What is multiperspectivalism?

Like many of the long, combined words I’ve learned in German, the English word “multiperspectivalism,” is a mouthful. Fortunately, the concept it refers to is simple. A perspective is a point of view or a world view. It is a position from which you look out at the world as well as into yourself. Perspectives personify themselves as roles; every role that you take embodies a particular, unique perspective. Most of your everyday roles are united by an underlying shared perspective – that of your waking identity. However, you have available to you perspectives that are not centered on your waking identity. Many of these are transformative. They reflect your emerging potentials.

Perspectives are unavoidable; you are always feeling, thinking, and acting from one perspective or another. The “multi” in multiperspectivalism acknowledges that you live in a universe which contains many, indeed unlimited, perspectives. For beginners, there is your perspective and there is mine. Then there are the perspectives of others who read these words and those who do not. Less recognized are inanimate perspectives, like that of the book or device that you are reading this on! What would that perspective be like? Of course, objects don’t have what most people would call a perspective, but you can inhabit or empathize with what you imagine to be the way of looking out at the world of any object or entity. To do so is to surrender, for a moment, your identification with your assumptions, biases, preferences, opinions, and beliefs and to take on a whole new set of assumptions, biases, preferences, opinions, and beliefs. You do so routinely with imaginary perspectives when you read a book or watch a movie, and it can also be done with dream characters, such as a monster in a nightmare.

How you learned multiperspectivalism

 As a child you took on different roles when you pretended you were a fairy princess, superman, mother, or soldier, and by doing so you were trying on possibilities for who you could be. You were expanding and transforming your definition of yourself by temporarily laying aside who you normally considered yourself to be. More fundamentally, when you internalized the language and behavior of your parents and teachers their roles became your identity. Adults inhabit stereotyped roles, such as partner, cook, transporter, worker, consumer, citizen, or parent. You use these roles to identify who you are and to describe yourself: “I’m a mother; I’m a teacher; I’m a parent…” You not only take on roles to give your life meaning, you do it to escape from the confines of some other role. For example, adolescents often pretend they are independent to escape the limitations they experience in the role of child. You may take on the role of tourist to escape the confines of your everyday roles. It is common to escape into the vicarious pleasures of movies, books, love affairs and porn to inhabit perspectives that, for a short time, cause you to shift perspective, to feel more alive. The tragedy is that this extraordinary ability and human aptitude is often wasted; you mostly take on perspectives that are unrealistic or in conflict with those that are trying to be born within you. Instead of using this powerful tool to heal, balance, and transform,  you favor the stability and comfort of your habitual roles because they are moderately useful and comfortable.  This creates security and stability, but is hardly transformative. Why does this happen?

 Why the perspectives you take matter

You are addicted to your roles, and through them to the delusional perspectives that they represent. The perspective you are inhabiting right now creates the context by which you form your preferences and make all your decisions. It determines what possibilities are open to you and which are invisible, forever beyond your reach. What you see, hear, think, feel, or do in any state of consciousness – awake, asleep, dreaming, trance, mystical, or even after death – depends on your perspective. To take your perspective into account means to recognize the conditions that determine who you think you are and what you do. To not take your perspective into account means that you are a victim of assumptions that you are not aware of. You form relationships based on perceived shared perspectives. Relationships often fall apart because perspectives change; there is no longer a sense of a shared perspective.

Perspectives are like the facets of a diamond

Think of perspectives as facets of a diamond. Each facet is the same, in that it is flat, smooth, clear, reflective, and generally similar to the other facets. Each creates stunning differences in the way it reflects back radiance, color, beauty, and harmony, depending on how the light hits each one and is reflected back to your eyes and is interpreted by your brain. Now think of your inner compass as a diamond and each perspective that you take as one facet of the potentials for beauty, harmony, wisdom, and love that exist both within and without you. Learning to access and become multiple perspectives gives you entry to points of view that include, yet transcend your own. The more you access, the more your sense of who you are grows, thins, and becomes transparent. You can take in more light; you can reflect more light. You more closely reflect both the authenticity and the priorities of your own unique inner compass.

Much pain and suffering is created by ignorance of the perspectives that control your preferences and decisions as well as those that create your inner compass. This ignorance causes your perspective to narrow, and because it is narrow, it is distorted. These distortions of your perspective distort you. They turn you into a superficial caricature of who and what you were meant to be. This caricature is reflected back to you in the caricatures of your dreams and the stereotyped dramas in your dreams and waking life.