This year, for our elementary school friends’ annual city festival gathering, we had a special guest: a friend from Bavaria came to visit. Let’s call him Ken. Spending time with Ken is always both fun and enlightening. The guy loves to party, but he also wears his heart on his sleeve.
After a few beers, he’ll tell you about his complicated family history. They are operating a car parts business in the fourth generation, and Ken and his brother now supposedly run the show. Their dad, however, a patriarch par excellence, won’t let go of the reins, and family relationships are strained at best as a result.
Talking about one of their difficult interactions, Ken used a phrase that would repeat all throughout the weekend: “Everybody sees through their own eyes.” Whenever there were differing opinions, “Well, everyone sees it through their own eyes.” When we were talking about some crazy event that was hard to believe, “Everyone must see it through their own eyes.” If he was telling us to “wait until we get there,” “You can only see it through your own eyes.”
That last one really captures life, doesn’t it? It’s an experience you make entirely from your own perspective. That perspective is both limiting and liberating. It’s our capped little worldview that makes us prone to bias and misinterpretation. At the same time, our unique take on things is a singular source of creativity and insight.
Sure, your perspective is not limited to visuals. You have ears, a mouth, and a nose and skin, too. But it’s all filtered through your perception. Sometimes, that leads to irreconcilable differences. Unlike any other animal, however, we do have a sixth sense that allows us to, at times, transcend our perceptional limitations: imagination.
We don’t know what’s around the next bend while driving, but we can assume different options, from a truck to a car to a bicycle, and slow down accordingly. We can’t fly like birds, but we can picture a bird’s-eye view of the landscape that surrounds us. And while Ken can’t know what life feels like for his father, he sure can imagine it.
Using our imagination won’t always change an outcome. Sometimes, we’ll arrive at the same conclusion after showing empathy. We’re still seeing the world through our own eyes, after all. But it’s almost always an effort worth making. The balancing yin to our ego-driven yang.
Often, of course, we’ll forget to use our most powerful sense altogether. That, too, is part of life — and that, too, is okay. In the end, we can only be free by accepting the very limits that make us feel we are not.
Your perspective may only be one of billions, but that’s exactly what makes it valuable. Don’t worry about right and wrong so much. Share. Tell people how you feel, and work with them and their limited perspectives instead of against them. Like that one friend I’m lucky to have, who keeps reminding me that “everyone sees life through their own eyes.”