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Thinking Within and Across Points of View

Point of view is one of the most challenging elements to master. On the one hand, it is highly intuitive to most people that when we think, we think with a point of view. On the other hand, when we ask people, in the midst of reasoning something through, to identify or explain their point of view, they are likely to begin expressing anything and everything they are thinking about. Clearly, most people do not have a clear sense of how to identify someone's point of view, including their own.

Let us begin by recognizing that there are many potential sources for our point of view: time, culture, religion, gender, discipline, profession, peer group, economic interest, emotional state, social role, or age group—to name a few. For example, we can look at the world from:

  • A point in time (16th, 17th, 18th, 19th century)

  • A culture (Western, Eastern, South American, Japanese, Turkish, French)

  • A religion (Buddhist, Christian, Muslin, Jewish)

  • A gender (male, female)

  • Sexual orientation (homosexual, heterosexual)

  • A professional (lawyer, manager, psychologist, teacher)

  • A discipline (biological, chemical, geological, astronomical, historical, sociological, philosophical, anthropological, literary, artistic, musical, dance, poetic, medical, nursing, sport)

  • A social group

  • A professional group

  • An economical interest

  • An emotional state

  • An age group

  • A company philosophy

Our dominant point of view as individuals reflects some combination of these dimensions. Unfortunately, most of us are little aware of the extent to which these factors shape our point of view. Typically, people do not say, "This is how I see it from the point of view of…." Typically, people say something that implies, "This is the way things are." Our minds tend to absolutize our experience. We easily lose a sense of the partiality of how we look at things.

This is not an argument for intellectual relativity (the self-refuting view that everything is relative and therefore nothing can be proved). Looking at things from some point of view does not negate our ability to distinguish accurate from inaccurate statements. Doctors look at patients from the point of view of medical health, and that does not make their diagnoses relative or arbitrary.

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