Four Perspectives Framework
In every moment and situation, we actively make meaning from what is happening around us and inside us. Or meaning informs the story we tell ourselves about a given situation, problem, person, and this in turn informs how we respond – our behaviour, communication, relating and decision making. The perspective through which we interpret our experience significantly influences the meaning we make from our experiences.
There are four perspectives through which we interpret our experiences – our inner experience, our ways of relating, how I engage and how we engage (figure 1). Ken Wilber, one of our most influential modern day philosophers discovered these four perspectives which constitute part of his integral theory framework. Wilber makes the point that each 'moment of being' has these four perspectives, these four dimensions of reality.
What is very powerful about Wilber’s framework, is that all perspectives must be considered in order to have a complete view on reality. When we consider the reality from just one perspective, our view will be incomplete. Because we each have a ‘native’ or instinctual perspective through which we interpret our experience, we can become stuck in this one perspective and deny the reality or value of the other perspectives.
So how are the four perspectives relevant to our parenting and relating?
As parents' we are constantly communicating our meaning through our behaviour. Our children are constantly modelling and learning from us, so the meaning we bring to parenting situations and our relationships, and therefore how we show up, deeply influences our child’s growth and their developing sense of self. Learning to take an all perspectives approach to parenting can better inform our decision making and leave us empathetic and understanding to the differing views of others, as well as tuning into what is important to ourselves. Conflict can become a collaboration, an exercise in understanding, of not needing to take a stance. We tune into how our behaviour impacts others and what is and isn’t working within our environment. Essentially, we drastically increase the choices and flexibility we have to respond in any given moment. We open our hearts and minds to other possibilities and gain more depth and connection with ourselves and those we love.
Learning to integrate an ‘all perspectives’ approach to parenting, will support you to support your child’s development. It is a resource that will help you to communicate and relate in ways that can profoundly change your parenting experience.
The Four Perspectives In Brief
Each of these four perspectives are available to us at any given moment. Notice that as we move from perspective one through to perspective four, each perspective becomes a more expansive vantage point than the previous one. The most expansive lens of reality is when we learn to interpret our experiences through all four perspectives simultaneously…now that takes practice and patience. You can use the practice at the end of this article to integrate all four perspectives into your experiences.
Figure 1: Four Perspectives of Reality
Perspective One: My Inner Experience
Here we look from the first-person position of ‘I’ where we see, hear and feel from within ourselves to the outside world. We speak our authentic voice, respond through inquiry, reflection, listening and presence. This is also the place of ‘my’ meaning – what ‘I’ value and believe, what is ‘my’ truth
Example: Choosing a school for your child. You will look at this situation from your inner experience. ‘How do I feel / think about sending my child to school?’ ‘What do I value here?’ ‘What does it mean to me?’
Perspective Two: Our Ways of Relating
Here we look from the second-person position of ‘We’. This is the empathy position of stepping into the shoes of another to understand, feel with and see a situation from another person’s perspective. This is also the place of ‘our’ shared meaning and values that resonate within our collective culture (e.g. family, school and workplace culture).
Example: Choosing a school for your child. You will consider how the school culture and values reflects your family values. Whether your school has a particular religious, academic, arts or sporting affiliation may be important for you here. You may ask ‘what is my child’s experience of going to school?
Perspective Three: How I Engage, What I Observe
This is the position of looking from third-person as an ‘objective observer’. This is where I stand back from my inner experience and out of the shoes of the other, and take a more expansive view of ‘looking at’ a situation. It is also the position of ‘my’ behaviour, what ‘I’ do, my tangible actions, my physiology, the quality and quantity of my energy.
Example: Choosing a school for your child. Your focus will be on what ‘I’ need to do. You might ask ‘What do I need to do to prepare my child to school?’. ‘How will my child’s going to school influence what I need to do, prioritise?’
Perspective Four: How We Engage
Here we take on the even more expansive view of the fourth-person perspective. This is where we stand back to observe the environment and systems (e.g. work, community, childcare, technology) within which we parent and relate. We ‘look systemically’ for what functionally fits and what doesn’t.
Example: Choosing a school for your child. You will be looking out towards the broader environment and contexts, seeing what is functional or not when choosing your child’s school. You might be asking yourself ‘what methods of transport are available?’ How convenient is the school location in relation to home or work?’ ‘Are other parents sending their child to this school, and how could I leverage that?’
The following process is a practical way to integrate an all perspectives approach to parenting. You can practice as a short inquiry meditation for about 5 - 10 minutes daily, followed by a couple of minutes journaling your learnings.
For this practice find a quiet time when you can relax and sit comfortably.
Start by taking a minute to recall a parenting struggle with another that felt unresourceful to you. This other could be your partner, child, other family member, friend.
1) Step into the memory of that situation
Recall the memory as if you were back there seeing, hearing and feeling what you saw, heard and felt then. Answer the following questions from the first perspective of your inner experience.
· “What did you experience that was un-resourceful to you?”
· “What do you believe about this experience?”
· “What meaning are you bringing to your parenting and relating here?”
· What are you feeling as you are back in the memory of this experience?
· “What is true for you?”
2) Step out of the perspective of your inner experience and into the position of the person you were interacting with at the time in that memory.
Step into the other person’s shoes looking out from their eyes at the ‘you’ in that memory. Express what you see, hear and feel as if you were the other person.
· As this second person, what are you thinking and feeling about this situation?
· As the second person, what is your experience of the first person ‘you” in this experience/situation?
· What may “the you” in this experience have done or not done that seemed un-resourceful from this second person’s perspective?”
3) Step outside of this memory and take the third-person perspective of the “objective observer” to the whole experience.
From this perspective what do you see, hear, or feel about that interaction that neither of the “you” or “other” involved in the experience can see?
· What is each person doing or saying that the other isn’t hearing or seeing?
· Can each of them see the other’s perspective (or are they stuck in their own perspective)?
· What are they both trying to achieve?
· What are they mutually caring about here? What is their positive intention?
4) Step out further to the fourth-person perspective looking at the whole system of interaction.
What additional awareness do you have as you look at this interaction from a larger systems / environment perspective?
· What do notice about the environment that neither of them see?
· Is there anyone else relevant to this interaction that may or may not be present?
· What other factors within the environment might be contributing to the situation?
5) Step back into the first-perspective of your inner experience.
· What are you now more aware of than you were before?
· What are you now more aware of in relation to the other person?
· How does this change your experience of the interaction?
6) Take two minutes to journal any new realisations or awareness from the process. What can you do differently moving forward?
2. Adaptation of four-quadrants practice NLP Practitioner 2018. The Coaching Room