A couple of months ago, I had a conversation with a friend of mine. Let’s call him Manny. This person is highly “privileged.” I was speaking about a woman in dire striates with immigration problems who was looking at a deportation. Let’s call her Tina. Manny said that Tina “always had choices and could have gone to any other country on the planet. America is not the only good place to live in the world.”
I remember getting off the phone and the conversation stayed with me for days because it was the moment I clearly realized how much privilege had to do with choice. Privilege affords you choices that you cannot even conceive of without privilege.
I call Manny “privileged” because he is a sixty-something plus-year-old, wealthy, high society, professional African male who has lived on multiple continents and lacks for nothing. Honestly speaking, he shares most of the same privileges of a white male in America. When he gets tired of America, he goes to Europe and when he is done there, he goes home to Africa. When he is ready to conduct business, I might hear from him in China. He has never had to question his ability to cross borders as a businessman and a man of means. Widely respected and competent, he feels he can make his home anywhere in the world and do it well.
When I tried to explain to him about Tina and how she did not feel she had options, he could not understand it. I assumed as an African that he would have empathy for Tina’s immigrant status. He did not. He had never had issues with visas. He had never overstayed the welcome a country had afforded him.
I wondered how I could fully share my perspective with him.
First, I asked him what was important to him in the story I told him. He told me that following the law was critical to him. Observing visa dates and proper exit and entry procedures in the immigration process was important to him.
I understood and asked him to put himself in Tina’s shoes. I described what brought her to this country and the situation she was fleeing. I told him about the three kids she had in the US and how she was now leaving them behind to fend for themselves. I asked him to imagine what real choices she had, given the particulars of her predicament.
Manny’s position was that she should not have put herself in that situation in the first place.
We talked about risks that less privileged people routinely take to just even the playing field. That was a new perspective to him.
By the end of the conversation, he was able to see how his desire for Tina to “follow the law” was part of the expectations that privilege afforded him.
When I told him he was privileged, he was shocked. He felt insulted. He knew enough about racial dialogue to think that privilege meant “successful white male that makes all the rules.” Yet, as the conversation progressed, I kept inviting him to immerse himself in Tina’s lived reality.
Finally, he was quiet and sad. He felt troubled about his “privilege.” He was a humble man in that he felt he was very “blessed” and lucky to have all he had in life, but he never once thought of it all as privilege. And he never thought about who had to be underprivileged just so he could be privileged.
Over the next few weeks, he revisited this conversation with me several times. Interestingly enough, whenever we talked about privilege from a wealth and opportunity perspective, he was able to grow and expand his concepts. However, when we talked about it from a gender perspective, he could not make the same strides and just believed in the biological differences of men and women as a fixed translation into their roles in the world.
(I continue to work on him.)
I often talk about these types of conversations as “perspective shifting.”
For me, I have lived in different parts of the world, enjoyed a variety of socio-economic statuses in my short life, and I enjoy the benefits of being a multi-cultural woman. I have a lifetime of enjoying rich relationships with men including my father and my brother. I am a woman of faith who loves inter-faith dialogue and I grew up in an Atheist home. Perspective shifting occurs at least twenty times before I brush my teeth in the morning.
I can get a call from a cousin from my home country at 3 am in the morning. When I turn on the news in the morning or scroll the New York Times on my computer, I discover that what is happening in a different part of the world is impacting my life. I can get a call from someone who needs some pastoral care and engages in dialogue about the limitations that the differently abled body of the person is presenting that day. I look out my kitchen window in my home in Clarkston, in the most diverse one square mile in America and I see the Bhutanese kids racing the Burmese kids and the Congolese kids the park at the end of my street.
I don’t have the luxury of a static perspective.
Although I have a fairly fixed set of values, I cannot look at the world from the same perspective day in and day out.
A perspective is defined as “a particular attitude toward or way of regarding something; a point of view; a true understanding of the relative importance of things; a sense of proportion.”
Perspective is weighty. It places an importance, a huge sense of proportion, based on the angle from which the subject is viewed. Yet, there are blind spots in all perspectives.
When we look at the definition of “a perspective drawing,” you easily see what I mean. It is, “the art of drawing solid objects on a two-dimensional surface so as to give the right impression of their height, width, depth, and position in relation to each other when viewed from a particular point.”
Obviously, depending on where you are standing, viewing a perspective drawing is limited. Therefore, you must move around such a drawing, or move the drawing around to shift your perspective and see every angle. Otherwise, you have a static perspective which is one dimensional.
