“Reality doesn’t bite, rather our perception of reality bites. — Anthony J. D’Angelo, The College Blue Book
Imagine you’ve gone to the movies — one of those huge multiplex theatres with a dozen screens and stadium seating.
You’ve selected a picture, bought popcorn and a drink and you’re on your way to the specified theatre. You notice a small poster that reads, “Showing for a limited time, My Life: a true story.”
You’re intrigued because the person on the poster looks a lot like you.
Curious, you open the theatre door and wander inside. The movie begins with two actors who look a lot like your parents — or, more precisely, how your parents might have looked when you were a newborn.
You find a seat and sit down.
Before long, you’re munching on popcorn and sipping on your soda.
Starting with your birth, the movie rolls through the years highlighting the major events of your life: birthdays, family gatherings, sibling rivalries, school, marriage, children and work.
The movie ends with the main character sitting in a movie theatre watching the story of his life.
You’ve missed the movie you paid to see but you don’t mind.
Watching this movie has confirmed the accuracy of your recollections about people, places and things. You’re about to leave when you realize this is a double feature.
You settle back down into the seat as the second movie begins — oddly enough, in a manner similar to your movie. There are your parents again and there are you and your siblings. You realize that this movie is told through the eyes of a younger sibling.
At first, the scenes are nearly identical, but as the siblings age, the perspective shifts subtly then dramatically.
Each character in the story is shot through a different lens, including you. Each motivation is viewed from a different camera angle.
At first, you want to yell foul because it appears so inaccurate but after a while you begin to realize something: your recollections are simply that — your recollections.
There is a much bigger scene unfolding than the one watched through your viewfinder or through the viewfinder of any one personality.
What if each person’s point of view or perception of life were a movie in which he or she were the star and everyone else a secondary character?
If you could watch someone else’s movie, you might certainly recognize many of the settings, situations and even characters, but you would likely be surprised by how different each scene is from your own movie.
Different people have different perceptions. This explains why there are so many differing views in the world.
What each of us perceives is, for the most part, a reflection of his or her own attitudes, beliefs and culture.
Our perceptions influence everything we do.
If we can acknowledge this fact, we can begin to understand why we “buy into” our point of view so firmly. And why we believe vehemently that our perception is the only accurate reckoning.
We all filter our experience and to some degree interpret the facts to fit our view of the world. We can’t help it.
It’s called congruency and it’s why we tend to resist other outlooks.
Without awareness, we will wedge the world into boxes of our own creation.
We will label these boxes with truth and lies, just and unjust, right and wrong — all in a deluded attempt to make the world fit our view and conform to our understanding, so we can stand back and proclaim, “I am right!
“The world/people/government really is the way I perceive it to be!”
By introducing self-awareness, we can step back from the events of our lives and view them with a critical eye.
We become willing to consider other points of view. As a result, we’re able to look at experiences through multiple lenses. Awareness of how perception works also provides us with a window into the mind of others.
When we realize that everyone’s movie is filled with different judgements and interpretations, we become less inclined to take things personally or jump to conclusions.
In fact, we may actually become more empathetic and less judgmental.
Perhaps the great English critic and novelist C.S. Lewis, known for having penned The Chronicles of Narnia, expressed it best when he wrote, “Five senses, an incurably abstract intellect, a haphazardly selective memory, a set of pre-conceptions and assumptions so numerous that I can never examine more than minority of them — never become conscious of them all.
“How much of total reality can such an apparatus let through?”
Everyone’s perception is unique.
Don’t become too invested in your own viewpoint or anyone else’s for that matter.
Take the time to ask yourself, “Is this real, or just how I need it to be?”
The reward for seeing the big picture will be a clearer vision and a deeper understanding.
Murray Fuhrer is a local self-esteem expert and facilitator. His new book is entitled Extreme Esteem: The Four Factors. For more information on self-esteem, check the Extreme Esteem website at www.extremeesteem.ca