How clearly are we really seeing things for what they are? And how often is our sight obstructed by something and we never even acknowledge that what we see and perceive isn’t all that’s really there? Yet “Perception is reality” is the truth by which we live. Stop and think about the power this “truth” holds. If we all perceive life in different ways, then which one of us is right? And how do we ever determine what is actually real? Yet perceptions – right or wrong – affect the way you feel, which affect the way you act, and consequently the way you treat others. Basically perceptions alter the way you live out your whole life. This may not be a bad thing if your perception is a positive one. Even if it’s incorrect, to perceive events in a positive, grace-filled, and optimistic way rarely does damage. On the contrary, it can bring about healing and the restoration of love and kindness in relationships. More often, however, it’s the negative misperceptions that we buy into. Without argument, we then agree with the lies, and hold onto them, more tightly and determinedly as we pick up speed on that spiral towards brokenness and pain.
You’ve probably seen examples as I have. A brother’s misperception of words or actions can destroy lives and tear families apart. A Christian’s misperception about the word of God can spread intolerance, and hate, and actually turn people from God. The list goes on and on. But that’s not even what I find the most troubling. The worst part is not the harm that misperceptions inflict, it’s that they make people feel completely justified in their unkind, hate-filled, and ungodly actions.
If our negative perception is not actually reality, we may be needlessly harboring anger and pain in our heart. (Not a great way to feel.) By accepting a negative perception as a definitive truth, our actions towards others flow from a place of anger and bitterness, which not only spreads the anger and pain to others, but naturally leads to more and more broken relationships.
What a devastating domino effect. And most the time we don’t really even realize it’s happening. Negative perceptions can not only be deceptive, but sneaky, creeping in unnoticed and taking root. Like a weed, they steal from us things vital our well-being, and they eventually choke out every ounce of peace and our very contentment with life. And that’s why I call it a War. The course of our lives, and the course of the lives around us, are all at stake. So I’ve come to realize it’s time we really make an intentional effort to more closely examine our perceptions, and make a much more thought-out and careful distinction between what’s only perceived, and what’s actually real.
We all have a filter through which every life event is processed, and internalized. Your filter might be “fear of being judged” or “fear of you or your child being rejected”, or “fear of not measuring up”. I am reminded of an app my kids play with on my phone called Voice Changer. It alters their voice into all kinds of different sounding, hard to decipher, voices. So it’s up to the listener’s brain (and filter) to fill in the blanks to determine the real message.
So how do we know if our “filter” has changed the message from what was actually said to what we fear might be said? And by what tool do we measure our perception against reality?
We put our perceptions on trial. Particularly the ones that hurt us. We challenge them, we don’t lie down and accept them. We don’t allow our initial negative emotion be the final verdict. Our initial emotional response to an event is somewhat instinctive. We don’t always consciously chose it. But what we do after that is what’s really important. Gather the evidence. Challenge the accuser in your head. I truly believe in the image of the devil and angel on the shoulder, and know that sometimes I have to be intentional listen to the right one, because the little devil is often so loud in proclaiming his lies that it’s hard to hear the truth above it.
And sadly, tuning out the right voice and hearing only the wrong one gets easier with practice, until we barely recognize there’s even a good voice there at all anymore. So perhaps the scariest thing about adopting an incorrect negative perception is this: The way we perceive reality can become a pattern. Then a habit. And then, part of who we are.
So the next time we feel offended or hurt by someone, we should make an effort to stop the negative spiral before it even starts. We should put our perception on trial. We should be careful not to confuse our initial emotion with the final verdict, skipping the whole trial process. What does that trial process look like? While not a fail-safe formula, it’s at least a start.
Put your Perceptions on Trial:
- Identify the filter through which the event or words had to travel. What fears or memories exist that might affect our perceptions?
- Consider the evidence about the offender: What is their character? What are their past patterns? Have they routinely been thoughtless and mean spirited in the past? Do they have a pattern of hurtful behavior that is an indication that we should terminate a toxic relationship? Or is just the first, or just occasional, bump in the road that comes with all relationships?
- Consider the evidence about ourselves: What is your character, what are your patterns? Have perceptions lead to incorrect conclusions in the past?
- Determine if your response, and your subsequent attitude and behavior is in line with the person you claim to be. How has this perception changed your heart and your treatment of others in a way that is not in line with the character you previously strived to maintain? Is there something within your heart that is damaging to you and needs to change?
Sometimes our perceptions really are right. Even the negative ones. But the danger in shaping our life around an incorrect perception, and the ripple effects to our children and those around us, are far to dangerous to not even question any negativity that comes our way. Maybe my “voice changer”, or the devil on my shoulder, or however you want to look at it, is whispering lies it hopes I will believe, so I am trapped in feelings of anger and misery – right where he wants me. We can’t lie down and accept this misery without a fight. As important as our happiness is, it’s about way more than any temporary good feeling. It’s about our habits and patterns of thinking and feeling. It’s about the foundation on which we build the rest of our lives. Is that not worth a fight? Is that not worth some intentionality in the way we perceive the world? Because truly woe is to come to the person who gets to the end of their life and realizes that the way they perceived life events, their subsequent attitude and state of heart, and ultimately the way they lived and interacted with others, was all based on a lie. And how tragic to let a lie define us.