When we look at the world through only our own perspective, in that moment, selfishness reigns. Much of today’s communication comes in written form. Emails, text messages, facebook, this blog. All of them are communicative mediums that use only the written word. And, unfortunately, the written word sometimes enables us to be selfish, to look at words through only our own perspective. Out of context, innocent words are seen as sarcastic slights. A quirky repartee suddenly is seen as a grievous insult when none was intended. It astounds me how often I’ve been asked to look something over because this person or that person “said something offensive” in an email, only to find myself puzzled as to where the offensive comment is hidden in the innocent conversation that I’m reading (I’m guilty of the opposite sometimes too, but we’re all learning together). The one being offended is being selfish much of time. They aren’t taking the time to look at the conversation through that other person’s perspective. They assume that the person with whom they are speaking is somehow being negative or offensive. They don’t usually give someone the benefit of the doubt anymore. They’re guilty until proven innocent. Selfish selfish selfish.
As a writer, I think this applies to me, and all writers, a lot. Sometimes the perspectives or themes and messages that we consciously put into our writing are not those that the reader sees. This can either be good or bad, but sometimes we forget this. Sometimes, we act selfishly – we don’t take the time to view all the angles, see what the characters see, or recognize the actions of characters for what they are or ask ourselves if the message could be seen a different way from someone else’s (reader or viewpoint character) perspective. (Case in point, Orson Scott Card’s use of the term “buggers” in Ender’s Game which later got changed to “formics” due to connotation behind the word in countries outside the US). Sometimes we don’t let the reader engage the story through their own perspective, instead we steer them toward our own viewpoints and think that only our interpretation is correct. Sometimes our writing groups or beta readers point out flaws in our work and we simply ignore it because we think that we couldn’t possibly be wrong – that other person is simply mistaken, or maybe they’re just jealous. Yes, that’s it, they must be jealous of my skillz. Sometimes we miss out on the opportunity to learn and grow because we won’t look at any perspective but our own. Selfish.
It has been said that perception is reality. Well then, if we want a different reality we need to change our perception. And our perceptions are founded upon our perspectives and what we allow ourselves to see. Please don’t be selfish. Be open. Listen. And then, if you’re lucky, you just might find selfishness’s dire enemies. Understanding and growth.
How can we combat the tendency to be selfish, both in our daily lives and in writing? Feel free to post your responses below so that we can all learn together.