Have you ever wondered why other people don’t see things the same way you do? Isn’t it baffling that you don’t necessarily share the same viewpoints or beliefs even when you come from the same family? You absorb and filter information through your own experiences, which affects your viewpoints.
Perceptions of Reality
“Why can’t they just see it my way? The right way?” But what makes you think you’re right—and they’re wrong—to begin with? The scientific explanation comes from cognitive psychology; it’s a mental process known as information processing.
No two people experience life in the exact same way. As a human being, everything you experience comes through sensory perception—through taste, touch, sight, sound, and smell. How you register stimulus from your environment and experiences is the same in terms of the workings of the mind, according to cognitive psychology. However, it’s the experiences you encode and how you filter the information that creates your individuated perception of reality.
From a psychological perspective, you have your own internal set of core values, beliefs, memories, and quality of emotion. With every external event you experience, the information comes in and is filtered through your emotions, memories, beliefs, and values. How you “see” yourself, others, and the world you live in will be flavored by what you’ve experienced or believe to be true. What you don’t realize is that it’s only true for you. There will be an entirely different reality for another person, and another, and so on. In other words, you don’t see things as they are—you see things as you are.
Interpretation of Information
You have a process for filtering information and it may strike you as being odd, to say the least, when others don’t subscribe to the same beliefs, thoughts, and opinions. What if you considered, even for just a moment, that what you are perceiving is only one possibility—and that there are several other ways to interpret a situation?
In every walk of life, you find yourself defending your beliefs, arguing for how you remember something that happened, and positioning yourself to influence others to see things your way. But what if you’re missing the important point that your differences are what make life intriguing? Those differences are what stimulate your mind and emotions. Without differences, life would be dull. There would be no “aha” moments if you knew everything. There would be no inspiration in the form of art, music, poetry, style, or communication. What would there be to aspire to if everyone shared the same religious beliefs, held the same political viewpoints, and favored the same hobbies?
For there to be color, texture, and tone in life, you must experience contrast. The universe is the great balancer. For everything that exists, its opposite must also exist. You’ve been taught to see contrast as conflict and therefore to rally against it, even when it’s in your own mind. There will always be dichotomies—day and night, hot and cold, black and white. Where you get into trouble is when there is a conflict between opposing sides. When you can be in a place of harmony there is no longer a conflict between two sides or two parts and each can rest in equilibrium.
Your friends want to go to the beach and you want to go to the mall. Your peers voted Republican and you’re a Democrat. You’re in support of the LGBTQ community and your family is radically opposed to same sex marriage. You believe in God and your friends are atheists. There are so many examples of how everyone differs from one another and yet, finding a common ground to stand upon where everyone feels heard, each individual’s beliefs are valid, and all viewpoints are recognized is what brings individuals together. It’s what strengthens your bonds, creates deeper connections, and makes you feel seen, heard, valued, and understood.
An Exercise in Being “Right”
Consider a recent interaction or occurrence in your life where you believed you were right and someone else was wrong. Think of something that caused you confusion or upset. Perhaps it’s an argument you had with your spouse, a misunderstanding between you and a family member, or a difference of opinion among friends, coworkers, or peers.
- Without judging or creating a story around it, make some notes about what happened as if you were a bystander reporting the play-by-play of the event.
Next, bring to your awareness what you believe happened and why.
- What created the situation?
- Who was involved?
- What were your internal thoughts while the event was unfolding?
- What was said between you and the other person(s)?
- Notice the emotions you are feeling and the judgments you are having.
- Notice the story you are creating in your mind and how that story spins you into a negative state.
Now, ask yourself why it is that you believe your thoughts, opinions, beliefs, or memories are right, while the other persons are wrong?
- What makes you think you’re right in this situation? Make some notes.
Imagine now that you are the other person.
- What could be your motivation for having said or done what you did?
- What need did you have that you were attempting to have fulfilled?
- What good reason did you have for thinking, saying, believing, or doing what you did?
- See if you can get into the other person’s model of the world to help you understand where they could possibly have been coming from. Notice what comes up.
Now that you’re able to see both sides of this situation, ask yourself the question, “Do I want to be right or do I want to have peace?”
- Notice if you are able to shift your perception of the event or interaction to a more positive place.
- Is your point of view worth fighting for or would you rather move into a space where both people can have their own thoughts and opinions while maintaining harmony?
What action can you take or how can you shift your response in a way that unfolds a higher potential for you and for everyone else involved?
- Take some time to consider this at a deeper level and once you’ve come to your positive conclusion, take positive action.
There will inevitably be times in your life when boundaries may need to be enforced with others and, at the end of the day, you want to feel understood, appreciated, and happy. Learning to honor your viewpoints and beliefs while others have their own is paramount for coexisting and thriving in a world where every individual is perfectly unique.