Perception Checking

We think we see the world as it is. But we actually see it through our limited perceptions and stories we construct to explain it. We develop narratives about who we are, who other people are, and what events and communication mean. We’re on a constant quest to explain things to ourselves. Each of us was raised differently, had vastly different experiences, came from different cultures and were exposed to different kinds of information, so we all created our thinking patterns separately and distinctly. No wonder we have such a hard time understanding each other. “How could you POSSIBLY think THAT!?” we often ask. We forget we have limited perceptions, and over-trust our impressions. Even the Bible points this out, saying we only see as if looking at a reflection and knowing in part.* That is why ten people can witness a crime and all report a different story. It’s also why ten million people can watch the same television event and all have a distinct experience. It helps if we break down the process into a simple model: We are stimulated through our senses. What we observe (notice) is selectively based on what grabs our attention, meets a need, or is enjoyable. We then organize what we have sensed into thinking structures that make sense to us. Swiss developmental psychologist, Jean Piaget, called these knowledge or mental schemata that we developed from our unique experiences and what sociologists, Berger and Luckmann, called social construction.** After that we interpret; we assign meaning to what we sensed.  We confuse these stages, especially observation and interpretation. I understand how challenging this can be, especially in relationships. I have a good friend who is very different than me. We see the world in vastly different ways, and we...

Just Get Along

“Can’t we all get along?” is a famous quote by Rodney King, a black man whose brutal beating by Los Angeles police during racial riots in 1992 was captured on video and spread around the world. Almost 2000 years earlier, the Apostle Paul wrote the same message to Christ-followers in the Greek city of Corinth: “You must get along with each other. You must learn to be considerate of one another, cultivating a life in common.”* Oh how easy it is to say. Oh how hard it is to practice. We get all worked up and fight to defend our position. Whether it’s Jews and Arabs, people in your workplace, or relationships in your family, people get so worked up and choose being right over being loving. It sucks. It stinks. It’s a terrible way to live. Here are some things that help give perspective: We all have limited perception. We perceive through our senses, but we can never get an accurate view of the whole story. We only see slices of reality—the ones we consciously pay attention to. We make judgment calls based on our limited experiences, culture and personality. These are always, by nature, tainted. We construct narratives in an effort to explain situations and the behavior of others. We engage in what academics call fantasy themes when we share those same narratives with others. Right or wrong, accurate or not, we collectively believe certain stories that cause us to pursue particular actions. We follow our fantasies. We commit to actions that end up rarely solving anything. All that’s left are broken relationships. It sucks. It stinks. It’s a terrible way to live. I have been involved in several of these “situations” in the past few years. We did not get along. We chose...