“There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception.”
— Aldous Huxley, English writer
“That how you see it.”
“That’s how it is,” he replied. “Only a fool would believe otherwise.”
“Then label me a fool,” I said. “I don’t agree with your assertion.”
We each have our perceptions: the way we see the world, the filters through which we experience life. Perceptions can be subjective and are sometimes inaccurate. In order to see the inaccuracies, we need to remove those filters and try to see things more objectively. Removing our personal filters can be a challenge.
Albert Einstein said, “Problems cannot be solved with the same mindset that created them.” The same approach applies to perceptions. In order to understand ourselves, others and the world around us, we need to be able to shift our perceptions. By viewing issues from different angles or employing alternate frames of reference, possibilities for discovery arise.
Most of us are stuck firmly in the deep ruts of our perceptions and it usually takes something substantial or traumatic to wedge us free. Even then many of us will quickly retreat to familiar ground rather than consider alternatives points of view. Admittedly, being able to see something through the eyes of another takes practice. I know it was a shock the first time someone challenged my perception. I recall it was my mother demanding I clean my room when I’d already spent half an hour making it perfect — at least from where I stood in the doorway.
Over the years, many of my views have been met with opposition. I haven’t always shifted my view but I have learned to listen and consider the possibility of another vantage point. That said, here are some strategies that I’ve adopted that may also prove effective for you.
Ask questions, respectfully. If you want to know why others see the world in a certain way, ask them why. Chances are, they’ll share an experience or two with you that has helped to forge their outlook. If you can be respectful in phrasing and tone, you’ll be more likely to get honest answers than if you challenge them to defend their opinions against yours.
Some people love to debate. I have learned that if you want to understand another perspective — and notice I said understand — it’s best to resist the urge to argue. Instead, paraphrase and repeat back what you’ve heard so you know whether you understand the point as it was intended. Be a good listener first, and then ask for the chance to express your side of things.
Here’s a simple little exercise that I learned in a self-esteem workshop. Choose a common item in the room where you now reside. It can be a lamp, a coffee table, a comfy chair — you name it. Look at the object in the manner you normally would and just bring awareness to any impressions that come immediately to mind. Now move to a different position in the room and look again. Stand farther away or get right up close. If you can, pick up the object and turn it around or upside down. Let go of judgements. Buddhists call this technique seeing the world through beginner’s eyes. Use the same technique with perceptions and value judgements. I have often written about The Work of Byron Katie Mitchell. I use The Work frequently in my practice to shift perceptions and challenge uninvestigated thoughts. To give you a little background, Katie — while living in a halfway house for women with eating disorders — experienced a life-changing realization. “I discovered that when I believed my thoughts, I suffered, but that when I didn’t believe them, I didn’t suffer and that this is true for every human being.”
Katie has often declared that suffering is optional. Katie’s method for shifting perspectives is simple: four questions and a turnaround. Is it true? Can you absolutely know it’s true? Who would you be without that thought? How do you react when you believe that thought?
The turnarounds are opportunities to consider the opposite of what you believe to be true. Though absolutely useful for self-assessment, I still recommend having someone trained in the process take you through it. To learn more about The Work, visit www.thework.com.
Of course, if I really want to shift my perspective and bring everything back down to earth, I look at The Pale Blue Dot — the photograph of the planet Earth taken in 1990 by the Voyager 1 space probe from a distance of approximately 6 billion kilometers. In the photograph, the Earth is shown as a tiny, barely discernible dot — a faint blue flicker in the great expanse of space.
And I might also read the words of American astronomer, astrophysicist, cosmologist and author, Carl Sagan. It was Sagan who had requested NASA turn the camera on the Voyager 1 space probe around and take a photograph of Earth from the nearly unimaginable distance.
“Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
“It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”
Take time to ponder your perceptions and question their origins. Ask the good and hard questions and be willing to challenge every assertion — especially your own.
Murray Fuhrer is a 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.