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Philosophy 101: The Value of Questioning Perspective

Mary Sullivan  Follow

The valedictorian who graduated a year before I did in high school played the string bass with me in our high school orchestra, and it was clear why she was the smartest woman in the school. I didn’t even start to learn the topics she brought up in a mundane small-talk (philosophical skepticism for example) until my junior year of college!

One example I remember clearly was when she interpreted philosophical skepticism (an approach to defining reality) by saying, “Perhaps there is no reality, because perhaps,” pausing to pull her bow expertly across the bass, “the ‘D’ you hear and the ‘D’ I hear are different. We can perceive everything around us slightly differently, so what is reality?”

I know that questioning what is real and authentic sounds a little bit “out there,” but considering what role perspective plays in our day-to-day lives (for what we do for work and for play) it’s worthwhile to consider. This is especially important for us public relations practitioners whose work world revolves around perception.

Consumers and the media may present a shared perception on a given topic, but that may not be the “reality” of a client’s business or industry. Finding a differentiating perspective can be the greatest challenge we face in our profession.

For example, how saturated is the “financial literacy” space when you consider that every major insurer and credit card company has a campaign aimed at enhancing financial responsibility? Shift your perspective. The Hartford’s “Playbook for Life”** is a great example of a fresh perspective in this space. The insurance company looked at the vast majority of young adults they saw struggling with financial planning and found a realistic way to connect with them. Using NCAA star athletes as spokespeople for financial literacy, the company used the metaphor of a game-day play book to provide young adults with the information they needed to plan for life after college. As PR professionals, think about what problems are all too real for so many people. Ask, “what would really make a difference?” and voila! There are the beginnings of a compelling story.

I thought about how contemplating reality isn’t just for the valedictorians and philosophy professors of the world after watching the movie “Dead Poet’s Society” (an all time favorite). In the movie an English professor at a staunchly traditional men’s high school asks his students to challenge conformity and to develop a critical mind. He asks the students to stand on their desks to be reminded to always look at the world in a different way.

This way of questioning your perception on the world is different from shifting from a glass half-empty outlook to a glass half-full approach (that’s a post for another day). It’s more about how Death Cab for Cutie says: “if you feel discouraged and there’s a lack of color here, don’t worry…it’s really bursting at the seams, absorbing everything, the spectrums A-Z.” You’re looking at the world, not with rose colored glasses, but with completely different lenses.

In our day-to-day work world, a dissenting perspective is the value clients need to make an impression with their audience. In what we do for play, it can be what challenges us to take adventures, read new things and meet new ideas. Stand on your desks. The difference in perspective could be your next great idea. CJP

**Disclosure: The Hartford is a former CJP client. The agency also supported the Playbook for Life campaign.

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