I just finished watching a fascinating documentary. Yes, I am kind of a documentary geek. Okay, I’m probably just a geek in general, but you get my point. I love documentaries.
This one was about the history of one. The number one…”1″. I’ll be honest I did know one had a history but I didn’t now much about it. The history of one is really about the history of counting. Because before one, people didn’t count. Well, at least not in communication. They knew the difference between 2 rocks and 3 rocks but they couldn’t articulate it in communication other than by showing the actual rocks. Even today there are groups of people that don’t use numbers. Their language only specifies whether there is “one” or “many”. If you have 2 or 10 or 432 of something you have “many”.
I’m sure at this point you are wondering why I’m writing about this in a therapy blog. It is because of this. I started trying to imagine not having numbers. Not being able to tell someone if I have 1 sibling or 4 or 8. It was hard. I still am not sure I can truly imagine not having numbers. And that got me thinking about how our experiences and perspectives become so ingrained in us that we don’t even bother to consider, much less understand, that other views or ways of doing things exist.
Granted, not having numbers is a pretty big concept and our chances of really running across someone in our day to day lives that doesn’t use numbers is essentially non-existent. But it raises the question of what other things are so ingrained in our lives that we aren’t open to them being different?
Something like counting is ingrained in us culturally at a societal level. But some things are ingrained at a more local level. Maybe you’ve developed a certain perspective because of the area of the country (or world) in which you grew up. Or maybe because of your religion. Or your family. And that means that while you are unlikely to meet “non-counters” on the street it is likely that you will meet many people that will have many different perspectives than you.
We all have our own perspectives. Some people are more open than others at trying to see and understand other perspectives. But the truth is we all have things that are so set in our world view that we seldom if ever consider that there might be a different way.
And of course, that’s where we get in trouble. Because when we don’t realize that there are other possible perspectives or ways of doing things, we start applying our view to others. And we make assumptions about why they behaved the way they did. After all, we know exactly why someone would act that way, right? We know from experience why people behave that way. And it is so ingrained that we don’t even consider that there might be another explanation. We’ve all been there. We make the assumption that someone behaved a certain way because they wanted to hurt us…or maybe because they are in love with us. It isn’t always an assumption about bad intent. But even assumptions about good intent can end with hurt.
It doesn’t even have to be out interactions with others. We even let our own perspectives cloud our decisions about our own life. We make decisions about our schooling or jobs or where to live or a million other things every day based on our perspectives. But what if those perspectives changed? What if we had new ones? It could open up new and exciting possibilities and options.
As a therapist it is a continual challenge. I not only have to pay attention my assumptions in my personal life like everyone else, I have to do it in session with clients. I’ll be honest. As open as I try to be I’ve had clients tell me something and in my mind I’ve made an assumption about their motivation. And I’ve been wrong. I hear their explanation of what something meant, why they did something…and I get that stunned look…the one where my eyes blink slowly and my mind grinds away processing, trying to make sense of what they said and the fact that it had never entered my mind to consider things that way.
But in truth it isn’t reasonable to expect anyone to constantly be questioning every assumption and perspective we have. We wouldn’t be able to function that way. Assumptions serve an important purpose of generally making things run more smoothly.
But there needs to be a balance. Especially when something ins important, like decisions about our lives or relationships. When things feel bad or don’t go the way we expect or want, maybe it is time to open yourself to new perspectives.
I’ll make it even easier. Take just the first step. You don’t have to embrace or even imagine new perspectives. Just start by accepting that there may be ones other than your own. And here is a great way to start. Think about the history of the number one. Think about how hard it is to imagine not having numbers or counting. Then let yourself acknowledge that despite how hard that is, there were and still are societies that don’t count or use numbers. Accepting that there are other perspectives on something so hard to imagine can free you up to acknowledge that maybe there are different perspectives on issues in your life that are less crazy than the idea of not being able to count things. And that’s the first step towards exciting change and growth.