“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”
― Max Planck
Here’s my little story called The Bird and Fish Argument to illustrate this phenomenon:
Once a bird and a fish got into a big argument. They were arguing about a boat. The bird called out, “Look, look! I see a colorful bowl on the water. It’s filled with creatures and interesting things.” The fish said, “What is ‘water’? And besides, I see no colors and no bowl. I just see a big, dark, smooth object hovering above my head, and it doesn’t have any opening that things could go into, not even a tiny crack.”
“Bowl!” “Dark smooth object!” Unless the fish could soar above the lake to see what the bird sees, and the bird could plunge below the surface and look up, they would never understand or see each other’s point of view. Finally they gave up and went their separate ways — while also failing to fully understand what a boat is, and needs to be.
I like this story because it has multiple messages. Perspective isn’t only about how you look at it, it’s a matter of who is looking. And the whole picture will elude you unless you see the other person’s perspective, then integrate it with yours. Take note, please, because this is the cause of so many conflicts in the world: Both the bird and the fish saw what they saw, and truthfully reported what they saw — from their limited perspectives. Neither one was “wrong” and neither was lying. But neither one could grasp the whole situation, either. A boat is something that’s smooth and closed on the bottom, so it can ride the surface of the water, and open at the top so it can hold things.
Typically, no one is 100 percent wrong or 100 percent right all the time. Seeing the viewpoints of others and integrating them with our own is a powerful kind of perspective-switching. Very often it will lead to creative solutions, while neglecting it usually creates nothing but problems.
In practical terms, we could substitute the bird and the fish with numerous others — husband and wife, parent and child, boss and employee, liberals and conservatives — and see how the lack of openness creates the conflict that could easily be alleviated with the lesson from this short story.