Getting The Other Man's Point Of View
Our points of view are very frequently merely hereditary or acquired
prejudices, hence altogether emotional rather than rational. We only
with great difficulty see things through another man's eyes. It
necessitates comprehending his background fully, and standing exactly
where he stands, so mind and eyes can both look out from the same
conditions that confront him. And this is only possible for the man or
woman possessed of a vicarious imagination. Such an imagination,
however, can be cultivated.
You hate my father. He injured yours--unjustly, to your mind, of course,
for yours can do no wrong. From my point of view this father of mine is
a great, good man. From your point of view he is wicked and cruel. We
are both honest in our emotion-directed opinions. Until you can know my
father as I know him, and I can know yours as you know him, we shall
never agree about them. But I can learn to understand why you feel
as you do, and you can learn to understand why I feel as I do. I can
put myself, in imagination, in your place, and see that other man as my
father, and pretty well grasp your point of view, and you can likewise
After all, the law is very simple. Each man is the result of the things
he puts his attention chiefly upon; and he puts it naturally upon the
things which his forebears and his surroundings have held before him.
The rare person and the trained person can assert the "vital spark" of
his own personality and tear attention away from the easy direction and
force, and hold it somewhere else. So he can change his points of view
by learning that there are other vantage grounds which direct to better
results. With some one else to lead the way and give a bit of help, or
with the urge of desire to understand the new viewpoint, or by the drive
of his will, he can change his own.
Let us not forget that what we see depends on whether or not our eyes
are normal, on where we look, or on what kind of spectacles we wear. Two
things we can change--where we look, and the spectacles. If our eyes
were made wrong we probably cannot change that, but we can often correct
poor vision by right artificial lenses. There are people doomed to live
in most unattractive, crowded surroundings who make a flower-garden of
charm and sweetness there, or, without grounds, keep a window-box of
fragrance. The normal person can pretty largely either make the most
impossible environment serve his ends or get into a better one. So we
can usually look to something constructive, helpful, attractive, or
beautiful; and we can refuse to wear blue spectacles.
We nurses soon realize that there are just about as many points of view
as there are people, and that if we would help cure attitudes as well as
bodies, and so lessen the tendency to sickness, it behooves us to learn
to see what the other man sees through his eyes or by the use of his
glasses, from where he stands.
Let us try just a few experiments. Hold your pain and suffering from
your appendix operation, and disappointment because you can't be
bridesmaid at your chum's wedding, up close to your eyes, and you cannot
see anything else. They crowd the whole field of vision. Look at the
world from the eyes of a spoiled woman of wealth who for twenty years
has had husband, friends, and servants obedient to her every whim. She
has grown selfish and demanding. What she has asked for, hitherto, has
been immediately forthcoming. Now she is ill, and she naturally
considers the doctors and nurses mere agents to secure her relief from
discomfort. She is willing to pay any price for that--and still she is
allowed to suffer. From her point of view it is utterly unreasonable,
inexcusable. What are hospitals and nurses for, anyway? And she is
carping, critical, and disagreeable. Her attitude is as sick as her
body. How could it be otherwise?
Look about you from an aching mind and body, after days of suffering and
sleeplessness, and unless you are a rare person and have a soul that
sees the sunshine back of everything--you will find the world a place of
torture. Look out from despair and loss of the ones you love best, or
from failure of will to meet disaster, and everybody may be involved in
bringing about your suffering, or in effecting your disgrace.
Look out on the world from the eyes of the immigrant who has lost all
his illusions of the land where dollars grow on the street and where
everyone has an equal chance to be president, and if you do not cringe
in abject humility, you are not unlikely to be insufferably
self-asserting, considering that the world has robbed you and that now
it is your turn to get all that is coming to you. So you make loud
demands in a rude, ordering voice. The nurse is there to wait upon
you--and finally you will have your innings.
