the other night, hearing religious music from the Middle Ages and Renaissance, exquisitely sung by a professional chorus. First, I realized I was near the front and they were seeing me, my face expressionless, so I started smiling. I really appreciated their effort and skill, even letting their work flow through my heart. But it was not a spiritual experience, as I had expected. It did not seem to be for them either.
Given the bit of what I knew about this chorus, I suspected that most of them were probably somewhat spiritual, but given their education levels, also probably did not take scripture completely literally. That is, maybe they did not totally believe Jesus was born of a virgin or angels sang to the shepherds, as the composers of those songs had. The chorus was singing in a church, but the audience was not a congregation or necessarily even Christian. The chorus saw people here for their performance, almost like an event in a museum. Hence something was there more than in most churches—an incredible performance–but something was missing too. And then I understood my own response. (No more beating myself up for my lack of whatever.)
YOU CAN BE WRONG. I see perspective taking to be a result of a combination of your imagination and your awareness as an HSP of subtle signs in the person (or group, or even a country) and, if the person is actually there, in your shared environment. Then with that depth of processing you find yourself forming further impressions—hypothesis you continue to check if you are further interested. Again, you can be wrong. Slave owners sometimes thought their slaves were happy. But almost certainly you will know more of the other’s perspective than if you don’t try it.
Toying With Your Gift
Perspective taking can be fun, too. I was hiking down a steep road on a brisk morning and a young woman was coming towards me on a bright yellow mountain bike. She smiles and says an exuberant hello. Okay, what’s her perspective? A lot of uphill ahead. Ruts and rocks to watch for. A blue sky above that. An older couple hiking. Riding an expensive bike in a wealthy area. A cheerful type, in a very good mood, and seeing us, she overflowed in this cheerful hello. At least today, life is good for her. That’s all. I hike on. But it added a little to my day. I don’t mountain bike, but I enjoyed it through her sparkling experience.
How can you as an HSP make use of this gift? Well, it really is fun to do when you are bored, puzzled, or getting tired on a hike! It’s useful in almost any interpersonal situation. But I like Wilber’s reason for perspective taking. It can speed up your growth through the advanced stages he sees as so critical to human survival. You already have this innate ability through your depth of processing. But why not exercise it more as a daily practice of taking another’s perspective? And did I say this yet? You will also make a huge contribution to the world. All these divisions and dislikes—you can see both sides. Imagine 20% of the population “growing up” by doing that and leading the rest?
Enjoy your gift.