All good parents at least purport they want to teach their child to see things from other people’s perspective.
We explain cliché proverbs like, “You don’t know a man until you walk a mile in his shoes” and in order to solve childhood squabbles, we remind them to “treat others as you want to be treated”.
Children try to avoid these moments of logic and clarity, because they know instinctively that it means giving up on their claim to “rightness”. But before we can put this instinctive knowledge into words, we’re old enough to attempt to influence the world to run the way we want it to run. “Look at it from his perspective” is lost to our growing sense of self-assuredness.
On a train recently, I watched a disagreement unfold between a foreigner and a South Asian. I understood where the foreigner was coming from. The principles upon which they claimed “rightness” were the principles with which I was raised. They are the principles that run most deeply in my make-up.
But after two years living primarily with South Asians, I could also see it from the South Asian’s perspective. I knew the principles upon which he based his arguments. They’re principles with which I’ve been living closely and even adopting as my own over the past two years.
I could see each side of the disagreement as clearly as I could see the other. In seeing both sides – both were right and both were wrong.
The problem with seeing something from another person’s perspective – especially when you’re disagreeing with them – is that suddenly you’re wrong and they’re right. And your whole argument is based on the “fact” that they’re wrong. If the fundamental “trueness” of my position is taken away, I may just have to humble myself and admit that my right to impose my opinion/will/desire on you isn’t based on a universal truth, but on my own selfish whim.
Every year, the US issues “report cards” on the rest of the world’s human rights. China always ranks high in the “human rights offender” list. As a rebuttal, China issued its own report, citing America for “high crime, child poverty, and racial discrimination”. Citing the US crack down on the infamous “Wikileaks”, China mocked US criticism of China’s restrictions on freedom of speech and information. Who’s right and who’s wrong?
It depends on your perspective, doesn’t it?
A criticism of my generation is that we don’t take truth seriously. We don’t believe in objective truth; relativism is the order of the day.
I do believe there are universal truths. I’m not a complete relativist.
However, I don’t think that everything we’ve claimed as objective truth is objective. We’ve badly misused that label to mean things that we want to be universally true or something that from our perspective is true.
Perhaps that’s one of the reasons Gen Y is moving in the direction of relativism. We started taking our parents’ advice, walked a mile in someone else’s shoes, and saw an issue from their perspective. We found out that there aren’t as many objective facts as we thought.