Look out from the resentful eyes and smarting mind of the negro who is
just beginning in a northern city to realize that his boasted "equality"
is a farce, and you will try to prove to the white nurse that you are as
good as anybody. You are impossible; but back of all your bravado and
swagger and rudeness and complaint of neglect because of your color, you
realize that you cannot measure up. You know you belong to a different
race, most of whose members are daily giving evidences of inferiority;
and you are sure that the nurse is thinking that.
Look from the eyes of the "new rich," or the very economical, and you
are going to get your money's worth out of your nurses.
The nurse who can get back of her patient's forehead and put her mind
there and let it work from the patient's point of view, will learn a
saving sense of humor, will be strict without antagonizing, will clear
away a lot of mental clouds and help to make permanent the cure the
One can often judge very truly a patient's real character by his
reaction to his sickness. On the other hand, frequently it only
indicates that he has not yet properly adapted himself to a new
experience and a trying one. We hear so often, "Why, she's a different
person these days, since she's feeling better. It's a joy to do things
for her." She was the same person a while back, but had not learned to
accept discomfort. Any of the following list of adjectives we hear
applied to our patient again and again by the nurses:
unreasonable stubborn lazy deluded
cranky resistive unco-operative will-less
hipped obsessed hypocritical of mean disposition
excitable fearful exacting dissatisfied
undecided wilful self-centered morbid
doubtful demanding retarded abusive
depressed spineless self-satisfied
Unpleasant terms they are, and condemning ones if accepted as final.
When the nurse realizes that under the same conditions she would
probably merit them herself, she becomes more anxious to remove the
conditions, and less bent upon blame.
We must admit that the highest type person, when sick of any physical
illness, does not deserve such descriptive terms as these. But they are
the rare folks, few and far between; while the great mass of us have not
acquired more than enough self-control and thoughtfulness for the
ordinary routine of life. We are weakly upset by the unexpected. If it
is a pleasant unexpected, we are plus in our enthusiasm, and people
applaud; if the unpleasant unexpected, we fall short, and people deplore
our weakness. If we learn our lesson of self-control and adaptability,
and gain in beauty of character through experience, it has served a
purpose. But the nurse deals with the average of human nature, and she
finds their reaction faulty. Very often, if she is observant, she will
discover that a patient responds in a very different way to some other
nurse, who somehow finds that "trying" sick woman charming or
thoughtful, likable or sweet. Of course, it may be because the other
nurse weakens discipline and caters to the patient's whims; but it is
just as likely to be because she has tempered her care and her
strictness with understanding. She has grasped the patient's point of
view; and with that start, the chances are 50 per cent. more in favor of
the patient grasping and acceding to the wise nurse's point of view.
Shall we not remember that our trying, cranky, stubborn patient is a
sick person, and learn to treat that stubbornness or crankiness as a
symptom indicating her need, just as we would a rising temperature?
When we can meet her attitude with comprehension, and, if necessary,
with quietly firm disregard, then we are beginning to be good nurses.
Some of the most common of these sick reactions with which the nurse
must deal are enhanced suggestibility, repression, oversensitiveness,
stubbornness, fear, depression, and irritability. And each one demands
a different method of approach if real help is to be given.
Old Isaac Walton wrote a book many, many years ago called "The Complete
Angler." He was a famous amateur fisherman, and he says there are only
three rules to be observed and they will bring sure success:
1. Study your fish.
2. Study your fish.
3. Study your fish.
If the angler follows these directions, he is not apt to offer the wrong
bait. When he knows all their little peculiarities, he will know how to
catch his fish. The "complete angler" has an unlimited patience and an
infinite sense of repose and calm. He never hurries the fish, lest they
become suspicious of his bait. And he proves that these three rules
The nurse who accepts every patient as like every other, and treats him
accordingly, will never be a great success. The nurse who "studies her
fish" and learns their psychology, will be a therapeutic force. She will
know the why of the way that patient acts.
Next: The Deluded Patient
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