The Power of Perspective

Picture me monopolizing the conversation. I mean, not really, but when I look at my wordcount in the transcript of a recent roundtable I did with some of my favorite Tinyletterers, I kinda feel like I need to go to the Ernest Hemingway School of Saying It In Fewer Words Next Time. Even that I could have written more succinctly. That being said, if you’re interested in reading what eight newsletter junkies (Neil Perkin, Rosie and Faris Yakob, Ian Fitzpatrick, Anjali Ramachandran, Inaki Escudero, Hugh Garry, and your’s truly) have to say about writing online and the forms it has taken — from the blogs of olde to the Tinyletters du jour — I commit the transcript to you. I’ve quoted Faris Yakob by titling it “Emails Are the New Blogs.” It was a lot of fun hanging out with these interesting folk and talking shop. Hope you enjoy it.

CB, June 4, 2015


Commuting is a gift of introspection. Or, it can be. I’ll give you an example. One day, as I made my way home from work, I turned on NPR and let it drone while I spaced out staring at the slowly moving sea of bumpers before me. But then something snapped me out of it. A guest on the program that was playing began describing a quick little test you can take that reveals how tuned in you are to the perspectives of others. Test? Perspective? I was all ears. The test goes like this:

With your index finger, draw an imaginary, capital letter E on your forehead.

Go ahead. Actually do that.

Now, have you drawn your E so that it faces you — so that in your mind’s eye, you can read that E as you would on a page — or have you drawn it backward, so that someone else standing before you could read it as if your forehead is the page?

What do you suppose you can conclude from your answer?

For years now, a group of social scientists — Adam Galinsky, Joe Magee, Ena Inesi, and Debora Gruenfeld — have been using this and other scenarios to explore how power affects our ability to shift our perspective, or in other words, how it might blind us to the thoughts and feelings of others. It’s a fascinating question, and one that seems to yield a consistent answer: Yes, power corrupts. And that corruption can be as subtle as a reduction of empathy, or an expanding blind spot within which fall those around us. Galinsky and his colleagues conclude,

“High-power individuals anchor too heavily on their own perspectives and demonstrate a diminished ability to correctly perceive others’ perspectives.”

In the car that day, I drew a backward E. When I heard the interpretation afterward, I was pleased, but mostly surprised. See, I consider myself a work in progress. I’ve got flaws, big and small. And among them has been a tendency toward a brute force approach to getting things done — the high D of the DiSC Profile — rather than the sort of calm, careful, empathetic, diplomacy I observe and admire in people wiser than me. The people I want to be like. I’ve been working on it. It’s one of many things I’d put under the heading of “My Life’s Work.” So that one day it won’t be about being like them anymore, but just being myself.

This little test was just a small, empirical indicator that I may have made some progress. It felt good.

But I’m not writing this to brag about that. I’m writing this to give you a way to measure your own progress, or to jumpstart something that could help create a new you.

We have no shortage of measurement tools. Fitbits. Reporter apps. That sort of thing. But can any of it tell us what we really need to know? Can technology — which itself moves at a change interval so fast that we can hardly understand anymore where cause stops and effect begins — can it tell us what we truly need to know? Can a form field or number better track my perspective and empathy than a simple, human exercise of imagination? I don’t know. But I have my doubts.

No matter what we do, whether we’re artists, brokers, servants, or healers, there is only one currency. It’s people in, and people out. Whether or not you see that (or care to) will determine your wealth. Now you have another way to check your balance.

Heavy Rotation: Kind of an odd mix this week. Bill Fay’s Who Is the Sender? is equally understated and emotionally over the top. Prepare yourselves. Paul de Jong’s (of The Books) solo album, IF reminds me why I loved The Books and makes me feel more OK about not really loving Zammuto’s solo stuff. Braids’ Deep In the Iris is fun and upbeat and pretty.

Recent Tabs: “No matter who you are, most of the smartest people work for someone else.” That’s Joy’s Law. I dunno about you, but I’d spend some time in this little guy. I don’t know about living there, though. I mean, where would the dog, cat, and chickens go? My buddy Adam is all in. Wonder if he’s told his wife and child yet ;) Things like this really make me want to get a Raspberry Pi and mess with it. I love the commitment to retrograde aesthetics and minimal functionality. I don’t have kids (yet), which is probably the main reason I react with horror when (what I think are too young) kids have cellphones. But is this any better? How long until we dress up some subcutaneous tracking chip in the modern marketing vernacular and kickstart it to much fanfare? Not long, I’d bet. In other news, this is a very sad graph. “Design with real content and try to account for the uniqueness of every post,” from this design teardown, wherein the “and” should be Capitalized and bolded and perhaps even underlined. As in, it’s the hard part. So hard that they didn’t succeed (imho) and also, because I can’t resist going full Andy Rooney, why bother with a design teardown when the title might as well be, “How We Made Our Blog Look More Like Medium.” And honestly, that could just be a tweet. Short and sweet. Ok, to balance out that bit of negativity, I like this website. “So if not best, then what? Nothing. Don’t sign off at all.” The DECELERATE MANIFESTO. Therapy via text. If Adobe isn’t working on adaptive functionality like this for the next Photoshop release, then they’ve stumbled. Man plays Beatles song on guitar while undergoing brain surgery. Goodnight Dune.

Written by Christopher Butler on June 4, 2015,   In Essays

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