I’ve worn contact lenses or glasses to see since I was 6 years old. During a visit to the doctor, my mother took great offense when the doctor said, “Maybe you should buy him a dog. He’s going to need one to help him get around in a few years.” She didn’t fully appreciate the doctor’s dry wit, but I love retelling this story.
Today, I still wear glasses. I rely on them to help me see clearly. I also use “putting on glasses” as a metaphor to help clients see things differently.
Lawrence Kohlberg, a Harvard researcher and professor, conducted extensive studies on human moral development. His studies were based on the premise that moral development was a cognitive function, and that the ethic of justice was the highest-order moral we develop. Carol Gilligan, a feminist and student of Dr. Kohlberg’s, noticed that women scored differently on some of the scales used in their research. She also noticed that most of the study participants were men and boys. She began to ask questions.
Gilligan’s perspective allowed her to see the results of their work in a way Dr. Kohlberg was unable to – as a woman and feminist. She noted that women had a different imperative when approaching a moral issue: “to solve the moral problem in such a way that no one is hurt.” (Wildflower, L. excerpt) Gilligan’s contributions showed the ethic of care as an equally high category as the ethic of justice. It was through Gilligan’s lens of feminism that Kohlberg was able to see his research and its implications differently, and he quickly added more women into his study groups. They achieved clarity through Gilligan’s perspective.
All glasses, however, are not the same. In Palm Springs, the brightness of our mid-day sun can be harsh. Sunglasses, especially polarized lenses, give our eyes some relief from the brightness and allow us to see things clearly. Reading glasses help us see small print and bifocal lenses give us the advantage of correcting both near and distance vision. Recently, a lens company invented something that gives color-blind people the opportunity to see the colors they’ve not been able to detect before.
So how does this relate to coaching? Simple: in order to give my clients the benefit of seeing themselves differently, I have to have an array of glasses for them to choose from. Sometimes we’re looking at “blind spots,” the areas that we’re unaware of until something triggers a reflexive response. Sometimes we need to look at ourselves from a different perspective and need clearer distance vision. Sometimes we need to do some very delicate work with fine materials and have to magnify what’s in our view. And sometimes, we need sunglasses to filter out the harsh things and see with greater clarity.
Many people can relate to the physical act of putting on glasses. That’s why I find the metaphor so powerful in working with clients. It quite literally changes what we see!
Reference: Wildflower, L. (2013). The Hidden History of Coaching. San Fransisco: Jossey-Bass.