Can You Really See the World from Another Person’s Point of View?

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One of the most often quoted and pro-offered bits of advice is “walk a mile in their shoes.”  Another version of this wisdom is to try and see it from their “point of view.”  Jesus said “ “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” — Luke 6: 37-42

I submit that all of these bits of wisdom are more than admirable; they are essential to a life of wisdom and justice.  The problem is that all of them are impossible to follow.  You can’t walk a mile in another person’s shoes because their shoes won’t fit you.  You can’t see it from their point of view because you are not standing where they are.  You will always suffer from a plank in your own eye since this is nothing more than cognitive bias which we all suffer from.

Ergo, how do I see the world from another person’s point of view?  How do I reconcile the fact that there are often many other points of view?  Most of our lives we will live in an ocean of viewpoints.  They are like waves washing up on the shore.  One after another they roll in, break on the beach, and wash back into the ocean.  I couldn’t stop the waves from coming in if I wanted to and I could not stop for a second to deal with all the viewpoints that I am constantly bombarded with.

2c087c4a21acb3d800bbee0ce8d4df62The internet has made the problem even worse.  We are deluged with a tsunami of viewpoints every day.  From right, left, central, religious, agnostic, scientific, spiritual, communal, familial and hundreds of other perspectives our viewpoints of the world are bombarded by messages that challenge our thinking and our very reason for being.  Whose shoes should I stand in?  Whose perspective should I try to take?

Another problem with taking someone’s viewpoint is even more basic and problematic.  What if I don’t like or can not even imagine myself in their shoes?  I don’t sympathize much with pedophiles, racists, sexists, homophobes, and white supremacists.  How do I walk a mile in their shoes?  I would have to take a few years of character acting classes to even begin to imagine what a member of the KKK feels and thinks when he/she burns a cross on someone’s front yard.

Finally, the world may not like you for trying to understand the perspectives of the underdogs or those less fortunate in life.  You may lose friends and family for challenging viewpoints which are hardened by narrowmindedness and prejudice.  I doubt few people want to hear about the perspectives of a rapist or pedophile.  Taking their viewpoint will not help you to win friends and influence people.

Those of us who are unwilling to try to see things from another’s point of view will find ourselves in a deep pit of myopia.  The effects of not being able to comprehend things from the points of view of others is narrow mindedness, prejudice, and bias.  Solutions to problems become more difficult as we narrow our perspectives.  If we cannot see the world from the viewpoint of a pedophile (regardless of how abominable they may be), how can we ever understand their problems enough to create solutions that will eliminate this scourge from the earth.

What are some ways that we can actually walk a mile or maybe even just a ½ mile in the shoes of someone else?  Here are some recommendations.

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Experience It First Hand

This might fall in the category which I dismissed above to “walk a mile etc.”  This idea will work for some things.  You can experience what a canoeist experiences by going for a canoe ride.  You can experience what some writers feel by trying to write a short story.  However, if you are White, it will be impossible to feel what a Black person does when he/she is treated badly because of their color.  This is true for many other demographics besides race including age, gender, education level and intellectual capabilities.

You will not be able to experience what many people experience either because it is impossible to walk in their shoes or it might even be illegal.  For instance, you might not be able to experience the thrill or fear that a bank robber does when she/he walks in a bank to rob it.  You will also never be able to experience what somewhat with a mental disability feels as they navigate the world.  Thus, while some say that “experience is the best teacher” when it comes to understanding the perspectives of others, experience may not always be the best choice.

However, there are a great many things that we can experience first-hand if we are only willing to try them.  I know too many people who will not try things.  I am sure we all know people who will not do things even though they have never tried them before.  They might have tried them once and decided on the basis of one try that henceforth and forevermore they would never do it again.  It takes a certain amount of gumption, open-mindedness, and just plain courage to experience new things.  If you are glued to your couch watching the TV or if you are afraid to risk and dare you will find the opportunity of experience a closed door.

A few of the “I won’t try it” items that I hear and that irritate me include:

  • I don’t eat fish
  • I don’t like to travel
  • I don’t like Mexican food
  • I don’t like to read
  • I don’t like music or concerts

You can add some items that annoy you to hear in my comments section.

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Experience It Second Hand

Years ago, I wanted to try to understand sexism, racism, and prejudice.  I started out by reading about these subjects from the point of view of authors like James Baldwin, Malcolm X, Susan Brownmiller, Betty Freidan, Anne Frank, Hannah Arendt,  Ronald Takaki, Vine Deloria Jr., and many more.  I learned a great deal from the stories and experiences told by the people who experience discrimination first hand.

As I got older, I found more and more opportunities to attend lectures and discussions where I heard first hand people like Stokely Carmichael, Angela Davis, H. Rap Brown, Jesse Jackson, Audre Lorde, Rosa Parks, and Sarah Lew Miller.  I attended anti-racism seminars sponsored by several different groups. I have watched many documentaries dealing with prejudice and bigotry.

I went to important cultural sites that included Indian museums in Oklahoma, the Holocaust Museum in Israel, the Civil Rights Museum in Birmingham, Jewish Cemeteries in Paris with memorials to each concentration camp and Dachau outside Munich.

