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Perception is NOT Reality

My Grandpa used to say “Don’t believe anything you hear and only half of what you see.” It turns out that’s actually a famous quote. However at the time I didn’t know it and I always think of it as something my Grandpa used to say.

I didn’t understand why you would not believe something you could see with your own eyes. If you can see something, it has to be true. Right?


Things are not always as they appear to be. Everything you experience is clouded by your own perception. You can see something and absolutely swear it’s true. You know that’s the way it is because you saw it.

Our perception, or the way we see something, can decieve us… because we see things through our existing frame of reference.

“Perception: a way of regarding, understanding, or interpreting something; a mental impression.”

“Frame of Reference: a set of criteria or stated values in relation to which measurements or judgments can be made.”

Steven Covey uses an example that describes a man on the subway with his children. The children are a bit rowdy and their father seems unconcerned with how his children’s behavior is affecting other passengers.

You could see this situation and say you know that man is a bad parent because you saw it. You saw that he just let his kids run wild with no regard for the people around them. The story ends with Covey explaining how he discovered this man and his children had just come from the hospital where their mother had just died.

That puts a different spin on it, now doesn’t it?

You might think this could only happen with someone you don’t know. Think though about how these misperceptions are actually more likely to occur with the people you do know. The way you see anyone or anything is already distorted by the “glasses” through which you view life. These glasses are based on your own experiences and your perceptions of those experiences.

Now consider that your view of the people closest to you is based on many experiences with them over the years. Imagine if, for each and every one of those experiences, your perception is just a little skewed from what is really going on “in their shoes”. You form opinions about what kind of person they are on the inside and what their motivation is. However, as it turns out, those opinions are sometimes based on flawed interpretations of their actions.

Have you ever had a misunderstanding with someone in your life? I’m going to guess the answer is yes, because we all have misunderstandings. Even when you explain yourself, the explanation is perceived through the “glasses” of the other person… and they still might not understand. The words you string together mean one thing in your mind and something different in the mind of another. It happens all the time. It probably happens much more than you realize.

You can never be sure what piece of the puzzle you are missing. There is no way for you to know what is motivating another person. There is no way for you to truly understand someone else because there is no way for you to walk in their shoes.

Our experiences shape the way we see the world and everyone, even members of the same family, have a different experience. Some differences are small and some are giant.

We are each born into the world into our specific family, in a specific part of the world, during a specific time, with a particular culture and traditions. All of these aspects vary throughout the world and throughout time, even within the same family.

The society, family, culture and tradition we are born into shape the way we interact with others, our religion, our spirituality, the way we celebrate holidays, the way we think and even the way we feel about ourselves.

From the moment we are born, we start to experience a framework that influences the way we see the world. This framework creates instant perceptions, possibilities and limitations for us.

Then we experience life and with every experience our frame of reference and the way we see the world is being influenced.

Even when we question components of the framework, we are still questioning them from within the framework itself… We have conscious and unconscious biases. So, be careful about jumping to conclusions, even if you believe you are seeing something for exactly what it is.

How can we see the world for what it truly is? Or can we? Logically, if we all perceive reality in our own way, does anyone see it for what it truly is? And how would we confirm that? I’ll just leave that as a philisophical discussion.

Here are 5 things we can actively do to expand our perception.

  • Question Everything
  • Keep an open mind
  • Learn to think critically
  • Apply logic
  • Expand your frame of reference

Here’s something fun and very eye opening…

The Monkey Business Illusion

Pretty wild right?!

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