By Ron Culberson. With a master’s degree in social work, Ron Culberson spent the first part of his career working in a large hospice organization as a clinical social worker, middle manager, and senior leader. As a speaker, humorist, and author of "Do it Well. Make it Fun.The Key to Success in Life, Death, and Almost Everything in Between", he has delivered more than 1,000 presentations to associations, government agencies, non-profit organizations, and corporations. His mission is to change the workplace culture so that organizations are more productive and staff are more content. He was also the 2012-2013 president of the National Speakers Association and is a recognized expert on the benefits of humor and laughter.
What drives me crazy about politics is that we usually only hear about the views on one side or another. Even though there are gray areas to almost every issue, many people refuse to see an alternative view. And unfortunately, if we’re not careful, we can go through life with limited perspectives just like that.
The other day, I was splitting a log that measured about three feet in diameter. I had hit the darn thing about twenty times but hadn’t even cracked it. As a last resort, I turned the log over and saw that there was a huge natural crack spanning almost the entire width of the bottom side of the log. So, I set my sights on that crack. I swung hard and hit it. I swung again and missed. I swung a third time and hit the crack dead center. The log split open and fell apart. It was a very satisfying feeling for a person like me who, by the way, does not resemble Paul Bunyan in the least. I scanned the area to see if anyone had witnessed the feat and who might be as impressed by it as I was. But alas, I was alone in the field. Of course, after cracking open the log, one might say I was “out standing” in my field.
The point of relaying my struggles with the log is this: Once I chose to see my problem from another perspective, I found a solution. This is not the first time I’ve been surprised by a new insight. You’d think that by now, I would be more open to considering other options. But I suppose I suffer from a common affliction—my default response is to see things the way I’ve always seen them. When I worked as a director of quality improvement, I referred to this as “solving the same problem over and over.”
Another area where I see this tendency is when I work on a crossword puzzle. You see, I don’t have a very large vocabulary. In fact, if you’ve read my articles on a regular basis, you probably noticed that I use the same words over and over but just organize them in different ways. I guess I have never been that magniloquent. See how I did that?
Anyway, when I attempt to solve a crossword puzzle, I often misunderstand the clue. For instance, I once had this clue: “Strips in a club.” I assumed the answer had something to do with a woman named Gypsy or Blaze. But the answer was actually “bacon.” It was referring to the “strips” in a club sandwich. I had confused a noun with a verb. But the minute I adjusted my perspective, it was obvious…and a tad bit embarrassing (my apologies to Gypsy and/or Blaze who may have been offended by my initial assumption).
To me, unlocking new perspectives is one of the most valuable skills in life. When we get so attached to our familiar world view, we miss the many possibilities that might lie just outside our narrow vision.
One of my favorite speakers is DeWitt Jones. He is a former National Geographic photographer who speaks on the topic of seeing things from a new perspective. He uses photography to make this point. As a professional who was always trying to get that perfect shot, he shows his audiences how he frequently thinks he has achieved it only to find that if he changes his location, alters his position, or waits for the light to change, he gets an even better photograph. His visual metaphor is one we can learn from.
Have you ever gone into a building and pulled on a door that says, “Push”? Or have you ever gotten off on the wrong floor in a hotel because the normal behavior is to step off the elevator when the door opens? Or has someone ever told you to have a good trip and you automatically say, “You too,” even though they were not going on a trip? These are all examples of habitual thinking that lead to habitual doing. And when we act on habits, we’re no longer paying attention.
Wouldn’t be cool if we could go into every situation imagining the possibilities rather than expecting the same old same old? In order to accomplish this, we must recognize our habitual tendencies and look for new realities. When we open our eyes to the possibilities in front of us, we’re no longer on autopilot and thus have more options.
The simple procedure for doing this is to see with new eyes. For instance, when we look at a tree, we often see a tree. But if you truly look at a tree, you will see hundreds of colors, shapes, textures, and movements. All of the parts that make up the tree are intricately interwoven into a new experience that we simply label as a tree—but is actually so much more.
The same applies to everything we do. If we pause to truly listen to our colleagues, we might gain a new perspective on their perspective. When we look at our reactions to stressful situations, we might see that our thinking is automatic and not necessarily helpful in reducing the stress. And if we get up every morning anticipating the chance that we might experience something new, the day opens up to us.
When we truly see, our world opens up. So, when you come to a door, pay attention to whether it says to push or pull. When the elevator door opens, stop and check the floor before bounding off. And before swinging your axe at the log, just turn it over to see if there is an easier way. By doing so, the path becomes more interesting and full of possibilities.
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