What do you see in the above picture? Quite simply, it is a dog in a stroller. But your point of view will shape how you feel about seeing a dog in a stroller. You may take one look at such a spectacle and think it rather ridiculous, or you may coo and sigh and think it is adorable. I was having a discussion about point of view with one of my students this past week, and I was reminded of a sunny afternoon a few years ago.
The little dog you see above used to be my dog. I got her as a six-week old puppy when I was only eleven years old, and I was blessed to have her in my life for many years after that. She moved around the country with me several times, and not long after we moved to Chicago, I happened upon a stroller made especially for dogs at a pet store. Despite the hefty cost, I had to have it for my little CoCo. I'd put her in it and stroll her down to Lake Michigan, the two of us happy as can be. We'd usually attract a bit of attention; people laughed or smiled at us usually, or maybe just shook their heads. But one such afternoon, an older gentleman was walking toward us and he took one look at my dog and a disgusted look came over his face. He told me what a spoiled dog I had, tone disapproving. I just shrugged it off and didn't give him much of a response because, quite honestly, I didn't disagree with him. As much as I love animals, and my animals especially, I feel that sometimes people go to ridiculous levels when it comes to pampering their pets, and I imagine from this man's point of view, I was probably trying to be like some wealthy socialite who dressed her dog in designer outfits and carried her around in a purse.
The truth of the matter was, that from my point of view, I was completely justified in wheeling my dog around in a stroller. I didn't bother explaining to the old man that my spoiled little baby was almost seventeen years old, blind, and dying from kidney failure. She was not physically capable of making the two mile walk to Lake Michigan from my apartment, and while she was a small dog, carrying twelve restless pounds of dog in my arms wasn't really an ideal solution. If it hadn't been for the dog stroller, I would have had to leave her at home when I went out for a walk, and that was a rather heartbreaking thought for me. Maybe if I had told him this, it would have changed his point of view, or maybe he would have merely suggested it was time to put her down. I don't know because I didn't have the option of going into his mind.
Point of view is something we always have to be aware of as writers. Obviously we need to make sure we're staying true to the point of view we are writing in at that moment, but we also need to be aware of how things look to the other characters, even if we're never actually entering their heads. Their point of view dictates their actions and dialogue and so even though we may only be writing from one character's point of view, we need to be capable of seeing things from everyone's point of view.
I think being a writer has actually helped me be more empathetic to the opinions of others, even when I don't agree with them. It is second nature for me to try and see it from the other's person's POV, which I think kept me from being offended the day that the old man was obviously so disgusted by the sight of me pushing my spoiled dog around in her stroller. The POV skills I'd been honing as a writer helped me see his side of it and even agree to a certain extent. Not long after that afternoon, CoCo's health reached a point where I finally had to let her go. It was one of the hardest decisions I've ever had to make, but thinking back over all those beautiful strolls to Lake Michigan we had during the months leading up to her death, I know it didn't matter if the whole world thought my dog in her stroller was a ridiculous sight. From the way I see it, the cost of that stroller was repaid to me in priceless memories.
What about you? Do you find that being a writer helps you see things from other people's point of view?
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