Most human conflict comes from a failure to understand the perspective of the people we are interacting with. We interpret their actions through the lens of our own perspective, not theirs. As a result, we misunderstand their intentions, conclude they are being unreasonable and enter into conflict with them. The internet society, in which everyone cocoons themselves in a virtual world of people who share exactly their own perspective then reinforces this polorization of perspectives and amplifies the conflict. The solution to this sort of conflict is to first take the time to understand the other person’s perspective and then to consider important for ourselves whatever is important to them.
How do we understand the other person’s perspective? The starting point is to assume they are acting in good faith. Most inter-perspective misunderstandings come from assuming that people are not acting in good faith, and as a result they misunderstand everything the other person is saying. They then accuse the other person of not acting in good faith, the other person then goes on the defensive or starts to counter-attack saying the same thing. Then the discussion becomes about each side defending against false accusations instead of real problem solving. This dynamic is true between rich and poor, majority and minority, black and white, between any two countries and also between those who have a unicultural perspective and those who have an inter-cultural perspective. This last one is playing itself out in virtually every country between those who are uniculturally whatever country or region they are coming from and those who are participating in the project of globalization. At an interpersonal level, once again, most conflicts come from this same problem and pattern of misunderstanding. So first, unless you have compelling proof otherwise, always assume the other person is acting in good faith, just with a different set of priorities, values and understandings of how things work.
The second thing we need to do is to learn to cherish what the other person considers to be important. We talk all the time in the Dharma about cherishing others. But practically speaking, how do we do this? We primarily do this by taking the time to understand what is important to the other person and then to likewise take the time to realize how what they consider to be important has real value – in other words we need to learn how to realize the importance of what they consider to be important. To cherish something means to consider it to be important. We find out what is important to others and then we learn to appreciate the importance of that. Of course, if what the other person considers to be important is wrong or harmful, we can reject that, but most of the time people just value different things.
The irony is this: when we demonstrate that we understand the other person’s perspective and we also consider to be important what they consider to be important then they come to trust us and believe us when we speak. Then they will be open to listening to what we have to say, and real communication can take place. They can then also come to understand and appreciate our perspective and there is a real chance the differences can be worked out.
Your turn: View yourself through the perspective of the person with whom you have the most problems. What does this teach you?