Could the holy grail of modern life—a job we look forward to with excitement, a fulfilling home life—truly exist? Could an unlikely place reveal the secret to happiness? These are the intriguing ideas behind the new book The Shift: How Seeing People as People Changes Everything. Seeing people as people may sound like common sense, but, in reality, argues author Kimberly White, how we view other people’s humanity is far more complex; it’s the key to transforming our lives and most troubled relationships, a discovery White made in the last place you’d expect.
When White began working on a book about a chain of nursing homes, she made an astonishing observation: despite working for low pay and caring for the elderly and ill, despite the soiled bed sheets and stacks of paperwork, employees loved their jobs and were incredibly fulfilled. Their happiness was in such stark contrast to White’s own life that she spent nine months immersed in the nursing homes’ offices, kitchens, patient rooms, and vans to understand how they did it. Nursing homes are one of the toughest settings imaginable. How could everyone be so happy?
White reveals the answer in The Shift, a personal and touching account of the lives that were transformed in these nursing homes, including her own.
In The Shift, you’ll meet Jason, a young maintenance worker, who spends his breaks fetching patients’ blankets or refilling water jugs simply because he loves the residents. You’ll meet Faith, a physical therapist, who drove to an ailing patient’s home—a three-hundred-mile round trip—just to pick up his dog. You’ll meet employees who treat each other with respect and understanding, and you’ll begin to understand what the title of the book—the shift—is all about. It’s about seeing those around us as real and valuable people.
Most of us, explains White, tend to see people as objects, or, at best, “human-shaped objects.” We see people in terms of their usefulness to us, and this invites incredible tension and conflict. When we don’t think about others’ perspectives and troubles, says White, we don’t wonder why they see things the way they do. And we don’t feel motivated to help them. This leads to toxic work environments, strained personal relationships, and the pain, despair, and anguish we often blame on others.
But when you shift your perspective and see people as people—who are just as valuable as you are—your world changes. You’re more open to understanding where people are coming from. Their thoughts, opinions, and needs matter, explains White, because you understand their experiences are as authentic as significant as your own. You may not agree or like their views, but their unique life experience is equal in value. It’s a tectonic shift in perspective that allows tensions at work and home to dissipate. It’s a shift that opens the door to happiness.
White weaves these lessons, and more, throughout the book’s 199 pages with a combination of vivid stories, research psychology, and science. She walks readers through the managerial philosophies of the Arbinger Institute, an organization that helps people move from an inward to outward focus, which was the secret to the nursing homes’ success. As she does, readers glimpse snapshots of White’s personal life as these philosophies transform her from an unhappy woman—at her wit’s end with her husband and children—to a woman at peace, who has finally found fulfillment and satisfaction. White’s raw emotion, as she takes you on this personal journey, is relatable and inspiring.
The bulk of the book is devoted to equipping readers with tools and techniques they can use to “shift” their lives. But White’s not preachy; instead, she uses masterful storytelling to lay out examples of the steps readers should take. The advice is simple, and compelling, and is stated best in White’s own words: “Fellow humans, we can find one another. Go toil with people, learn about them, give them your attention, and discover their depths and their greatness. Identify a person you struggle with and look through the pain in his or her eyes. It’s a long drive. It never ends, really. But I promise, the payoff is worth it.”
To learn more about Kimberly White and her new book, visit her website.