How often it happens that well-intentioned persons have
different opinions on the same subject: no matter how much
they argue and discuss the issue, they cannot come to an
agreement. Many times we have heard someone say, "It's impossible!
No matter how I explain it, you still don't understand me!"
We tend to think that it only takes an explanation of our
opinions for everyone to see clearly that we are right.
However, as we have all seen so often, this rarely works
in relationships, between persons or between nations. Rather
than trying to demonstrate the correctness of our opinions-which
is what we usually do-we really should try to discover what
our points of view are.
We must not confuse "opinion" with "point of view." Each
point of view generates opinions. These opinions are coherent
within the perspective of the particular point of view.
All opinions can be correct if they are consistent with
the point of view that produces them. For example, let's
imagine a group of people who get together to plan a trip
and can't agree on where to go. Some want to go to the mountains;
others would rather go swimming in a river; still others
prefer a walk in the woods. Since each person wants the
group to take a trip to the best place, each has given an
opinion according to the way he or she evaluates "places."
But it is doubtful that they will arrive at an agreement,
since at this level their opinions do not have anything
in common. Everyone imagines that they agree because they
all want to take a trip. But they really don't agree because
each one understands the trip in his or her own way. If
they realized that the problem is in the nature of their
points of view, they might quickly come to understand one
another. In this particular case, they could clarify the
reason they are taking the trip in the first place. If the
purpose is not to decide which place is best, but rather
to go somewhere together, no one will hesitate to give up
a preference for the sake of having a common objective.
Every time we have to evaluate or decide something, we cannot
avoid taking a point of view. Sometimes we are aware of
this, but more often we are not. It is better to choose
a point of view consciously, considering all the options
we have. In the majority of cases we can choose from a whole
range of positions, from those which are strictly personal
to those which are universal. For example, if I am a lawmaker,
I can take any number of viewpoints: I can consider only
my private interests; I can consider the interests of the
group to which I belong; I can consider the interests of
my nation or those of all humankind. In practice, this implies
that, before giving an opinion or adopting a resolution,
I have to ask myself which point of view I will base my
decision on. Even though at times it seems that what we
think and do does not have much relationship to anyone else,
we all influence and are influenced by one another. The
human race receives the consequences of the actions and
decisions we each make. For this reason we must not forget
others when we have to make decisions.
Undoubtedly, this way of thinking will force us to give
up some of our preferences. We will move from a limited
point of view to a more expansive one, and we will begin
to see the whole of which each of us is only a little part.
The more we know, the broader the vision is with which we
contemplate the world and life. Moreover, the wider our
horizons become, the wiser are our judgments and decisions.
When the legislator makes laws, he thinks of the needs and
the well-being of his constituents. The better he knows
history, the better he knows how to correct past errors.
The better he knows the present, the better he knows how
to prevent future ills.
Every time we have to make basic, far-reaching decisions,
we must look at the whole, at the totality. Once a decision
is made, we have to concentrate on the realization of the
The art of living consists in limiting oneself without losing
vision; concentrating without ceasing to see the whole;
viewing the whole without failing to give importance to
In certain cases it is necessary to begin from a reduced
point of view to be able, eventually, to acquire a broader
one. For example, I might be concerned with solving the
world's problems. This is, of course, magnificent. But at
the same time I need to limit my viewpoint and see whether
in practice I am self-sufficient and really solve the problems
I create for people around me. The good of the world must
not be a daydream which prevents me from seeing what is
actually within my power to improve in my daily life.
In other words, a broad point of view is made concrete by
realizing reduced points of view. When a student sees how
illness produces suffering, he can ask himself what he can
do to alleviate it. While his global vision of human suffering
allows him to understand that he cannot eliminate it totally,
if he reduces his point of view he realizes that he can
indeed help some people. He can decide, for example, to
study very hard and become a surgeon. Of course, when he
is later performing a delicate operation, he cannot have
a cosmic vision of humanity; he has to concentrate completely
on what he is doing at that moment. When he is working at
his specialty, the surgeon reduces his point of view; when
he leaves the hospital, his world expands.
Whenever we adopt an opinion or make a decision, we are
choosing a point of view. If we are able to see that point
of view clearly we can better foresee the consequences of
our decisions and our way of thinking. Moreover, to see
that particular point of view clearly often allows us to
discover other points of view which, because they are broader,
show us better possibilities.
Reprinted from Living