Taking Another Person’s Perspective Doesn’t Help You Understand Them

To understand someone, we should not imagine their point of view but make the effort to “get” their perspective.Pixabay / Public Domain

No moral advice is perfectly sound. The Golden Rule—do unto others as you would have them do unto you—is only as wise as the person following it.

A more modern-sounding tip—take the perspective of others—can seem like an improvement. It was Dale Carnegie’s (it is “a formula that will work wonders for you”), and Barack Obama trotted it out at the United Nations when discussing Israel and Palestine (“the deadlock will only be broken when each side learns to stand in each other’s shoes”). Perspective-taking avoids the Golden Rule’s flaw—its effect doesn’t hinge on the integrity of the person considering it. And it’s an inducement to selflessness, in that you’re encouraged to exchange your frame of reference for that of another. Perspective-taking increases the odds you’ll with the person whose shoes you’re stepping into, on your own biases and , and automatic expressions of racial bias.

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from Nautilus

Nautilus7 min readScience
We Need to Talk About Peat: Earth’s great storehouses of carbon are looking ominous.
In his poems about strange bodies buried in the bogs of Northern Europe, the late Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney describes peatlands filled with “drowned-mouse fibres dried up and the whole limp, soggy cluster … Of weed leaf and turf mould.” Such is th
Nautilus6 min read
How to Give Mars an Atmosphere, Maybe
Earth is most fortunate to have vast webs of magnetic fields surrounding it. Without them, much of our atmosphere would have been gradually torn away by powerful solar winds long ago, making it unlikely that anything like us would be here. Scientists
Nautilus5 min read
How the Neutrino’s Tiny Mass Could Help Solve Big Mysteries
Reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine’s Abstractions blog. Of all the known particles in the universe, only photons outnumber neutrinos. Despite their abundance, however, neutrinos are hard to catch and inspect, as they interact with matter