Monday, August 29, 2011

Perception is Reality

While driving last week, I was listening to a public radio broadcast on debunking conspiracy theories related to 9/11.  The guests pointed out several theories that had been put forward and proceeded to present the information they had uncovered to disprove these ideas.  During the broadcast, listeners repeatedly called in, saying in effect, “I don’t care what your facts are.  There were sinister forces behind the destruction of the World Trade Center and the attack on the Pentagon.”  At the end of the broadcast, the guests had to admit that no matter how much research they did, some would still believe what they wanted to believe.

In recent blogs I have commented on the way we perceive both reality and past events.  Due to our experiences, influences, and training, we have developed certain ways to look at the world.  These filters determine how we observe, process information, see patterns, and draw conclusions.  What are some of these filters?

One is prejudice.  If we feel that our way of life is threatened, especially by those who are not like us, we will see everything that an individual member of that group does as designed to do damage to us and what we hold dear.  We develop and commit to stereotypes that sustain such prejudice.

Another is fear.  Closely related to prejudice (which can grow out of fear), threats to our lives, property, or status can cause us to either withdraw or attack.  Even if the threat is not real, our visceral reaction is the same and we often react irrationally.

A third filter is belief.  If we have constructed a network of beliefs and values with which we are comfortable and help us to make sense of the world, we resist anyone who calls even a small part of these into question.  Usually our systems are so tightly organized that we fear that if even one part is questioned or shown to be wrong, the whole thing will fall apart.

Finally, power is an important filter.  If the way we perceive things gives us power to control or influence, our perspective becomes the tool that assures us that things will be used in the way that furthers our cause.

I realize that we need history, story, myths, mental maps, and worldviews to allow us to function from day to day and give our lives purpose and meaning.  My concern comes when our perception of reality harms others.  Unquestioning commitment to a dysfunctional perspective can lead to division, hatred, and even genocide.  Is it time to ask some questions about the way you perceive reality?

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