Perception is the way we see and view everything around us. It is often mistaken for fact, for truth, for reality. This is true for how we see an object’s placement in a room all the way through projecting our stories onto other people.
When quantum physicists asked people to pinpoint exactly where a chair was, people’s locations were different by as much as a quarter-inch. This was when people were in the room with the chair, and could touch it as they marked its spot on the floor. It’s pretty mind-blowing to think that something we take for granted, such as the location of a chair, can be different to different people even when the chair has not moved.
Perception also affects how we see events. Even people who are trained to see things as objectively as possible, such as police officers, can have large discrepancies in their descriptions of events. One person might see a coat as red, whereas another person didn’t even see a coat. This discrepancy in the reporting of events is a natural human trait. There are even trainings to help people see events more objectively by using art and eliminating use of the words clearly and obviously.
Because what’s clear and obvious to me may be totally invisible to you.
Even if you’re not participating in a study by quantum physicists or in a line of work where your job is to be objective, you can open up your perception.
I remember one day being stopped at a stoplight. It was a warm summer evening, so there were lots of people out enjoying the night. I saw a woman walking with a young child and the child had stopped on the sidewalk to examine something. Then further behind I saw an older gentleman watching them, as well. Immediately my mind concocted a story around this whole scene, all of which took me seconds to observe and create.
My story was that it was a mother and child on their way home from a quick errand and that the older gentleman was sad because he was separated from his family, either by distance or disagreement. It was heart-warming watching the mother and daughter, then sad watching the man. This is the story I created in an instant because I was missing my own children.
Who knows if the story I made up even had any truth to it? It was simply my perception of what I saw that created the story. Your perception of the exact same scene could have created a similar or wildly different story.
Both edges of the sword
The up-side to individual perception is that it allows us to have empathy for others. The story it creates helps our memories work better. It really is human nature, and not something to be fixed.
The down-side to this same perception is that we can sometimes react in inappropriate ways, based on the story we create. Or it can lead us to judge something that isn’t even there. This is where we get into trouble.
When we fill in the blanks without any real knowledge, it’s like living in a mad-lib. Insert adjective here, noun there, and what you end up with is a story that makes very little sense. You recognize the words, but there’s no flow to it. No rhyme or reason. And this is what we unconsciously do throughout the day.
But what happens when you recognize that your insta-story, your perception, is just a story? You find yourself with a lot less stress and anxiety because you’re not basing your reactions and decisions on the stories. The stories still happen, but you know that’s just what they are and that you don’t really know the truth. And that’s ok. You end up carrying a lot less emotional baggage around, which makes you happier and more open to seeing the good in everyone.
And when you can do that, it’s beautiful.