Today I want to discuss something that I have always felt is a very important attribute for a person to have. The psychological term for what I believe people should do in general, is “perspective taking.” What this means is colloquially known as “walking a mile in someone else’s shoes” — meaning being able to understand how another person views the world — so it is a familiar concept to practically everyone, but many people fail miserably in applying it, or perhaps don’t even aspire to understand the perspectives of other people.
A classic example of a disorder in which people have no interest in understanding the perspectives of other people, is narcissism, which has been much discussed in regards to Donald Trump, among other famous people. Antisocial Personality Disorder, and the Autism Spectrum (although apparently in this last case, their brains just aren’t equipped for perspective taking), are other examples.
My contention is that perspective taking is a crucial aspect of progressivism, and conversely, that it is often lacking in conservatives. In order to understand how perspective taking relates to politics better, consider the following article from Psychology Today, by Joscelyn Duffy (The Power of Perspective Taking | Psychology Today). In this article, Duffy mentions 4 crucial benefits of perspective taking. Briefly, these are:
1. “Added Dimension,” meaning that perspective taking “broadens a person’s horizons” and thus helps the person understand the larger picture of life, society, etc.;
2. Building Empathy, which is the most important emotional trait that a person can have. Empathetic people do not do bad things to other people. Rather, they act in prosocial ways which facilitate a happier, more harmonious society. Note that empathy also leads to compassion for those who are suffering;
3. Learning, because perspective taking allows a person to understand and learn from others;
4. And personal growth (in other words, personal improvement) which results from the previous 3 characteristics.
Applying this to politics, we can see that being able to understand the perspectives of others, results in concern for the greater good, by
1. Having a broader understanding of and appreciation of the importance of the greater good, and
2. Having basic concern for the rights and welfare of others. Furthermore, good perspective takers will continue to learn and personally improve themselves as part of a lifelong process, which is oriented toward social progress. Thus, perspective taking is a progressive process, and thus characteristic of progressives, generally speaking.
People who fail to understand the perspectives of others, tend to become stuck in a narrow-minded, rigid way of thinking. They cannot move forward, but rather, as conservatives are wont to do, they attack perceived enemies and try to defend their perspective, that is, ‘way of life,” from perceived threats. This is the conservative approach to life.
What is the “Perspective Test?”
The Perspective Test is my name for how I assess fair-mindedness. It is simply that if you would come to a different conclusion by taking the perspective of another person, your perspective is wrong, or at best, considerably flawed.
For instance, I am seeing a lot of people failing the Perspective Test in regards to the conflict in Israel. Many people only see the side of the Israeli Jews, while others only see the side of the Palestinians. In order to resolve this longstanding conflict, we need to put aside any pre-existing prejudices, and see the conflict from both sides. That is, we must appreciate the suffering of those on both sides. This is not an easy thing to do, admittedly, and even people who are progressives (generally speaking) may sometimes fail the Perspective Test in regards to certain, emotionally charged topics such as this, or when deeply rooted biases interfere with understanding what other people are going through.
There are many other examples of the Perspective Test, and I plan to discuss some of those in the future, starting with how wealthy people (typically conservatives) fail to empathize with people who are struggling to get by financially.
The Key Takeaway Point
The key point, is that we owe it to ourselves to at least try to understand the perspectives of others, as difficult as it may be when we disagree with them. Lord knows that I’ve tried to do so with regard to MAGA voters, and I believe that I have succeeded to some degree. I still think that they are sadly mistaken, but at least we can try to understand why they feel the way that they do about politics and Donald Trump. By doing so, hopefully we can better explain to them, why we believe that they are mistaken, and ultimately, find some degree of mutual understanding and solutions that even they can agree upon – such as the need to tax the wealthy more and to keep corporatism under control, or even the need to defend democracy.