Every conflict or issue has at least two self-legitimizing sides — and usually more. Their stories contain energies and information vital to a healthy shared future. So compassionately hear — and make visible in a compelling manner — the spectrum of perspectives, both to evoke empathy and to help everyone see what needs to be taken into account for truly wise solutions.
Some related patterns: 6 Capacitance 48 Integrity and Authenticity
63 Power of Listening 80 Story 85 Transpartisan Inquiry 88 Using Diversity and Disturbance Creatively 92 Whole System in the Conversation
Multiple Perspective View – going deeper …
This is an edited version of the video on this page.
This pattern was inspired by Anna Deavere Smith, an actor who did two one-woman shows about riots in the United States. One was about the Los Angeles riots after the Rodney King trials which generated a violent release of pent-up frustrations in poor black communities. The other one covered the Crown Heights, New York riots between blacks and Jews. Smith interviewed diverse players from each of these riots and then, in her shows, became them. She actually said the words that they said in the interviews. She would do a 5-10 minute skit talking each person’s words while she was dressed up and acting like that person. She is a light-skinned black woman, so she can play all these different people: she could be white, she could be black, she could be Hispanic or Asian. All these different kinds of people she could easily be.
In each of her performances you end up watching 15-20 totally different perspectives of people who were doing violent acts, people who were justifying or trying to manage them, or people who were scared or impacted by them. From all these different sides – public officials, community organizers, cops, rioting youth… all these different people – you always see her face in theirs. I see that fact as a unifying aspect: here’s the human being – all these people are human beings and each have their perspectives. When you’re in the middle of each perspective, it totally makes sense, but then there is the next one and those two stories do not go together. The whole riot is so much bigger than the sum of its parts.
So that phenomenon led to my choice of the phrase “self-legitimizing”. There’s a self-legitimizing dynamic that goes on when we’re in a conflict and are dealing with an issue we have strong opinions about. There is a psychological phrase for this called “confirmation bias”. We hear and seek out the evidence that will support our view and disregard, resist, or delegitimize perspectives that don’t fit our view.
Another psychological reality that’s relevant here is that certainty is an emotion; it is independently variable from the actual facts of the matter. We can feel certain about something that is untrue and we can feel very unsure about something that is quite true. This leads to a sense that “a viewpoint is just a viewpoint”. It is not a fact; it is a way of looking at things because of the way we been raised, the way we have come to believe, or the different experiences we’ve had. These things lead us to see things in a particular way. In the face of conflict or even just in the ordinary everyday flow of conversations and engagements, we live in our own world but we bump up against other people’s perspectives that are different from ours.
What multiple viewpoint drama does – what “multiperspectivity” does, generally – is kind of legitimize how different people think. It helps you be compassionate and willing to consider what somebody else thinks and feels or has as stories of their experience that are radically different from yours. You come to be able to relate to them in one way or another which opens the door towards exploring what might be real or satisfying or desirable to you both.
Multiple viewpoint drama is an artistic form that lays the groundwork for people to be able to relate to each other and work together. So I say every conflict or issue has at least two self-legitimizing sides and usually more. But notice how when we think in terms of “both sides”, it functions as a thought-terminating cliché. Because there are always more than two sides even when there’s only two people in the argument! There are always other sides that are floating around the edges. So the more of these you can identify and present, the more real and truly complex and reflective the situation becomes.
But each person’s story – their side, their sense of things, their viewpoint – contains information and perspectives which we all need to access in order to understand what’s going on in this situation. There’s also energy there, and this energy is also information. The fact that somebody is feeling very strongly about some aspect of the situation is itself part of the situation and needs to be taken into account and addressed and worked with. That strong feeling may also have energy that we can use to change the situation in positive ways. This energy may be pushing in a direction we want to go, or it could be energy that is in the way of what’s needed. Either way, we need to address it in an intelligent and wise manner because it is part of the picture. So getting their stories, getting their viewpoints and perspectives is really important.