Categories
Self-Help

Why Things Are Not Always What They Seem

“Why things are not always what they seem; first appearance deceive many, the intelligence of a few perceive what has been carefully hidden
Phaedrus, c. 444 – 393 BC

The mind is strange in the way that it picks and chooses what it wants to see. The way people let their emotions, conditions, and state of mind guide their perspective ultimately decides who they are as a person “
Maya Reed, 2002 – present

Phaedrus, whose name translates to ‘bright‘ or ‘radiant‘ was an ancient Athenian aristocrat who enjoyed the company of philosophers. Remembered as an especially attractive young man, details in Plato’s writing point to Phaedrus’ interests in mythology, science, and the nature of ‘reality;’ do we see things how they are or only how they seem to us? Is seeing believing? Can we trust our senses? How do we know how something really is?

Mother and Daughter Double Act

Last year, my eldest daughter, Maya, asked herself these questions in a paper she wrote for her AP Seminar (Advanced Placement) class. I published her essay in my book because Maya captured in a very eloquent and poetic manner the notion that ‘Why things are not always what they seem’ better than I could have myself.

The view from my window – by Maya Reed.

No matter a person’s race, gender, status, or health, everyone has a window that acts as their unique glimpse into the world. However, this window varies greatly from person to person, and any aspect about someone can determine what he or she sees out of it. The view from these windows are in a constant state of change and can be altered by something as substantial as how we are raised or our lifestyle, to something as trivial as how we are feeling on a particular day. When looking out of this figurative window, things such as the time of day can reflect a specific state of mind.

In times of happiness, the beauty of the world hits me like a truck. This is when I look out my window and see a bright sunrise marking the dawn of a new day. As the sun makes it steady ascent, it brings the excitement of new possibilities with it. Light bursts forth from the horizon in an onslaught of colors, forcing the darkness into a hasty retreat. In these moments, everything is picture perfect and it only magnifies with the growing light – the world radiates alacrity.

The sky is painted in stunning streaks of red, pink, purple, and blue, and the birds sing their delight to the heavens. With sunlight already streaming through the window, my eyes turn to a world blanketed in tranquility. Leaves dances in the wind, taking my mind with them. People amble down the street, content clear on their faces. I see a couple as they walk by my window. They stroll hand in hand, simply appreciating each other’s touch. Birds soar through the sky with effortless grace, trees sway gently in the wind, and everything is infinitely beautiful.

I can see all the wonder the world has to offer. Somewhere, in the distance, a newborn takes its first breath. Elsewhere, jobs are being offered, vows are taken, homes are found, love is declared, sickness is overcome, and countless more bring a smile to my face. It is as if the sun’s rays illuminate anything and everything worthwhile and lifts them up on a shining pedestal. In this merry state of mind, negativity is easily overpowered, but the light that ensures this sanctuary is not constant.

Light brings wonder to people’s lives, but it is not possible for light to exist without the darkness. I once again find myself taking a moment to properly look out my window. However, after a long and strenuous day, the sunset is upon me, and as I watch, the sun is slowly but surely beat back under the horizon. My eyes scan what’s below me and a vague familiarity resides beneath the layers of dense darkness, but my optimism died with the sun.

The light is gone, and with it, the happiness it brought. Now, all the wrongs the light refused to expose become painfully clear. In my mind’s somber restlessness, the shadows jump out with murderous intent, and the darkness is suffocating. The same couple walks past my window, but this time I notice the strange tightness in which he grips her hand, and her refusal to look him in the eye. The amblers’ steps are reduced to depressed plodding, and even the breeze seems to whisper threats. It soon becomes achingly clear that the songbirds fled long ago, and the silence they leave behind is defeating .

The glass is the only thing that separates me from the world where evil lurks around every corner, but the darkness threatens to break the seal. In an instant the darkness thickens, and every shadowed window hides a depressed, overworked child. It is far too easy to notice that every second, a driver’s mistake becomes a death sentence, tears run like rivers, blood taints the soil, someone takes the fatal jump, maledictions are hurled at one another, lives are shattered, and the savage reality of this world cracks down like a whip. In the same way the light blinded me to anything I didn’t’ want to see, the darkness is enough to suppress everything worth seeing.

The mind is strange in the way that it picks and chooses what it wants to see in the world. Some days it will go through the terrifying, disheartening, and even confusing process of freezing to gawk at the shadows. Other days it will inexplicably decide to turn its back to what lies in the darkness and instead ogle at the brilliance of the sun. In fact, the true nature of the world is rarely seen. Constantly fluctuating emotions act as lenses for our window. They can taint, brighten, dull, enhance, blind, illuminate and change the view of different surroundings. The way people let their emotions, conditions, and state of mind guide their perspective ultimately decides who they are as a person.”

Perceptions

Phaedrus’ quote and Maya’s essay both make interesting and similar observations. Perception creates our experience of the world but every person perceives the world and approaches life problems differently. Perception is important, and largely in our control, I hope that you will question yours!

Joanne Reed – Author of ‘This Is Your Quest”


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For more on this subject you can purchase my book This is Your Quest online at BookLocker, from Amazon or from Barnes & Noble.  The Ebook version is available on Amazon (Kindle), Barnes & Noble (Nook), Apple (iBooks) & Kobo. Check out my Amazon Author Page here or my listing on Booksradar.com.

