“Perception is reality.” How often have we heard or said those words? Is it true?
As an elementary principal, I occasionally hear from an angry parent about an incident that occurred in the classroom or at recess. The scenario usually goes like this: The student gets in the car at the end of the day and bursts into tears when Mom says, “How was your day today?” Naturally, the parent is alarmed by the story that the child proceeds to tell about what happened and how mean or unfair a classmate or teacher was to them. The parent’s emotions go into overdrive and they send an email to the teacher or to me telling about the horrible way their child was treated and demanding that something be done about it. Let me just say, before I go any further, that this is not a judgment. This is simply a description of what most of us do when we feel our child has been wronged. We love them and want to protect them.
When I read such emails or encounter the parents and hear the story of what happened, I can understand the parent’s outrage. I have learned over the years to listen carefully and empathetically, realizing that as far as the parent knows, the account they are relating to me is true. I also have learned to withhold judgment and to refrain from making decisions about what should be done until I am able to investigate further, speaking to all involved. I don’t do this perfectly. If I am caught off guard by a parent, I am just as susceptible as they and may jump too quickly to a conclusion as well. Frequently, after thoroughly looking into a matter, a completely different picture begins to emerge. Why is that? Is the child lying? Well, sometimes they are, but sometimes it is simply a matter of perception. An accidental bump is interpreted as “on purpose”, the teacher’s firm response was interpreted as “she doesn’t like me”, and so on. The child may be truthful in telling their side of the story, but the truth lies in “this is how it seemed to me” rather than being a factual account of what happened. Once the parent hears the story, they interpret it as well, which can add to the unintended distortion of the truth as they tell it.
Everyone involved in the situation believes their perspective to be true. They act on their perception as if it is – which is why we say, “perception is reality”. In that moment, that’s how it appears. We act on what we believe to be true at the time.
There are several things I think we should take into consideration if we are to approach life from a consistent, biblical worldview. We are all fallible and because of this, our perceptions, however honest we try to be, are flawed. This should cause us to use more caution before digging in our heels or laying blame. We should wait to draw conclusions until we hear all sides of the story. We should extend the benefit of the doubt to each other.
Usually, after a matter has been investigated and all of the facts are laid out, the truth comes into focus. When that happens, shouldn’t we adjust and change our perception so that it fits the truth? Shouldn’t it matter what the actual intent of the person was or what their rationale was for doing what they did? Shouldn’t we ask for forgiveness when we have jumped to a faulty conclusion and hurt someone as a result?
I think it should matter when we find out our perception was inaccurate. The truth should change our perception rather than letting our perception define what’s true. This is hard when we are still feeling the emotion of what we thought was true. It’s even more difficult when we allow our pride to prevent us from acknowledging the truth. While it may be popular in our culture to believe everyone has their own “truth”, each equally valid, we know this is a lie. God is the one who defines truth. He IS truth. As His followers, truth should matter. When we find we are in error, we should adjust our interpretation of what we saw or heard or thought so that it lines up with what is really true – what is real.
If we did this well, we would withhold judgment until all of the facts are in. We would not jump to conclusions. We would be quick to extend grace and forgiveness to those who had jumped to conclusions, understanding all too well how often we had done the same. We would give each other the benefit of the doubt more. When we discovered we had misjudged a situation, however innocently, we would be quick to acknowledge our error and adjust our feelings and attitudes based on what we now know to be true rather than what we thought. “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
Teach me your ways, O Lord,
that I may live according to your truth!
Grant me purity of heart,
so that I may honor you.