Our Evolving Frame of Reference

By Linda Fisher Thornton

As we weathered a hurricane on the East Coast, I remembered the uncharacteristic earthquake that affected Virginia a few years ago. That experience changed how I interpreted the world around me. It drew attention to why we all see the world in such different ways.

I was in a warehouse store shopping for a gift, and I noticed that the table in front of me was shaking. If this had happened at any other time, I would have looked for an explanation inside the store. But not this time. A recent earthquake had altered my frame of reference. My first thought now was that it was another aftershock from the earthquake.  It turned out to be just an efficient store clerk enthusiastically adding inventory at the other end of the table.

Our Evolving Frame of Reference

This experience of being “shaken up” reminded me about how our frame of reference changes as we have new experiences. We can interpret the same experience in completely differently ways, depending on recent events in our lives.

During the recent hurricane, for example, the light movement of trees in the wind (normally a pleasant experience) took on a new meaning as it signaled the arrival of Hurricane Florence. 

When we are aware of our evolving frame of reference, it helps us remember that other people’s experiences shape their perceptions too, and those experiences are likely to be very different from our own.

Expanding the Frame

Catastrophic events can make us pause to reflect on the bigger scheme of things, which is easy to ignore in the midst of a high-speed schedule. We shouldn’t wait for a catastrophic event to force us to take a broader perspective. When we make a commitment to learning, we can expand our frame of reference to include perspectives that differ from our own and and apply this awareness to our daily choices. 

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About Linda Fisher Thornton
Linda Fisher Thornton is Founder and CEO of Leading in Context, and author of the award-winning book 7 Lenses. She teaches as Adjunct Assoc. Prof. for University of Richmond SPCS. She is leading a movement to help leaders and organizations Unleash the Positive Power of Ethical Leadership.

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