Perspective and Empathy

Published on June 8, 2016

Categories: Intentional Living

Let me start with a warning. I get incredibly raw and transparent in this article. This falls completely on the personal side of my site rather than the business side, although, if you'll take the lessons to heart, they can easily be transferred to the business side. If that's something that will bother you, move on to one of the other articles.

Perspective can change everything in any given situation. Perspective on one side of an issue can result in joy or excitement, and rage or hatred on the other side. Take a look at today's political scene and you'll see what I mean.

Let me give a personal (non-political) example. My family is currently in the middle of moving from New Mexico to Michigan. I've wanted to move away from New Mexico ever since we moved here in 1992. Not necessarily to Michigan (which is where I'm from), but somewhere north. Somewhere with greenery, rain, snow, trees that change colors with the seasons, more than 2 seasons (summer and cold, because winter is a lie here), etc. Something like the Great Lakes area, the Pacific northwest, or New England. As things stand though, we're heading to western Michigan.

The actual process of moving started in May 2015. We sold a lot of stuff, moved most of our remaining stuff to storage, moved to my mother-in-law's house, and put the house up for sale. It's now June 2016 - over a year later. A year of waiting. A year of not having our own space. Another year of prolonging the dream. A year of inner turmoil dealing with all of this. Talk to any man with his own family to take care of in this type of situation, and I can almost guarantee you'll find a man who's going crazy on some level. Regardless of what the media hype says, it's in a man's nature to take care of his family and loved ones. History is a far better teacher of that than modern psychology. And if you're a person of faith, you know the Bible says much more regarding a man's (and a woman's) nature.

I flew to Michigan last month to find a place to rent, applied at an apartment complex, and waited. Based on what information I had last week, I thought we would be moving this coming weekend. Then I got the call saying we were approved for the apartment but they don't have anything available until August. They failed to mention at any point prior that we would be waiting that long, even when I told them we would be ready to go in June. Needless to say, that was a huge disappointment. Like, depressingly disappointing. Yet we're waiting for that apartment because it has everything we need and a lot of what we want.

Now that you have some context for this, let me explain the perspective part. As a side note, context is just as important in a situation as perspective is.

As you can see from the second paragraph, I don't like New Mexico. Most of the time, I'm okay and just deal with it. Every once in a while, it gets to me, though. A couple years ago, I stood at my window, looked outside, and thought, "this never changes." The only difference in the view was whether one tree across the street has leaves on it or not. Otherwise, the view is the same year round. That thought, and the thought of staying here permanently, was incredibly depressing.

Back to the news we were given. As I said, for me, that was incredibly disappointing. I've been here 24 years waiting to leave. New Mexico's slogan is "The Land of Enchantment," but is often jokingly (maybe not jokingly, depending on who you ask) referred to as "The Land of Entrapment." It's no joke to me - this place has been my prison. That's not to say it's been bad the whole time - an abundance of good has come. God has done some incredible things with me and for me here. But God works in prisons all the time, too. So, with the news that we'll be here another 2 months before we can move, to me it felt like being consigned to an additional 2 months of prison. That's my perspective and also one that most people don't realize I have (or didn't, before I wrote this).

On the flip side, a lot of people are incredibly happy that we're not moving yet and we'll be here longer. I can understand that, that's the other perspective. It's how I expected most people to react. That's the natural perspective from the opposite side - generally, people don't want other people they know to leave.

The biggest problem with perspective comes when there's a lack of empathy. Empathy is the middle ground of reaching out to the "hurting" person. In our situation, there are a handful (and only a handful) of people who basically say, "I'm glad you'll be here longer, but that really sucks. I know how much this means to you." Those are the people who act in empathy. They understand our dream of moving, God's calling on our lives to what's next, and the perspective from both points of view.

Let me take this one step further. Most of the people who are openly excited (those acting without empathy) that we're staying are either the ones who don't want to see another perspective or are the ones we have superficial relationships with - we don't spend time together, barely say "hi" once a week, etc. This is more about quality of time than quantity of time spent together. It's hard to see someone else's perspective and relate to them when you don't spend time with them and know what's going on in his/her life. In other words, empathy is impossible if you don't look at a situation from another's perspective.

Perspective is such a simple yet powerful thing. If we're willing to take a different perspective, the world will look a whole lot different. A different perspective allows us to see the areas of life we would normally miss. Seeing a situation from another's perspective allows us to act in empathy. Empathy makes a path for healing and growth and opens the doors to deeper and more meaningful relationships.