Categories
Self-Help

Understanding The Psychology of Willful Blindness

The very fact that willful blindness is willed makes it interesting to understand the psychology of willful blindness.

20/20 vision is a term used to express normal visual acuity (the clarity or sharpness of vision) measured at a distance of 20 feet. Visual acuity is measured by your ability to identify letters or numbers on a standardized eye chart from a given distance. About 35% of the adult population have 20/20 vision and can see clearly without glasses, contact lenses or corrective surgery.  

Check your Vision and Perception of Reality

Vision is a broader term than visual acuity or eyesight, in addition to sharpness of sight or simply a description of the ability to see, the term ‘vision’ usually includes a wider range of visual abilities and skills which include contrast sensitivity, the ability to track moving objects, color vision, depth perception, focusing speed and so on.

Our eyes can be tested, and corrected if required, which tends to make us think that our view of things reflects an objective reality, but this is often not the case. What we perceive as an ‘objectiveperception of reality is actually a creation of our own minds, a figment of our imagination, an image we have created, and our perceptions can be wrong.

The problem is that once we have created our perception of reality we don’t like to see it proven wrong and will perform all kinds of mental gymnastics to demonstrate that we are right. Even the most objectively testable ideas can be right and wrong at the same time (according to our own personal perceptions) and can co-exist until such a time as they must be tested.

I thought about this concept of being simultaneously right and wrong while I was in Madrid last week, exploring the city with my youngest daughter Alizé. Alizé was my navigator and her mission was to guide us from El Retiro Park back to the city center. Once we’d walked further than I’d expected and noticed her confidence started to wane, I dropped some subtle hints that maybe we were going the wrong way. Alizé insisted she was right but, looking at the map, I realized that we’d gone in the totally opposite direction!

Having pointed out my daughter’s navigational errors, did she willingly change her mind to match my perception? No, she took offense that I questioned her map reading skills!

My critique was delivered in the calmest and most nonchalant of ways. I was not angry, I was not worried about being lost, nor were we expected anywhere, so everything was just fine. Using the map as an objective test of reality I eventually proved to my lovely daughter that we were indeed in the wrong place. Once her perception had been shattered, she resigned her position with immediate effect and said in a very theatrical manner, “Who needs a map anyway? This map is stupid. I can find our way back just using my intuition!

We’re lost! What do you mean lost?

I burst out laughing, proven wrong and pushed in a corner with no way out, my daughter’s reaction was to crack a joke and be flamboyant!

Willful Blindness

Willful blindness’ is the scientific term for ignoring the obvious.  Psychologist, author, CEO and part-time lecturer Margaret Heffernan explains the psychology of willful blindness in her book, Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at our Peril:’

“The psychology of willful blindness is a human phenomenon to which we all succumb in matters little and large. We can’t notice and know everything. So, this means that we train our brain to filter or edit the information we want to let in. Consequently, what we choose to let out is crucial. The tendency is for us to let in information that makes us feel good about ourselves, whilst conveniently filtering out whatever unsettles our fragile ego and most vital beliefs. Fear of conflicts and fear of change keep us that way. The problem with this is that everything outside that warm, safe circle is in our blind spot, making us willfully blind!”

Physician Robert Burton who also authored ‘Believing You Are Right Even When You’re Not’ and ‘A Skeptic’s Guide to the Mind: What Neuroscience Can and Cannot Tell Us About Ourselves’ has studied why our brains tend to reject information that challenges our worldview or broadens our outlook; he illustrates his findings with a beautiful analogy:

“Imagine the gradual formation of a riverbed. The initial flow of water might be completely random. There are no preferred routes in the beginning. But once a creek is formed, water is more likely to follow this newly created path of least resistance. As the water continue, the creek deepens, and a river develops. Over the course of our lives, our accumulation of experiences, relationships, and ideas shapes the proverbial riverbed of the mind and the water begins to flow with less and less resistance, which in turns produces a sense of certainty and ease that only deepens the riverbed.

Our minds have ‘riverbeds,’ channels through which we see things because that’s how we’ve always seen things, anything outside those channels are filtered out.

The good news is that willful blindness or ‘channel-thinking’ isn’t a fatal diagnosis of the human condition. Margaret Heffernan also explains:

Willful blindness may be our natural evolutionary cultivated tendency, but the plasticity and responsiveness of our minds is what makes each of us most remarkable and our capability to change can never be underestimated.”

Conclusion

Understanding the psychology of willful blindness and that our perceptions are not objective reality is important for many reasons. For instance, the world is full of conflict from nations at war, to couples fighting over who does more chores, to children fighting over a toy, or map reading in Madrid. These conflicts often occur in part because we think that we are right and that the person we are disagreeing with is wrong. But the truth is that we both are seeing our own biased perceptions of things. The other side has a different perception of how things are, but that does not mean they are wrong.

Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to see more clearly, be aware of your own misperceptions, and most importantly keep a sense of humor and grace whether you ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ or both.


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For more on this subject you can purchase my book This is Your Quest online at BookLocker, from Amazon or from Barnes & Noble.  The Ebook version is available on Amazon (Kindle), Barnes & Noble (Nook), Apple (iBooks) & Kobo. Check out my Amazon Author Page here or my listing on Booksradar.com.