By Jodie Goldberg
I’m not the first to say that I have been sucked into reality TV as a form of true escapism. One such episode of reality TV triggered an understanding of something precious we have gained as a result of our current pandemic reality. The show “Diagnosis” features patients who search the globe hoping that someone can offer them a diagnosis. I stumbled on an episode featuring a man exhibiting rare symptoms, yet top doctors at world renown hospitals could not properly diagnosis him. It wasn’t until a third -party doctor heard his military background, that they were able to properly diagnose him with Gulf War Syndrome. It didn’t matter the doctor’s specialty, where they were educated, or what tools that they had at their disposal – what mattered was that someone heard who he was, and therefore, understood his perspective.
In the past few months, we have witnessed significant personal and professional loss, soaring unemployment rates, increased awareness of the marginalization of racial groups, and police brutality. However, there is something significant that we as Jewish educators have gained: an ability to pause and really see, hear and feel perspective. The pandemic has forced us to physically “sit” in a new seat – no longer positioned in our 8’ x 6’ cubicles amongst colleagues, but one alongside our families and alongside the world. We have been forced to take the perspective of the constituents that we serve. During 2020, we have gained a powerful tool – perspective. How will we use it? As we rebuild, restore, and redesign organizations, we must harness the newfound viewpoints we have gained to help us innovate. It is not enough to have listened to, but ensure that we hear, and therefore, make room for opportunities to gain perspective for both ourselves and for the institutions that we serve. When we hear where people are coming from, we finally begin to hear people. When we see other people’s situations, we begin to see people.
Priming ourselves for perspective taking
Our current world is full of noise. Whether it is political, social, or economically driven – this noise is loud. We have two choices when faced with how we respond: will we merely listen or will we commit to hearing?
Listening is limited. When we listen to something we often don’t know where to put it within our brains, lives and hearts. We listen to things all the time; the news, small talk, our partners complaining. The image that characterizes listening for me is when we have one ear absorbing a conversation, and the other steeped in our electronic devices. Listening can hurt us.
However, hearing is empowering. When we hear something, we often search our brains trying to find a place to put it. When we allow ourselves to hear something, we gift ourselves the opportunity to let it become a part of who we are.
Moving forward, we must create time, attention and space to hear. Listening is mundane, but hearing is power. By hearing, we begin to receive a new perspective.
Committing to Perspective Taking
How can we take a perspective inventory of our personal and professional lives? What are the perspectives we surround ourselves with, and what are those that are missing?
As a consultant, my role is to facilitate cross-denominational experiences that help educators see the universality in the challenges they face beyond the branded signature on their emails. This is hard, as it requires an educator to put aside their pre-conceived biases, and hear their colleagues who might come from different backgrounds and religious affiliations. My goal is for educators to walk away with a powerful newfound perspective from someone which they otherwise would not have interacted with. These days, we are a part of so many “Zoom rooms” or experiences which gift us opportunities to interact with others from across the globe. How can we shift how we measure what we gained from an experience from “what knowledge did I gain from this experience” to “What perspective did I gain from participating in this experience?”
Moving forward – we must take an inventory of the “Zoom rooms” that we are both required to and choose a part of, and think about the perspective they add to our lives. More importantly, we must ask ourselves, what “Zoom rooms” or other experiences are we not a part, and why we are not a part of them? Are the reasons as simple as time or are as complex as fear? How might they add a new layer of perspective to who I am both personally and professionally?
From “Perspective–Taking” to “Perspective–Getting”
We can make room within ourselves to both hear a perspective, and take an inventory of the perspectives we surround ourselves with, yet feel stunned by action. How do we let a perspective we gain from others craft a part of who we can become? I say “we can become” because gaining a new viewpoint adds another dimension to who we are, and the decisions we make.
In order to do this, we must steer clear from “perspective taking” and embrace “perspective getting.” This concept, coined by researchers Taly Eyal, Mary Steffel and Nicholas Epley, argues that standing in someone else’s shoes will not help us gain a new perspective, rather, we must actively engage with that person, in order to truly understand their perspective. This requires us not to just think about the desires of a person or a population, but to actively engage with them in order to understand what their desires are. While intuitive, we often hear someone say something, and assume their perspective rather than asking them. Bottom line – steer clear of someone else’s shoes, and embrace your own to engage in “perspective getting.”
Why does it matter?
Moving forward, I believe organizations will be measured not by the robustness of their resources or ability to attract big names, but the ability to see and understand the perspectives of their learners, families, and communities in the world around us. What will help us change the world is not just the knowledge we acquire, but the perspectives that we strive to claim. What will you do to commit to perspective taking? We often use the saying – knowledge is power. But what is more powerful is the perspective behind that knowledge. While we don’t know what else 2020 will have in store for us, we must commit to perspective taking. After all … perspective is power.
Jodie Goldberg is a Teen Engagement Consultant at The Jewish Education Project. She holds a dual Masters degree in Jewish Education and Hebrew Bible from The Jewish Theological Seminary.