A matter of perspective

Developing the ability to shift between different perspectives is an incredibly valuable skill and when this approach is embraced by a leadership team, it can have a profound effect upon both the productivity and wellbeing of an organisation and its employees.

It’s fascinating that the same word is used to describe the method by which an artist is able to successfully represent a 3D object on a 2D surface. By carefully considering the proportions and positioning of their subject, a skilled craftsman can alert his or her audience to the relationship between the component parts of that picture or scene.

If only it worked for stick men too – alas, the (frankly) rather pitiful extent of my own artistic capabilities…

Parents often lament the fact that their pre-schooler (or teenager, for that matter!) simply cannot see a situation from any viewpoint other than their own. But is it really any wonder, when many adults seem to be permanently engaged in the very same struggle? At least the truculent teenager is able to cite raging hormones as a mitigating factor!

Having been a teacher for a good deal longer than I have been a parent, I have always approached the boys’ Parents’ Evenings with generous helpings of diplomacy – and a determination to consider ‘both sides of the story’ before reaching a final judgement on any potentially contentious issues. After all, angry exchanges are not pleasant for either party and tend to remain etched upon the teacher’s memory long after that particular pupil has moved on.

From the mother who turned up inebriated, to the father who berated me for not awarding his son the Maths Prize (despite being a teacher of Music and English) I’ve probably ‘seen it all’. However, a former colleague once shared a story that rendered (even) me speechless, and it sums up the matter of ‘perspective’ (or a lack thereof) rather well.

As Head of Sport at an independent school, it was the unenviable task of my colleague to select a team for the weekly fixtures. Having agreed a policy of ‘Sport for All’ within her department, she was mindful of the need to give every child a chance to represent the school at some point during the term – even if this meant that the ‘more able’ had to sit the odd game out too.

Well, this was met with utter condemnation one Wednesday morning – an irate parent ‘lying in wait’ for my colleague as she drew up in the car park shortly before 7.30am. Before she had even had time to get out of her vehicle, she found this particular parent towering over her – demanding an explanation.

Drawing herself up to her full height (sadly only about 5ft 4 at best!) my colleague calmly attempted to re-iterate the school’s policy, whilst also pointing out that the child in question had in fact already played more games than any other pupil that term.

This, however, did little to appease the woman (who insisted that her child should feature in the match) and she continued her tirade for the duration of the 850m walk from the lower car park to the main entrance.

Upon arrival (and feeling suitably browbeaten) my colleague reached into her bag and produced the (offending) team sheet with a flourish. As something akin to a last resort, she thrust the piece of paper in front of the angry parent and asked her which child should be removed from the team, in order that her own daughter might play instead?

Her thinking, of course, was that this would bring the parent to her senses, realising at once just how arbitrary she was being.

The fact that this woman didn’t even flinch before making her ‘selection’ spoke volumes.     

C.S. Lewis once stated that “What you see and hear depends a good deal on where you are standing” before adding that, “It also depends on what sort of person you are”.

Once again, Mr Lewis seems to have ‘hit the nail (very firmly) on the head’!

I’m with Confucius on this one!

English Proverbs have long held a certain amount of fascination for me, and I used to love hearing my mum refer to a large number of them as she went about her daily tasks. Coping with six children cannot have been without its challenges, but she was incredibly adept at finding a saying that would put a positive slant on an otherwise demanding situation.

I’m quite sure, however, that in our case (my mum being constantly surrounded by a veritable gaggle of ankle biters) ‘Too many cooks spoil the broth’ might have been rather more apt than ‘Many hands make light work’ and this is possibly why she became a staunch believer in ‘Making hay while the sun shines’ – or at least before any of her ‘little darlings’ had had the chance to surface!

What I really love about all these sayings though are the many straightforward messages of wisdom and morality that they help to impart, in language that is rather less condemnatory than some of the statements found within the scriptures of the Old Testament. Take, for example, Proverbs 1:32-33 “For the waywardness of the simple will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them; but whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm”. This is pretty uncompromising stuff! A case of ‘my way or the highway’ perhaps?

As with so many popular sayings though, it is usually possible to find another one that conveniently provides a ready-made counter argument.

‘Absence makes the heart grow fonder’ can neatly be substituted for ‘Out of sight, out of mind’ depending upon the mood of the protagonist. Similarly, ‘Great minds think alike’ can be turned upon its head with the maxim that ‘Fools rarely differ’! And, being an unashamed devotee of language, I often find myself marvelling at the astonishing power of words to empower or defeat, comfort or wound, entertain or reduce to tears.

Confucius was a Chinese philosopher and politician who was generally considered to be the ‘paragon of Chinese sages’. Born in 551 BC, Confucius lived until he was 71 and during that time, he gained a reputation for striving to make education broadly available, and for establishing the art of teaching as a much-respected vocation. His ‘golden rule’: “Do not impose on others what you do not wish for yourself’ would seem to offer a moral code fit for all and one that requires no further explanation. For this reason (and because I am still working my way steadily through a mid-life crisis of my own) I decided to find out what Confucius had to say on the subject of old age. The results were surprisingly encouraging…

“Old age, believe me, is a good and pleasant thing. It is true you are gently shouldered off the stage, but then you are given such a comfortable front stall as spectator.”

Perhaps it’s time to let the youngsters take centre stage, and for me to settle gratefully into my seat, with a substantial container of popcorn at the ready!