My first-hand experiences with people of color grew through my friendships.  I went to places that many White people would have put off limits in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, and New York.

Along the way to trying to understand the experiences of other people, I tried to help whenever possible fighting racism or bigotry.  I wrote a grievance for some fellow Black soldiers when I was in the service.  I supported organizations that fought racism like the Southern Poverty Law Center.  I conducted some seminars with a friend dealing with Gay rights.  I spoke out whenever I had the opportunity against racism and sexism.  My writings deal with many of these issues.

I note the above not to impress you.  If anything, I am unimpressed by my progress.  Somewhat like they say about Alcoholics, “Once an Alcoholic, always an Alcoholic.”  The best you can do is to become a recovering Alcoholic.  Growing up a White Christian male in a predominately White Christian Patriarchal society, it is very hard not to be a sexist racist anti-Semite.

When I was a kid, I was told it was a mortal sin to walk into a Jewish Synagogue.  That was because “Jews Killed Christ.”   There were no Black people in my neighborhood and a woman’s role was in the kitchen.  After our Italian family get togethers on Sunday and holidays, the men would all retire to the living room to smoke and watch sports while the women retired to the kitchen to clean the dishes that they had prepared dinner on.  Italian men loved boxing and would always root for the White boxer over the Black boxer. No amount of argument would ever convince my Italian relatives that Rocky Marciano was not the greatest boxer of all time.   How could he not be?  He was White and an Italian.  Case closed.

BedtimeNoozOne year at a Martin Luther King memorial service on the University of Minnesota campus at Northrup Auditorium, the keynote speaker was Dave Moore, a well-known news and television personality.  Karen and I attended many of the MLK day celebrations over the years.  I had never seen a White keynote speaker.  I was somewhat surprised and wondered what he could say about Martin Luther King or any other issue dealing with racism.  It turned out to be quite an interesting talk.

Dave Moore, spoke on growing up in an all-White Minneapolis neighborhood.  He noted that because there were no Black people in his childhood, he assumed when he was older that he could not be a racist.  He admitted how wrong he found this assumption to be.  He told the audience how many racist attitudes he found that he grew up with from simply assimilating the prejudices of his White culture.  It was a very moving talk coming from a man that was so admired by many people.  He essentially admitted that he grew up racist without ever knowing a single Black person.

Later in my life, I had a more diverse group of friends.  Many of my White friends would say that because they had a Black, Brown, Yellow, Red, or Gay friend that they were not prejudiced.  I have found that most colored friends of White people tend to be the “good” guys as opposed to their non-friends who are usually “They and Them people.”

1006OPEDnegley-superJumboNow we get back to the difficult if not impossible people to understand.  How do we put ourselves in the shoes of a rapist or pedophile?  There are many that would think I am crazy for asking this question.  I believe we will never eliminate these problems if we do not understand the causes.  We cannot cure the problem simply by locking up all the pedophiles and rapists in the world.  I do not believe that these are inherited characteristics.  There have been times and places in the world where practices bordering on rape and pedophilia have actually been legal and condoned.

Marital rape is criminalized in many countries. Throughout history until the 1970s, most states granted a husband the right to have sex with his wife whenever he so desired, as part of the marriage contract.”Wikipedia

Although there is substantial evidence in the historical and anthropological record of the sexual use of children by adults, surprisingly little is known about the etiology of pedophilia or its relation to other forms of sexual aggression.”  —

Thankfully, attitudes have changed about many behaviors and while cannibalism may still be a practice in some obscure parts of the world, it has largely been eradicated.  Unfortunately, rape and pedophilia although largely recognized as crimes  throughout most of the world have not seen a similar level of diminishment.

But if we cannot and would not walk a mile in the shoes of a rapist or pedophile, it still behooves us to understand their motivations.  What are the kicks they get out of these anti-social behaviors?  Why do they do it?  What can we do besides lock them up to effect permanent cures?

The second-best way (through second-hand experiences) would no doubt help us answer some of these questions.  The problem is that no one wants to read about what a rapist or pedophile thinks.  I remember years ago reading “Soul on Ice” by Eldridge Cleaver and “The Autobiography of Malcolm X.”

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In Soledad state prison, I fell in with a group of young blacks who, like myself, were in vociferous rebellion against what we perceived as a continuation of slavery on a higher plane. We cursed everything American—including baseball and hot dogs. All respect we may have had for politicians, preachers, lawyers, governors, Presidents, congressmen was utterly destroyed as we watched them temporizing and compromising over right and wrong, over legality and illegality, over constitutionality and unconstitutionality. We knew that in the end what they were clashing over was us, what to do with the blacks, and whether or not to start treating us as human beings. I despised all of them.” — Eldridge Cleaver, “Soul on Ice

Both of these books gave me some insights into the prison experiences of a Black man.  Both Malcolm X and Cleaver were once engaged in criminal and violent behavior and both men turned their lives around.  Their stories are profound and moving.  They also give the world some insights into the pros and cons of a prison experience.

