As announced in the previous article, we want to dive deeper into the topic of shifting perspectives by presenting practical examples from the book „Shifting Perspectives“ by Olivier de Brivezac and Emmanuel Comte.
Generally speaking, as soon as we find ourselves in a subjectively difficult or stressful situation, the challenge is precisely to adopt the „right“ perspective. But what is this right perspective on a given difficult situation? How and by whom is „right“ defined? In this context, the adjective „right“ describes the perception of the situation that is not only the least painful and stressful for the respective individual, but additionally offers the possibility to face a situation in a constructive and enriching way. It is not only about recognizing „misconceptions“ in our perception of a situation, whereby a misconception is defined in such a way that our perception and evaluation of the situation makes us unhappy and we suffer from it. The counterpart to these misattitudes is the so-called „agathism“. This refers to a perception that not only corresponds to reality – i.e. is not a fiction – but especially one that always includes the positive aspects contained in every situation, no matter how difficult it may be. This leads us to no longer feeling unfairly treated and misunderstood, helpless at the mercy of others and overwhelmed, and opens the door to self-determined, constructive action and higher resilience and satisfaction in life.
Let’s get more concrete and examine the following situation to make the approach clearer: The example is about a difficult mother-daughter relationship under which both the daughter and the mother suffer:
My mother has many good qualities; she has done a lot for me and our family. I am well aware of this and, as a child, have a moral duty to respect her. Nevertheless, my mother has faults that are immediately obvious to others: a lack of tact and tactfulness, which is why I was ashamed of her for a long time, and she still often embarrasses me in company. For many years this quality in her bothered me and I suffered from it. All the petulant remarks I made in this regard only angered her and made her even more bitter. I focused completely on her faults until I saw only those and nothing else. I am well aware that I was wrong to do that. This doubled my suffering: on the one hand I could hardly bear my mother’s mistakes, on the other hand I suffered from remorse because I felt exactly that I owed her respect and that my reproaches were misplaced….
What would now be a constructive and positive approach to resolve this conflict or at least make it easier to bear? Is it enough to force oneself to only want to see the good qualities and simply fade out all the bad qualities? In other words, just to „change my glasses“ and from now on see everything only pink (positive) as far as the mother’s behavior is concerned? If it were only so simple … – one will not be able to avoid to work on the entire view. You can already guess that this process will require a lot of patience, can only proceed gradually and requires practical „exercise“. One will not be able to take a more balanced view of one’s situations in life and other people overnight.
So agathism is a learning process. It is not about blind optimism („everything is rosy and everyone is good“), nor about reaching a state of indifference. On the contrary, it is about looking behind situations, understanding their triggers and mechanisms in oneself and others, and then drawing the right conclusions for thinking and acting ethically.
The first step could be that the daughter consciously begins to see the mother in her entirety. In other words, she should not only look at her mother’s supposed faults that bother her, but should consciously focus on her mother’s qualities, her strengths, and all the good things she has done for her daughter and the family – this leads to a broadening of perspectives.
A second step may be for the daughter to practice forbearance and consciously adopt a more understanding and tolerant perspective. She can ask herself: why does my mother often behave in such an unpleasant and tactless way, what have I possibly contributed with my behavior to her behaving in this way towards me and others – in other words, pursue the question of whether the trigger for my mother’s behavior could also lie in myself? So what am I contributing (in a negative sense) to the situation? What is my part?
A third step could then be for the daughter to set herself a program with this new, consciously changed attitude toward her mother. This program (this homework) could be to engage more in direct exchange with her mother. Especially this point is of enormous importance, because it is not enough to work on the thoughts towards the mother. It is easy to deceive oneself and this work would not be profound enough. Only the reality, i.e. the direct exchange with the mother and the direct confrontation with the character traits of the mother and one’s newly adopted, broadened perspective will show whether one has actually managed to achieve a real change of perspective. From experience, this will require a lot of direct exchange, where one will find oneself falling back into old patterns of thinking and behavior and one’s reductive view of things over and over again. Without the repeated practice of the expanded view and this new, holistic pattern of thinking, there will be no lasting change of perspective.
Such a program will only be successful if the pressure of suffering in the respective situation is strong enough to experiment with a new approach. The goal here is to feel less stress and suffering, to get to know oneself and one’s own impulses and desires better, and to approach other people in our lives with greater understanding and a more comprehensive view of the situation at hand.
Our next article will look at the forms of the „negative“ view (pessimism)