Getting to know your own perspective - Part 1

This article is Part 1 for “Getting to know your own perspective.” You can find Part 2 here.

It was a sweltering mid-summer of late 2016 in Australia as my girlfriend, and I finally managed to close the boot of the car. We looked at each other, the sense of adventure that brought us to this moment surged between us. This was it; we would both finally set out permanently from our childhood homes of Brisbane, with the alluring Melbourne set in our scopes. I was so sure of it! We’d only known each other a month or so, but it felt so right! Disregarding my friends’ concerns, and the words of caution from those closest to me, we’d both decided to move cities off the back of a short summer’s romance. We sold what we could, packed what was left, and began our 18-hour drive to the bottom of Australia, our new home. What could go wrong?

I was completely out of perspective. We both were. An old friend used to say, “Before you truly know if you want to be with someone, go traveling with them first.” We barely made it through a road-trip. As our hometown shrunk into the distance, a fight broke out about goodness-knows-what (You know, the kind that redefines a relationship?), and the reality that maybe this wasn’t the right decision finally sunk in. But it was too late; the six-month lease was signed, I’d accepted a new job, and there was no turning back. I had not listened to those who warned me.

We broke up a few months later, but neither was in a position to move out; it was too expensive. So we lived together for another four months, sleeping in the same bed, driving each other mad as we grappled with our decision. How could something that seemed so right play out so wrong? Maybe you have had an experience like this? A time where you were so sure of something, or someone, or some idea, only to find out later, you could not have been further from the truth. It’s a part of the human condition it would seem; however, we can take steps to prevent it.

Mirror mirror Photo by Septian simon @septiansimon

Mirror, mirror on the wall…

The best practitioners of Spiral Dynamics have all said the same thing; it’s next to impossible to see your own perspective. By the very nature of trying to see yourself, you’re already filtering through your own lens. For example, an Orange/Red could read something about Yellow and “identify” with some of the principles around it’s level of “intelligence”, egotistically aligning itself with something it perceives to be more powerful. They would continue this way, deepening their belief, and may even believe their selfish “I” behaviors are operating from an altruistic intention. It goes without saying, this can cause a lot of damage.

Another, less extreme, example could come from a Blue interpreting their actions as Purple. We often see this in the stereotypical “atomic family” color structure. The man (typically, but not limited to) heads off to work every day to sacrifice his time for the little that he brings back for his family. Day in, day out, he works tirelessly at his job, believing that his wife and children see how hard he’s working as a sign that he cares. “Why would you interpret this as anything else,” he might claim, “It’s obvious!”

One day, his wife snaps, yelling, “You never make time for the kids or me! It’s like you don’t care about us anymore. Where is the person I married?”. Ouch! Now, if you’ve studied Spiral or related models long enough, you’d recognize in this situation that someone here is out of perspective (quite possibly both parties). We could quite effortlessly resolve this issue if there were a common language like Spiral to communicate different views between everyone involved, but that’s unfortunately not the case in many circumstances.

If the man here (or whoever is solving the Blue problem for the tribe) were to hear his partner truly, he’d recognize what he “thought” was a Purple intention was, in actuality, an automatic belief. Since before he could walk, he was instructed to do so. Grow up, do well in school, get into a good university, then work for a safe company. If you do all this, you will live a happy life, and your family and society will recognize you for all your hard work, the perfect Blue narrative. Unfortunately, life is more complex than this.

If whoever is in this position (and we may recognize parts of ourselves upon reading this) was to step outside of themselves and listen to what our partner has told us, we might receive a piece of our puzzle towards understanding where we are. Self-deception is the default state of mind for many of us, and more often than not, when we’re enlightened to how our behaviors are actually perceived by others, things can get ugly. One would hope in situations like these, that we would sit down with our partner and attempt to understand their point of view. Easier said than done.

Better language = better communication

Whether you decide to make Spiral an object of study or another tool/framework, learning these models can lead to much happier outcomes for everyone involved. The more words we have to describe something, the more nuanced our perception of the “something” becomes. A great example is emotions. We could very quickly say we feel “good” if we’re not particularly versed in the thousands of subtle expressions for positive feelings. But, this doesn’t communicate much. Instead, we could dig deeper into our current state of awareness, how our body and mind feel, and might reply with, “tranquil”. It is still a positive emotion (many would perceive “tranquil” as a “good” emotion to feel); however, this translates MUCH more information to whomever we’re speaking.

The same is true when getting feedback from those around you. You may have heard, “You’re the average of the five people you spend most of your time with.” This forms one of the core principles around building an environment. What if a core group understood and used “psycho-technologies” like Spiral, took responsibility for their emotions and actions, and devoted themselves to their growth and yours?

I learned much of what I know and use today in a large group like this. They were instrumental in supporting my understanding of myself and growth as an individual. The more people are involved, the more perspectives you can draw from. By sharing a language the enables better communication, one can ask many different types of people profound questions and receive equally considered responses. If all understand the tools, models, and frameworks, you receive more pieces to your jigsaw (provided you’re asking the right questions).

Check who you’re asking

One caveat with this approach to consider is, “What is this person’s perspective?”. In other words, how are they filtering you through their filters? Do they have many years studying themselves and others, or are they just beginning their journey of growth? What is the intention of this person in answering questions or giving advice?

These are critical considerations, as good intentions are not the same as “in-perspective” responses. For example, one might ask their spouse/parent/sibling for advice on how to move forward with a situation at work. This person may have our best interests at heart, however, is not in our industry, and is unaware of the relationship we have with our boss. They’ll attempt to offer something (as many do), drawing from their own experiences, values, and beliefs, but we must take this advice with a grain of salt. Are you the same person as them? Is your boss? Do you work in the same role, at the same company, experiencing the same problem? Chances are, no.

A tool like Spiral Dynamics allows us to translate context by looking at the structure, NOT the content. We can break problems spaces down, assessing things like color structures, beliefs, patterns, filters, values, etc. of those involved. When looking at situations from this angle, it enables us to recognize patterns and similarities between different contexts, even though the content is different. This is only possible if everyone is speaking the same language.

Your people Photo by Alexis Brown @alexisrbrown

Find your people

We conclude the first part of this “Getting to know your own perspective” series. In Part 2, we’ll look at how we can go about attempting to piece the puzzle together with some practical exercises and examples.

For now, we can use this as an opportunity to reflect. Who do we have around us that we talk to about what’s really going on? Are we speaking the same language? Do we share tools, practices, and models to deepen our communication and level of understanding?

If not, how could you? Who do you know in your life that would be open to having vulnerable, honest conversations? Is there someone who knows you genuinely and has your best interests at heart? Are there people in your life you could introduce to Spiral or other tools? (Be careful with this) Perhaps there’s someone you haven’t spoken to in a while. If you’re coming up blank for some of these questions, try “leading” a conversation. You never know who may be feeling the same way.