Perhaps more insights provided by rapists and pedophiles might help us to better understand how to deal with these behaviors.  I cannot say with any certainty that it would help.  The one thing that I am certain of is that nothing we have done in the past seems to be making a difference today.  The statistics for child sexual abuse are horrifying.

  • There are more than 42 million survivors of sexual abuse in America. (National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse)
  • 1 in 3 girls are sexually abused before the age of 18. (The Advocacy Center)
  • 1 in 5 boys are sexually abused before the age of 18. (The Advocacy Center)
  • 1 in 5 children are solicited sexually while on the Internet before the age of 18. (National Children’s Alliance: Nationwide Child Abuse Statistics)

The statistics for rape and sexual violence in the USA are equally horrifying.

  • In 2019, over 652,676 women were raped.
  • Over 40% of women in the US have encountered sexual violence.
  • Nearly 80% of female sexual assault victims experience their first assault before the age of 25.
  • Around 20% of American males have been the victim of sexual violence.
  • Rape Statistics show that less than 20% of rapes are reported.
  • Women and men with disabilities face twice the risk of sexual assault than able-bodied individuals.
  • Sexual violence incidents, preceded by stalking, increased by 1.9% in 2019.

These statistics are from “32 Shocking Sexual Assault Statistics for 2022” by Jennifer Kuadli at Legaljobs.

In Conclusion:

  • First-hand experience can help us understand the minds and hearts of others, but we are sometimes limited in the experiences that we can actually undertake.
  • Second-hand experiences have pros and cons. Not all Blacks, Asians, Latinos, Indians, women, or any other group that you can think of will have the same experiences.  No one on this earth can speak for all people for all time. 
  • We need to try and try and try again. If the bell really does toll for all people, then we have a responsibility to understand what makes other people happy and what makes them feel miserable. 
  • We share this planet with other human beings and other species. The more we understand others, the more we can make the world a beautiful peaceful and happy place to live.

 

10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jane Fritz
    May 07, 2022 @ 19:37:22

    Such an important topic(s) and such an effective approach to it (them) by addressing it from the perspective of walking (or not) in someone else’s shoes. I can’t possibly comment on all of the paths you cover. And I admit to having trouble trying to figure out why anyone would want to understand the perspective of a pedophile or rapist! But your final four bullet points are excellent. I’m very impressed by the efforts you’ve made in this regard, John. That’s far more than most of us could say.

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    • Dr. John Persico Jr.
      May 07, 2022 @ 21:57:23

      Thanks Jane, you give me much encouragement with your kind and thoughtful comments. As for pedophiles and rapists, at some level I think there must be humanity in them and something worth saving. Hard to see and harder to think about but when you look at the pervasiveness of both crimes in the world maybe as Einstein said we need a different level or perspective in looking at them and trying to find solutions. John

      Liked by 1 person

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  2. Soco
    May 08, 2022 @ 17:35:30

    You ask if I can see the world from another person’s point of view. Yes, I can SEE but do I AGREE? No. You extensively research and explain those who abuse children and adults sexually, along with racial intolerance. Will I trust those who can hurt me or others? No. As I walk on my life journey out paths cross with humanity. In conversation I HEAR and decide to walk together or apart.

    Is it hearsay that in jail once identified as a child molester or sexual predator, the other prisoners will aggressively intentionally destroy them? Heinous criminals are in gradient hierarchy. Unfortunately, until arrested, they walk outside of the steel bars of the law lurking among us.

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    • Dr. John Persico Jr.
      May 08, 2022 @ 21:17:01

      Soco, I do not think that agreeing and seeing are highly correlated. I understand where you are going though, but I am talking about empathy more than agreeing. I have little empathy for racists, pedophiles and rapists but that does not mean that I think I am right. I think that on some level unless we all have the ability to see some humanity in others, we are all doomed. IMHO

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  3. Wayne Woodman
    May 08, 2022 @ 20:01:28

    Reblogged this on Musings and Wonderings.

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  4. margiran
    May 09, 2022 @ 07:49:31

    I’m not going to be able to do justice to your very interesting post John.
    As a retired nurse and counsellor I like to think I am able to distinguish between a person ( as a human being ) and their behaviour ( as something they do ). So if they commit a dreadful crime it doesn’t necessarily mean they are dreadful people.
    Counsellors need to be ‘empathic’ but, I agree, standing in someone else’s shoes is impossible in reality. How can we when it’s impossible to comprehend the inter mix of their experiences along with their interpretation.? But I think it is possible to fully empathise with their feelings and emotions by ‘active listening’ and ‘non-judgemental’ responses. Too frequently many of us ‘listen’ without actually ‘hearing’ what someone is really saying. We are merely awaiting our turn to speak our lines. It’s very difficult at times – I do it too!

    Apologies for my lengthy comment. Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

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    • Dr. John Persico Jr.
      May 09, 2022 @ 09:54:28

      Not to lengthy and it adds to what I was trying to say. I sorta forgot the role of empathy and I agree with you. I was thinking more cognitively but empathy is another thing all together. You describe the “how to” of empathy very well. Maybe empathy is to understanding as respect is to tolerance. Thanks for the comment. John

      Liked by 2 people

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