Leah Lair Conner
Perception is Reality
We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are. -Anais Nin
Back in my early twenties, I had a boss who would constantly walk around our cubicles reminding us, in a very whiny, annoying voice, “perception is reality, people!” It wasn’t delivered as a positive mantra, but rather a way to keep us in check. That same boss would also say, just as often, “I’ll give you just enough rope to hang yourselves.” Yes, she was a peach. While her salty sayings were always downers in the workplace, that one about perception always made me think. It IS true, because, like the quote by Anais Nin says, we see through our own lens, and each of us has a different one.
Whether we like to admit it or not, we do judge books by their covers, wines by their labels, and people by first impressions. At least everyone I know does, if they’re honest with themselves. And these are perfect examples of how we all see things so differently, because everyone isn’t drawn to the same covers, labels, or people. I remember the first time I met Chaney (real name, because she knows the story!). I saw her as rude and snobby, and someone I had no desire to spend time with. I literally didn’t care if I ever spent another minute in her presence. Fast forward to now, and she has been one of my dearest friends for going on fifteen years! My initial judgment/perception of her was so terribly off, but it was my reality at that time. It had nothing to do with her or who she REALLY is or how anyone else sees her. It wasn’t about her. It was about me.
Too often, we don’t take responsibility or even take notice of how we perceive others or situations, and how those perceptions are entirely about US. We just process feelings and/or beliefs and accept them as truths. What if we paid a little more attention, especially when it comes to our fellow humans? As Abraham Lincoln said, “I do not like that man. I need to get to know him better.” Thank God I did that with Chaney! I can’t imagine my life without her. Instead of dismissing a person that we disagree with or find “unworthy” of our attention, for whatever reason, what if we, instead, examine why we see them as we do, and figure out what it is, personally, that creates the perception? Because it’s not about THEM. It’s about US, as individuals.
I can recall another time that I judged a person pretty harshly, and I’m sad to say that it was entirely because I thought I was better than her, that she just wasn’t really good enough for my attention. That’s not really an easy thing to admit, but again, I feel like we’ve all been guilty of this, if we’re honest. I just sort of brushed this girl off, even though she clearly wanted to be friends. One day, she tagged me in a comment on Facebook. She was responding to someone’s post about commenting on someone you really respect/admire/etc. I was blown away, and I immediately felt so much shame and guilt for how I’d treated her and judged her. I also immediately knew that the problem had been ME all along. Here she was, touting my good qualities, publicly, and I’d thought SHE wasn’t good enough to be MY friend. How absolutely awful of me! The next time I saw her, I saw her SO differently, because I’d changed my own lens. She was the same person she’d always been, but I’d examined myself and my view of her, so for me, she’d changed. To this day, she and I still have lunch dates from time to time, and she is a truly lovely friend.
Think of someone in your life, currently or in the past, that you see through a negative lens. Maybe this person just rubs you the wrong way or just gives you a weird vibe or has a different life view? It’s likely that it won’t take you long to bring someone to mind. We all have several, even if they’re public figures that we may not actually KNOW, but we still consider to be part of our lives and about whom we have opinions. Examine your perceptions of that person. Give yourself time to actually consider why it is you don’t care for them. Write it down if you want, especially if there are multiple things to address. Now consider that each of those things may be qualities to examine in yourself, that the lens may need to be focused inward, because no matter what, you ARE NOT seeing them as they are. You’re seeing them as YOU are.
A note: I do recognize that toxic people exist, and that’s another blog, entirely. There is value, though, even in examining the qualities that cause you to view a person as toxic. Doing this exercise DOES NOT mean you have to change the way you see everyone and find a way to be friends with everyone. Its purpose is to encourage self-examination. Sometimes, it does lead to changes in relationships, as it did in my shared stories above, but I have stories, too, that go the other way (again – the exercise was still helpful).