Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Seeing Both Sides and Embracing a Fresh Perspective

Viewing things from alternate viewpoints is key to getting along with others.

Key points

  • With matters peculiarly human, what looks true can also be seen as false—it all depends on your viewpoint.
  • Getting on another’s wavelength, however deviant, is the best way to help them feel validated and understood.
  • Two varying viewpoints make equal psychological sense, given our genetics, parenting, and personal history.
6 or 9: a matter of perspective
Source: mypokcik/shutterstock

Is this numeral a 6 or 9? Inspecting this paradoxical image, what exactly is valid here? Is each of these imagined figures half-right? half-valid? Or, from their respective viewpoints, are they both 100% valid?Furthermore, who gets to resolve this human-made, artificial quandary? And in situations where the objective facts can’t be disentangled from their subjective elements, do we even require an arbiter to settle the dispute?

The Detrimental Effect That the Need to Be Right Has on Our Perspective

What’s perhaps most interesting about this image is that the two men look exactly alike and argue similarly for their perspective, which suggests that if they were to move to the other’s side, they’d—again, righteously—espouse the opposite viewpoint.

Another way of stating this is that the matched pair share identical biases based on their particular location and how it orients them to the number before them.

It’s fascinating that with matters peculiarly human, what’s true can also be seen as false—and vice versa. It all depends on how individuals configure the issue. What’s also fascinating is that if you were to look in the mirror, or at a recent photograph of yourself, the reverse image confronting you would be instantly recognizable.

Additionally, odds are that if you gazed at yourself upside down (perhaps engaged in an impromptu headstand), or flipped over the photo, you’d still perceive it as representing yourself. And these noteworthy exceptions can be comprehended as proving (i.e., testing) the rule.

Typically, however, such instant recognition doesn’t generally apply to less concrete entities.

Let’s next consider, at its extreme, the “demands” of recognizability. Say, there’s a person with schizophrenia in your room pointing to a (supposed) pink elephant sitting in the corner. You yourself can’t spot any such elephant. Yet that hardly indicates that what this individual’s claiming isn’t valid, or that it doesn’t depict the absolute truth of their sensory experience.

So if you’re to interact therapeutically with someone so delusional, it’s advisable to let them know that what they’re decoding isn’t anything visible to you. A more “reasonable” option for working with them doesn’t exist, since you can’t argue them out of their authentically felt perceptions.

Undeniably, getting on another’s wavelength, however deviant, is the best way to help them feel understood. And if ultimately you’re to get through to someone whose distorted outlook would benefit greatly from reevaluation, it’s crucial that you first make them feel validated.

Nonetheless, when we’re hell-bent on being right, we may be unwilling to learn more about why another person doesn’t appreciate things as we do. Their viewpoint may threaten us—or our viewpoint—especially if we’re so identified with it that an opposite perspective feels threatening to our very identity.

Even if the other person literally implores us to look at the situation from their point of view, we may remain deaf to it if it makes us feel overly tense or uncomfortable. It’s not as though our ignorance brings us bliss, yet it feels better than having our ego and complacent sense of certainty endangered.

Still, if our overarching goal is to become better integrated, wiser, and more mature, we’re obliged to solicit more information from outside ourselves and be open to alter our entrenched notions of right and wrong.

The Remedy: Simple to Describe, Not So Simple to Implement

We wouldn’t want someone to turn against us purely because our viewpoint differed substantially from theirs. Thus, we need to ask ourself whether there have been times when we, too, have been guilty of invalidating another—and for the same reason.

It’s critical to keep in mind that there are enormous relationship ramifications if we lack the ability to recognize and respect another’s perspective merely because it feels incompatible with our own.

Rarely does anyone wish to be seen as wishy-washy, or lacking the authority to determine what ought to be regarded as true. That’s why there’s an inborn tendency to impress on others that we are informed, assured, and decisive. Furthermore, in our highly competitive, meritorious society, it’s hard not to cling to our viewpoint as long as we assume it’s superior to, and can triumph over, another’s.

But if we’re to solidify our relationships, both personal and professional, we need to realize—both from our head and heart—that even as we’re right from our viewpoint, so is the other person from theirs.

In short, both our viewpoints make psychological sense, or— given our genetic make-up, how we were parented, and our environment generally—are valid.

Consequently, when you’re struggling to resonate with another’s perspective, you need to ask them—without judging their viewpoint or aggressively interrogating them about itwhat in their background may have induced them to adopt this position.

If their 9 is your 6, you can safely infer that their perspective crystallized for very much the same reasons yours did. And that’s how you assess its subjective validity as on a par with your own.

You’ll then be making the relationship—as well as virtually all your other relationships—as secure, safe, and manageable as possible. And that’s how to reduce, if not entirely eliminate, the kinds of conflicts that, with impunity, can be avoided.

Doing so doesn’t require committing any “sin of omission.” Here you’re not sweeping anything under the (let’s-not-fight) rug, but addressing it with with tact, diplomacy, and compassion.

So regularly keep in mind that as a 9 can legitimately be regarded as an upside down 6, so can a “d” be realistically perceived as an upside down “p,” an “m” an upside down “w,” or an "n" an upside down "u."

And in the end, isn’t that how you’d like others to approach you—receptive, unprejudiced, and with a flexible, empathic open mind?

© 2023 Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved.

More from Leon F Seltzer PhD
More from Psychology Today