Some years ago, my wife made me a needlepoint based on a quotation from Steven Covey paraphrasing Anais Nin. The message on the beautiful needlepoint is “We see the world not as it is, but as we are.”
I have believed for many years now that what goes on inside my brain has more to do with how I perceive the world than does what comes through my eyes, ears and all my other senses. Each person’s interpretation of the world and their place in it is determined primarily by a personal interpretation of the meaning of what they sense. What goes on inside my brain has more impact on my perceptions than what is going on externally in the physical world. What smells good to me may be unpleasant for you and the music I like be just loud noise or may not be your preferred kind of music. Operatic music is pleasant or unpleasant based on perceptions of those who listen.
There is an activity that provides for an evening of reminisces and allows an opportunity to learn how different are our perceptions of life. As a couple or a family, have each person make a list of the ten most enjoyable things they have done together. Each person needs to be in a separate room when they make their list.. Set a timer for 10 to 15 minutes and when the alarm rings come together and share lists. If you are like most couples or families, you will have only 5 or 6 items in common. Then take time to discuss the items on lists and to listen to what is remembered about the event by each person.
Perhaps you have read the poem regarding the blind men and the elephant and how each man describes the elephant based on the part of the elephant he touches. The man who touches the tail believes the elephant is like a snake, the one that touches the side believes the elephant is like a wall, the one that touches the ear believes the elephant is like a fan and so on.
(The Blind Men and the Elephant-John Godfrey Saxe, 1816-1887.)
So many religions have included this story into their parables and lessons about differences in perception. The final lines in Saxe’s poem is:
So oft in theological wars
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Or what each other mean,
And prate about an elephant
Not one of them has seen!
In our daily journeys, there is great value in listening to each other and the perceptions of each of us. We share what we see and experience as we see and experience it and others do the same from their point of view. In this way, we expand our understanding of the situation and of each other.
Currently in Michigan the weather is often below zero and that is fine. Such is not the case for my friends who gravitate to warmer climates, because what they see and experience when temperatures drop is not at all fine. In fact, from their point of view, winter is a time of intolerable cold with icy roads and big energy bills. “We see the world not as it is, but as we are.”
There is great value when we talk and share our perceptions of a problem, an event, or even solutions to problems we face. It is when we listen to each other that we begin to see the world, not as it is, but as each of us perceives it is. When that happens, we open ourselves up to new thoughts and perspectives. We allow our thoughts to expand to let others truly in and we create new perspectives in the process. It was the cartoon character Pogo who wisely observed ‘We have met the enemy and he is us.” Such will always be the case as long as we believe only our own perceptions and feelings are the correct ones.
Listening is the means by which we indicate our love and caring for each other, trying to understand before we take issue or disagree. When listening takes place primarily to hear and understand and not to criticize or disagree or interrupt, we have confirmed our love and caring. It is why prayer works. People talk to their God and there is no interrupting, criticizing, advice giving or disagreement. God just listens! So often, once people have been able to verbalize their feelings and perspectives, they feel a great sense of peace and relief.
To have our perspective heard and considered brings peace and love and satisfaction.
The needlepoint still hangs right over my head when I lay down for the night and I look at it nightly and try very hard to remember the great lesson, ‘We see the world not as it is, but as we are. “