Perspective Shifts

The first time I remember being amazed by the power of thought work was back when I lived in San Francisco. I happened to pick up a book of essays called A Plea for Eros by Siri Hustvedt at the library and sat amazed after reading the first anecdote of the first essay. This excerpt is a little long, but worth the read. 

A few years ago a friend of mine gave a lecture at Berkeley on the femme fatale… He is a Belgian but lives in Paris, a detail significant to the story, because he comes from another rhetorical tradition–a French one. When he finished speaking, he took questions, including a hostile one from a woman who demanded to know what he thought of the Antioch Ruling–a law enacted at Antioch College, which essentially made every stage of a sexual encounter on campus legal only by verbal consent. 

My friend paused, smiled, and replied, “It’s wonderful. I love it. Just think of the erotic possibilities: ‘May I touch your right breast? May I touch your left breast?’” The woman had nothing to say.

This exchange has lingered in my mind. What interests me is that he and she were addressing exactly the same problem, the idea of permission, and yet their perspectives were so far apart that it was as if they were speaking different languages. The woman expected opposition and when she didn’t get it, she was speechless. 

Aggressive questions are usually pedagogic–that is, the answer has already been written in the mind of the questioner, who then waits with a reply. It’s pretend listening. But by moving the story–in this case, the narrative of potential lovers–onto new ground, the young philosopher tripped up his opponent. 

I was used to my friends and sometimes strangers sexualizing any conversation by adding things like, “that’s what she said,” to the end of any statement, but to shift to something like this, with sincerity, blew my mind. 

It wasn’t the erotic-ness of what he was offering that surprised me (although maybe it was a little bit), but the 180 degree shift in perspective. At once it was completely believable to me just by offering a different point of view.

I read that essay maybe 12 or 13 years ago and it still sticks with me today. 

This essay is evidence as to why it is important to surround yourself with a variety ways of looking at the world. Other people see things differently than we do and if we stay open to them, we can try their thoughts and opinions on for size. They can also help us see our thoughts in alternative ways. 

When we cling to being right, we only seek affirmations to prove ourselves right. This is what the woman in the story was trying to do. By doing this, we cling to our limitations and we stay stuck. 

I love coaching and traveling because it offers me other perspectives. I get to see the world differently as long as I’m open to it. 

 

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