The Evolution of our Perspectives Over Time

Something amazing about human beings is our ability to mature, develop, and change our stances, beliefs, and viewpoints. This aspect is due to our adaptability, reasoning capabilities, and empathy. Our brains also have a high level of neuroplasticity, changing the way we think, reason, and behave.

Many of my opinions and positions have changed over the years. Some of them have changed 180 degrees while others have simply become softened, and I have grown to see where there is room for other perspectives. I think a lot of this comes with age. Many people aren’t able to see beyond black-and-white until their 30’s. I was definitely one of those people and had a very “us vs. them” mentality throughout my 20’s.

I’m sure my opinions will continue to change as I develop as a person, gain new knowledge and understanding, and have new life experiences. Looking at an issue from afar can leave a much different impression than looking at it from up close. You can never be sure how you will view or act in a certain situation until it happens to you.

Another common trait of human beings is our ability to hold two seemingly contradictory opinions at the same time. This is typically referred to as cognitive dissonance. I have surprised myself by feeling one way about a matter and an entirely different way about a similar matter, where the same principles should have applied. It’s important that in times like these we always use the best evidence, logic, and data we have available to us and do our best to admit any biases or emotions we have that might be causing prejudice. F. Scott Fitzgerald believed, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still be able to function.”

Yet another common human trait is to view anybody with opposing opinions as ill-willed. However, most of the time, someone with differing opinions has their thoughts and attitudes shaped by the same forces we did — upbringing and experience. And they are as sure as we that they are correct. Most of us are not even aware of why we think or behave the way we do. Social conditioning happens without the consent of the individual it shapes.

Have you found you think differently now than you used to? Are you more or less rigid in your views? More or less accepting of other people’s perspectives?

Strength vs. Weakness

Something I’ve learned is that strength can appear weak and weakness can appear strong. It shows strength to hold your tongue and not react emotionally to another person who is pushing your buttons, even though it might feel like weakness at the time or be taken as weakness by others. On the other hand, it shows weakness to give in to an unnecessary squabble and allow yourself to become emotionally overwrought, even though it might feel like strength at the time or be taken as strength by others. This is something I struggle with a lot and constantly have to remind myself. Most situations aren’t worth getting involved in a dispute with someone and letting your inner peace be jeopardized. Although there are times when it’s necessary to speak up and it would even be immoral or dangerous not to do so, speaking up and giving one’s opinion usually comes from ego. And ironically, not letting other people outwardly ruffle you can show them you are strong enough to ignore the drama and encourage respect for you.

Intellectually, I know the more things I “let go”, the wiser and stronger I am. However, getting to the point where things “don’t bother you” (or at least bother you much less), takes a lot of practice, self-restraint, and taking the “high road”. Emotionally, it is not easy. Like a muscle, it must be used often to become strong and remain that way.

Here are some tips I’ve used to help me in this regard. First, realize that your own viewpoint differs from those of other people and colors the way you interpret something. You are probably looking at a situation with different experience, understanding, and knowledge than another person.

Second, understand that people don’t necessarily see you in the way you see yourself or the way you believe others see you. It is human nature to believe that other people think about you more than they really do or that they are more critical of you than they actually are. This often comes from low self-esteem and insecurity.

Third, decide not to take things personally. Because you cannot be sure of where someone else’s opinions, feelings, or attitudes come from, there’s no reason to assume they have ill intent or motives towards you. Even deciding to not take something personally that was in fact personal can help alleviate a lot of the anger, stress, and energy expenditure you’d experience by pursuing the issue.

Fourth, ignore everything that is possible to ignore (and that is most everything). By filling your life with positive people, activities, and work, it is easier to tune out negativity without feeling like you must react or “do something” about it. Also, I have personally experienced that being slighted stings less when I have other, better, more important things going on in my life. I also have less time to stew about them and for my anger to build. It’s when I am idle, perhaps unemployed, don’t really have any direction, have too much free time, that I am more likely to pursue every small perceived slight.

Fifth, feelings fluctuate constantly. You might be steaming mad over something you just found out about, especially if you were already in a down mood, even though the issue doesn’t justify extreme anger. Spend time on things you enjoy or that make you feel productive (like chores), and you might just realize your anger has reduced significantly or even disappeared.

I hope this post helped someone out there who struggles, as I do, with self-restraint and not letting emotions take control. I know I admire those who are always able to be “above it” all, and I view them as some of the strongest, most noble, and independent people I know. On the other hand, people I know who constantly require others to “walk on eggshells” around them seem small, fragile, and scared. I will continue to try to be a strong, noble, independent person instead of a small, fragile, scared person.