This week I’ve run across the topic of “reality” vs. “people’s personal perceptions” of things in multiple places. It is truly a fascinating topic. A frustrating and confusing topic, but fascinating.
One place I saw this message was in the Kindle version of the old book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. (I hadn’t used the Kindle app in a while but decided it might be nice to have a book going on my phone. I stumbled across the free version of this book and I’d never read it, despite having heard about it many times.)
In the very beginning, the author talks about how we all have “maps” in our heads that determine how we interpret a situation. Importantly, he mentions that we need to keep in mind that a MAP does not equal the actual TERRITORY, though. If we have the map for Detroit, but we’re actually in Chicago, the map is pretty useless. We have to be careful when it comes to always just blindly trusting these maps.
Our maps (aka “assumptions”) have been developed over time, depending on our family, school, church, friends, social situations, education, etc. He says that the maps evolve over time, making a “silent unconscious impact” on us- ultimately helping to “shape our frame of reference”.
Here is a little screenshot:
The chapter continues, and there is a picture of this young woman on the page:
Now, we’ve probably all done this exercise at some point, but I think it’s pretty powerful.
You then turn the page, and he asks you study this picture:
As you probably know, this is a trick photo. At first, I clearly saw the young woman with the dark hair, probably because I just looked at the young woman with the white bonnet above. But then he asks the reader to find the old woman in the same photo. See her huge nose and the shawl over her head? Once I saw her, I actually had a hard time going back to seeing the young woman. It’s a total mind game.
I think this is such a great example of how people can literally be looking at the same, exact situation, and see completely different things. Half of the world might insist this a photo of a young woman, while the other half might say it’s clearly an old woman. Who is right? Who is wrong??
This message is so relevant especially in today’s world. So often you see so many people who are convinced that “they know the answer” or “their way is the right way”. It exhausts me. We all do it- I am as guilty as the next person, because I, too, have maps in my head and naturally view things from my perspective.
I do think I’m maybe at least more aware of this phenomenon than the average person, maybe because I read a lot of social science stuff? I don’t know. I’m slow to engage in political/ controversial arguments, and I commonly feel like my answer is, “I need more information” or “I don’t really know”. I generally feel acutely aware that there many complex sides to any story. I have a strong distaste for people who lean very, very hard one way, all the time, on everything, because it seems very illogical to me. Life is just so much more complex than that. There can’t possibly be “one way”, all the time.
Recently I listened to a podcast (I cannot for the life of me remember which one, or I’d link it) that was talking about differing viewpoints. Most of the episode talked about how to calmly engage with people who don’t agree with you on something. (This wasn’t specifically political- just about dealing with general disagreements.) I was SO DISAPPOINTED that most of the interview focused solely on “how to gently make the other person agree with you and see your point of view”. WHY?! Why is there, again, this assumption that you are automatically 100% correct and it’s the other person who must always need the convincing? I was really hoping there would be more discussion on how to encourage active listening, question asking and deep thought on both sides, with an end goal of both people learning from the other. Maybe it’s you (or me!) who needs enlightening! 🙂
Anyway, I also ran across these relevant quotes this week:
Where we stand depends on where we sit.
We do not see things as they are, we see things as we are.
Deep thoughts for a sleepy Thursday over here. Yawn. I’d be really happy to just have a lazy day off today- I’m tired! But, I don’t. So, I’d better run. Have a great day!
I am grateful for school bus drivers.
15 thoughts on “Our brains + skewed realities”
This is so thought provoking. So much is a matter of perception. My daughter was recently really upset about something that happened at school, so upset that I mentioned it to her teacher… and her teacher told me her own account of what had happened, and it was so different from my daughter’s view!
And of course there is the political manifestation of this. I agree with you, and try very hard to be curious and open rather than feeling I’m the one in possession of The Right Answer. (Although sometimes I admit I do react, internally, with something akin to “HOW can you, an intelligent thoughtful person, BELIEVE such bunk?!”) It amazes and disheartens me to see so many people — including people I love — who are more concerned with being right than with understanding other opinions.
Oh, there is no place you see this more than when you get reports of stuff that happened at school!! yes, absolutely. We’ve had this happen too, where the teacher’s report is drastically different from what my child says. It’s complicated!!
LikeLiked by 1 person
So relevant to what has been churning in my own mind lately. Perception (or the stories I tell myself) can have such a huge impact on how we process the world, the decisions we make etc.
Lots to ponder here!!
