You're at work. You've just learned that your coworker has just received accolades from your boss, and maybe even a bonus, for a project that was largely your idea and was worked on equally by the two of you. You're incensed! That person stole your idea and the credit along with it! What's going on here? How could this person, who up until now you thought of as one of your closest confidants, betray you and steal your show?
If you asked him or her, she might not know what you're talking about and possibly think you've lost your mind. She might honestly believe the idea and project was her own.
You and your spouse are explaining to friends the events of a party you attended. You soon find yourselves in a heated argument as you interrupt each other to account the way "it really happened." You find yourselves arguing the account of the event. You were both there but it seems you witnessed different events. What's going on here?
The problem, of course, is perception. Everyone’s perception is different.
Perception is how each of us defines our reality. Our perception begins with us and ends with us. We're the center of our own universe. One could say that our individual universes begin deep within our consciousness and expand to include everything; family, home, friends, neighborhood, city, state, country, world, solar system, galaxy, etc.
Everybody and everything else is peripheral to our universe and our reality.
No snowflake, person, or perception is the same. Our perceptions are based upon
our genetic heritage and our experience. We learn very early in life what to attend to and what not to attend to.
We develop selective perception. If we attended to everything, the
theory is that we would overload our minds. Some mental illnesses, in fact, are related to attending to too much and not being able to make sense of all the stimuli.
As we grow up, we learn what's important and what's not. We learn to interpret events and actions the way others in our family would. If we're physically or emotionally abused (hit by a parent and/or yelled at by a parent and blamed for things we can't control) we learn to perceive our abusers and other adults in authority with fear. We go to school already in trouble because we fear our teachers. When our parents have a bad day and blame their feelings on us we come to expect the same from our teachers and other adults in authority.
We learn to become "doormats" and others learn to treat us as doormats. We have trouble detaching from our parents and continue taking their abuse, even as adults. We learn to perceive our reality as negative and as we expect it, we find it.
On the other hand, if our parents show us love and respect and show us that when there is trouble they are there to protect us, we develop an entirely different perception of adults and authority figures. We learn to implicitly trust and respect them and as they respond to us in kind they reflect our feelings back to us. Consequently, we grow up ready to detach from our parents and ready to explore the wonderful world. We learn to perceive our reality as largely positive and find that it's so.
Just as we're more compatible with those who most closely share our views of reality, differences and problems with others are largely due to our differing perceptions of reality. In order to resolve differences, it's helpful to recognize that we are dealing with two unique perceptions of reality. Each view may be correct.
The goal is not to get the person we're having the problem with to see the situation exactly as we do because it's impossible to force someone to see things the same. Not only is it impossible, but they'll resist. A better goal might be to achieve an objective, non-emotional level of communication so that we can analyze the problem from both points of view.
As individuals with our own unique perceptions, we can try to see the problem as the other sees it. If we can, we can decide if we have any interest in changing the part we play in the problem. At the least, we can “agree to disagree.”
It's good to remember that each of us has our own unique perception of reality and, in order to live in peace with each other and continue growing, the long-term goal might be to attempt to see and incorporate as many perceptions of reality into our own as we can. In short, learn to compromise.
If we can get good at this skill, maybe our politicians can, too. ©