Your Perspective Can Kill (Or Make You Appear A Pigheaded Fool)

by Randy Murray on January 13, 2011

One of the things that can drive me to distraction, even real anger, is to encounter someone who has a narrow, fixed, and unvarying perspective on the world. Understanding your perspectives is not only critical to reasoned thought, but the thinker who does not understand that personal perspective is precisely that: personal and only a part of the picture, is crippled.

Let’s consider this: I’ll propose a new product that will revolutionize daily life as you know it. It will allow you amazing freedom, everything from where you can live to how you vacation. It will likely become a big part of how you spend your time every day. It will be entertaining and engaging in a way that few products are. And in a very short period of time, it will be a significant part of the US and world economy. Millions of people will be employed both directly and indirectly by the industry that will result from this product.

But this product will result in over 30,000 deaths every year and millions of injuries in the US alone.

Would you allow me — or anyone —  to make this product?

We’ll call it the automobile.

We all know that cars are dangerous, but we continue to drive them. The staggering death toll that results from auto-related accidents is something we choose not to dwell on. It’s a grim set of facts.  Almost everyone knows someone who was killed or injured in an auto accident. But many of us, myself included, have lives and lifestyles that would not be possible without automobiles. And it’s always been this way, right? We need cars, so the number of people killed every year is simply the price we pay for that.

The full numbers are astonishing. There were 33,808 auto related deaths in 2009 (the lowest number since 1950) – and a full third were alcohol related. 2.217 million people were injured during this period. That’s right: over 2 million people are injured every year in auto accidents.

But I’m betting you’ll shake those facts off and go quickly back to “I need a car.” I understand. I need a car, too. That’s because although you have access to the above facts you downplay them in regards to your personal needs. Yes, driving is dangerous, but I need to drive.

The fact remains that if someone tried to introduce a new product, say personal jet packs, that would give us even greater freedoms, with some form of ecologically harmless propulsion, but that would kill, say, only 5,000 people in jet pack accidents per year, we’d raise hell and never let them be built and sold.

It is a matter of perspective.

You might have fixed perspectives about lots of things, probably less deadly things than automobiles. Here’s my challenge to you (and it’s the same challenge for myself): When you make a claim and find yourself arguing a point with someone, pause for a second and consider your perspective. Will your opinion change or become more nuanced if you step back a bit and broaden your perspective? Do documented facts have no effect on your perspective and argument? Is it really possible that you have the only correct view of any particular subject? Are you missing information and alternative perspectives that could cause you to draw incorrect conclusions?

Whatever you conclude, you might want to buckle up. It’s more dangerous out there than you might think.

See my introduction to the topic: Perspective, Opinion, and Point Of View — Distinctions That Matter To Writers And Readers

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