Yes, I wasn’t even thinking about the stories we tell ourselves, really- that’s a whole other side to it all! A big impact indeed.
fully agree!!! the older i get, the clearer I see that I’m not always right. i might be right from my perspective but the other person might be just as well right from his perspective. it’s quite liberating this fact because then we don’t need to win an argument because we think we are superior, but rather we learn to put into their shoes and understand their perspective more easily, and settle in disagreeing. I know many don’t do this exercise and that’s fine. Not everyone is reflective nor want to be a better person when ageing.
world is full of diversity and it’s beautiful that way in a big way. 🙂
I’ve seen you make mention of this in your posts, and I like that about you! You seem open to considering other viewpoints, and that’s awesome. 🙂
Oh Kae, I agree with all of this so hard. And the idea of people who are determined to convince others on their opinion instead of potentially learn from the others… I seem to have had this conversation often lately about various people in different settings.
One is our TV series Rich House Poor House, which used to be a really interesting examination of people from different economic backgrounds, handled very sensitively. Now it’s turned into “rich person with a coaching programme to sell uses the show to promote their business” and it’s ruined the show for me. The odd times we have given these recent episodes a try, I’ve given up a few minutes in when it becomes obvious the wealthy person is planning on “teaching” the poorer family their ways. I just cannot deal with that arrogance. How about going in there humble and seeing what they can learn?! Drives me mad!!
Awww, I’m sorry the show has been a bit ruined for you!! I can totally see how that would be annoying to watch. Especially if they’ve shifted to it being “coaches”- on top of it all, that would some rather ingenuine. 😦
LikeLiked by 1 person
Very good post Kae. Thank you for sharing this.
You’re welcome! Glad you liked it! 🙂
This is a really thought provoking post. It makes me think of a quote I’ve read that often comes up when people write or talk about marriage: “would you rather be right or happy?” I am also not one who likes to debate politics or things like that. I like it less and less as I get older and the world becomes more polarized. I think we have lost the ability to rationally and calmly discuss things. So I really want to set a good example of how to do this for my children, but they won’t see a ton of examples of this outside our home. Although Phil does sometimes debate things in a very calm manner with his friends, but the kids and I are rarely around for those big debates. Phil is particularly good at this kind of thing. He’s good at seeing things from both sides and staying very calm during an argument. He’s witnessed some debates my family’s gatherings and can see why I try to avoid debating things with my family…. it is not calm and rational and things can get heated very quickly so I just avoid confrontation/debate if at all possible!!
Oh yes, it can be soooo hard!! Especially when there are lots of emotions and polarized feelings about things. I think that’s what I was trying to get at in the post, that in many of those cases, you literally CANNOT win, because it’s a situation where people are literally living different realities. You know? Just everything they know is so different from another person, that it can be nearly impossible to even comprehend the other side. And then add in that sometimes, I don’t think there even is one right answer. Many conflicts are so nuanced, so dependent on certain things lining up a certain way in one case, but not in another, etc… just so many variables. That’s part of why I am always so slow to engage. Nothing peeves me more than seeing some random news headline on some big, very complex, latest event, and instantly all these people start commenting and spouting off their opinions as if they were suddenly experts on it!….I always think, wait, we don’t even have the full information yet!! NONE of us were there…can we at least get the whole story and big picture first?? Like I said, I just always feel very aware of the fact that I’m NOT an expert on most things, and I know life is very complicated and things are not always what they seem. So I just really don’t like to jump headfirst into arguments that I can’t possibly know everything about.
I have this conversation with Jon frequently, because there are so many situations that are all about perception. I mean, just because I think the sky is blue does not even mean that you see the same blue that I see. And honestly, just because a lot of people agree on a topic, doesn’t make them right. It just proves that they perceive something the same way – but who’s to say that they’re right? (The picture of the young/old woman is a great example!)
There is also something called “information bias” – have you read about it? The fact that people – everyone of us! – seeks out information that supports our already established views and opinions.
I really often try to see things from someone else’s perspective but it can be a very hard exercise. I still think it’s worthwhile that we try!
This aligns with a post I wrote recently, on how we are bit players in others’ lives, and it’s impossible to know what they think of us, what role we play in their lives, and so on. We are only central to our own story – not anyone else’s. We have maps – but, as you say, we never know what others’ maps (or, in my case, what others’ stories) look like. To me, it highlights the importance of listening to others and trying to learn at least a little bit about how they see the world. I actually do this with my students, asking them what their worldview is, whether they believe there is only one objective truth, or multiple truths, etc. It’s a fascinating exercise!