Produced by General Electric Theatre (broadcast by CBS radio and television) and aired in 1953 was the episode “The Eye of the Beholder“, starring Richard Conte and Martha Vickers. Produced as a television serial, this has perhaps emerged as the single most powerful, popular and educative video used by the training and education industry to illustrate the subject of perception and more specifically how our perceptions can easily become distorted through beliefs based on our past experiences, fears and expectations. This classic also illustrates the dangers of snap judgment, projection, prejudice, predisposition, preoccupation and lack of appreciation for the dreams, intentions and ideas of others.
Containing all of the drama of a first-rate murder mystery, this video portrays how five people perceive Michael Gerard a painter during a 12-hour period. One sees him as a “lady’s man”, another as a “good boy”, the third as insane, the fourth as a gangster and the fifth as a murderer.
In the past few days, newspapers, television channels, blogs and of course WhatsApp groups have been busy creating and forwarding dozens of “truths” about the events at Infosys. Through the varied eyes of thousands of beholders, some see the MD & CEO as the victim while others see him as the perpetrator, some see the founder as the victim and other see him as the perpetrator, some see the Board as helpless and others see them as colluding, some generalise and see CEOs as vulnerable and founders as clingy, some see CEOs as irresponsible and founders as betrayed.
C S Lewis the influential twentieth century writer and author of over thirty books said, “What you see and what you hear depends a great deal on where you are standing. It also depends on what sort of person you are.”
I am therefore wondering if what we are choosing to see and therefore what we are holding as the absolute truth is influenced by where we stand – our vantage point. Perhaps the views of each of us are in some ways influenced by our own projections, prejudices, predispositions and preoccupations.
Given our attachments to our pet theories and our versions of the “truth” it is likely that we may find it difficult to see the existence of another possibility, another perspective.
In fact, cognitive empathy as a skill and value is to do with our ability to see things from multiple perspectives, be comfortable in holding more than one point of view in our heads.
If it is so difficult for all of us who are mere bystanders to demonstrate cognitive empathy or be open to other possibilities, I can imagine how difficult it would have been for all the players involved in the situation. Clearly, high stakes and high emotions may have made it very difficult to demonstrate cognitive empathy or perspective taking.
Speaking for myself, I feel very sad for the organisation. I feel very sad for all the people involved – all of them great minds with outstanding accomplishments of a pioneering and transformational nature. I feel sad for the employees whose sense of pride and safety has taken a huge beating.
I hope that with time, tenacity and even temperament, the tide will turn.