'We don’t see things as they are, but rather as we are.’ (Anais Nin)
I’m fascinated by how we construct reality. We interpret experiences then filter and form our perceptions of future experiences based on those interpretations. This is meaning-making in action. It’s a social as well as personal process; our meanings are shaped by others as well as ourselves.
The challenge lies in distinguishing between subjective and objective reality. If I imagine my subjective constructs are a true and accurate perception of reality as is, a whole and definitive view of who I am, who you are and how things are, I risk closed-mindedness and all kinds of delusions.
This calls for openness, humility and an ongoing willingness to challenge my own beliefs and perspectives and to invite challenge from others. (At one level, this blog itself represents such an invitation; an open space to share and receive insights and ideas between people).
How I perceive reality, what sense I make of it, what beliefs I form about it, what conclusions I draw don’t only shape my thinking. They also influence how I feel and how I behave, how I approach new situations and other people, what decisions I make about how to live my own life, how I influence other people.
‘The key determining factors in how we feel from moment to moment are the pictures we make in our imagination and the way we talk to ourselves in our head. We refer to these images and sounds as internal representations, and they are just that – representations of reality, not reality itself.
‘Your internal representations of reality are unique to you – your own personal way of perceiving the world. They are your own map of the world but, as with any map, they are incomplete and filled with generalisations, deletions and distortions.
‘This is the reason why two people can witness the exact same event and yet experience it completely differently. In the words of the father of modern linguistics, Count Alfred Korzybski, ‘the map is not the territory’. (Paul McKenna)
I feel challenged, released and inspired by this viewpoint as a Christian. I hold certain beliefs with deep conviction and yet if I superimpose my own constructs onto God, I risk creating an image of God, a fixed view of him, constrained by the limits of my own experience, interpretation and imagination.
It applies to my relationships with other people too. If I superimpose my own assumptions and perspectives, like a person holding a projector that projects images onto the other, I will never meet the other person for who they truly are or recognise and release them to be all they are and can be.
Nick Wright is a coach and consultant, specialising in reflective practice.