This activity can be done with a group of children or teens. It's also powerful when done with a mixed group of young people and older adults because it shows young people that even adults may see the same thing very differently.
Every person has their own way of looking at things. Even when we speak the same language, we can misunderstand each other because we can't see into other people's minds and hearts. You can never assume you totally understand another person or assume they understand you completely. We come from different families, have different ethnic backgrounds and cultures, and have different personal experiences. We want different things from life and different things from each other. We have different dreams, goals, and expectations.
Two people in a conflict may indeed be in the same situation – except that it's not the same situation to each of them. Within a person's own limited perceptions, they may believe they're right. But if you look at the situation from another, wider perspective, they may not seem right. There are a number of reasons people may see the same situation differently. Context is one. A limited view is another. You may only be able to see a small part of the whole picture. Another reason people see the same situation differently is related to how much information they have available. Experience is personal information that can make a big difference to your perspective.
One way to understand perspective is to think about television camera crews and producers. They have a job to do: to get you to watch their show and keep you watching it. They are notorious for choosing just those exciting moments of action that make good TV. But does what they choose to show you give you the whole story about what's going on? There may have been only a single, small fight in a huge, orderly crowd. But the TV will show the fight. One bloody head is certainly more interesting than several hundred more that aren't. So the bloody head makes it to the news. But is that "reality?"
There are two general types of conflicts: 1) needs conflicts (e.g. over scarce resources) and 2) values conflicts (e.g. over beliefs about what should be, what the "truth" is, what "reality" is, what's "right"). Differences in values are common. Particularly when a conflict involves values, participants experience intense feelings and often seek to persuade each other to accept the opposing perspective. Why can't they see what I see? In managing values conflicts, however, the goal isn't necessarily to convince another person to accept your view, but to listen to and try to understand the other person's point of view, respect them as a person, and accept the reality that another may see things differently than you do. Note that you don't have to agree with someone's perspective to understand it. In the words of the Arabic proverb, "Peace comes from understanding, not agreement."
Examine the optical illusion (it's especially effective if you have two people sitting across a table from each other; place the optical illusion between them). What do you see? Does everyone see the same thing? Can you change your perspective (the way you're looking at the picture) to see something more? What if you turn it upside down? What do you see? How is it possible for one picture to be two things at once – a happy police officer and a grouchy headmaster? Being able to change your perspective (i.e. see a situation from another's point of view) is key to resolving conflicts.
Now have everyone stand or sit in a circle. Choose one person to stand or sit in the center of the circle. They must face in one direction, and not move. Go around the circle, asking each person to state how many eyes the person in the center of the circle has. They must be able to see the eyes (i.e. they can't assume the person has two eyes). As you go around the circle, the answers should change from two, to one, and finally to none (for people who are looking at the back of the person's head). At what points in the circle does people's perspective change? Why? What's the "truth?" How do you know? Are some people "wrong" and others "right?" Why? How can you convince people who are "wrong" what the "right" answer is?
Generate ideas for getting a different perspective on the situation (e.g. use a mirror, person in center could move, people in the circle could shift positions, you could do research to find out how many eyes most humans have, etc.). In any conflict, you want to get as many perspectives on the situation as possible, to try to see the whole. A great book for children – and even adults – that illustrates perspective is The True Story of The 3 Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka. Everyone knows the real story of those three pigs – don't they? Well, in this book, the wolf gives his own version of what happened. Everyone has their own perspective.
Extension: Discuss some actual conflicts people have been personally involved in. Get the group to brainstorm possible reasons why each person in the conflict acted or felt the way they did. What was each person's perspective?