These days in the news, we were all on board with getting rid of single-use plastics and Starbucks made a grand announcement and will be changing their lids. No more straws! And the Disability (Differently-Abled) community has made a huge stink about this. They were not considered.
Now, it makes sense, right?
I have a friend with Muscular Dystrophy and several others that have Autism. “No straws” does not make sense for their world. They cannot hold things in their hands so for them to walk around with a metal straw is not an option and I am not sure how paper straws work. Whether it is paper or plastic, this demographic needs their straws, readily available, provided by the business.
Perspective shifting dictates that we consider a 360-degree evaluation.
Effective leaders know how to surf between varying perspectives. They know how to shift perspectives while holding on to their core values. They ask questions such as:
- Whose voice is not part of this decision?
- What are we missing?
- Who will feel part of our community when we implement this decision?
- How can we exercise more curiosity and imagination in creating this policy?
- What gap is created by our policy and what is our responsibility in closing that gap?
- What is at the center (what drives) this policy?
- Whose eyes can we NOT look at when we announce this policy?
If you are in an organization like Starbucks that was seeking to make this change, you must start out with first figuring out who is in the room making this decision. Too many times, the people in the room making these decisions, do not reflect all the demographics of the end users. No company can afford this type of mistake in today’s economy.
Individuals working for such organizations give their employers great value when they address as many of the questions above that they can.
The value of perspective shifting is that it allows those in power to share their power with people that have been overlooked and have never enjoyed being the center of the consideration of others.
Beloveds, perspective-shifting allows you to share power. You will never experience true fulfillment until you learn to share power.
This week, I invite you to read, or listen to the audio of, Roxane Gay’s book “Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body.” Roxane is a Haitian American Feminist writer and OMG! She has such a way with words. She is an associate professor of English at Purdue University and once weighed 577 pounds at 6 feet 3 inches. In this poignant book, she allows her body to speak for itself. She does not make apologies. She has lost some weight but now weighs in the vicinity of 400 pounds. I love how she helps us put on her body and see the world through her eyes. Riveting! I don’t care who you are, your life is improved by attempting to look at the world through the eyes of a 400-pound 6 foot 3, Haitian American Feminist writer!
If the identity of the perspective giver repulses you, all the more reason to dig in and figure out why! Only of course if that identity is something like a pedophile or something truly distasteful. I would not encourage exploring the perspective of certain things but there are others definitely worth exploring.
The first time I truly appreciated perspective shifting was in a theology class. I was asked to write a diary entry from the perspective of Bathsheba in the Old Testament. As you may know, the Biblical story of David tells us how he saw Bathsheba and summoned her for his personal consumption. She was married to Uriah who was away at battle. Bathsheba got pregnant and David finagles to get Uriah, an upright man, killed. Later on, Bathsheba becomes the mother of Solomon who rules Israel. Bathsheba, as Uriah’s wife, is mentioned in the lineage of Jesus.
Imagine being asked to remove the male-centric wording of the Bible, as the above story is always told from the perspective of David. Imagine having to place the female character as the center of story and for her voice to be heard thousands of years after her role in Biblical history. Imagine realizing that David “summoned” her. This exercise allowed me to drop into my body and discover nuances to that story that I never picked up on. I myself was guilty of never considering Bathsheba in the story. I was only taught that story from David’s perspective.
As I once asked a church audience the following questions, they were shocked as it appeared sacrilegious: Was David a rapist? Was Bathsheba flattered by the king’s attention? Did she have a choice in the matter? Did she plot with David to have her husband killed? Did she even know David was doing that?
Uriah is painted as the picture of a man of immense integrity. I would like to imagine that his wife also paralleled his integrity. It was so bizarre to read Bible commentaries that addressed Bathsheba’s “sin” when there is no evidence of that in the scriptural text.
Beloveds, I tell you this story of Bathsheba for you to have an image of how we render people invisible when we do not make room for their perspectives. It is dehumanizing to render another invisible. Bathsheba has become alive to me because I was able to put her in the center of that story. It shifted my perspective of that scripture story forever.
Precious souls, how might you shift your perspective so that those you once rendered invisible can enjoy space at the center in your orbit this week?
You might wonder why you should allow perspective shifting in your life. That is simple: Because you expand your own humanity and your own ability to allow more into your life.
I bless your week with the power of perspective shifting! Let me know how it goes.
Hugs precious ones. Hugs.