I’ve been considering perception a lot lately and how it shapes the way we see the world. On my Facebook feed I see commentary from all ends of the political spectrum, and I find it fascinating that despite being so similar to some people, we can still end up perceiving the world in vastly different ways. I have tried not to block/delete people with differing views as I want to better understand how others think and how to best approach discussion with them. (Felicity has written a helpful blog post on how to best respond.)
While lying awake one night last week (thinking about what I wanted to write), I thought of this analogy. Clear water is constantly pouring from a tap. The water lands in a glass where it is dyed yellow. The water then pours into a glass that already contains blue dye. So the water becomes green. In this analogy the “reality” or the “truth” pours freely and clearly from a tap. The yellow glass signifies the media where reality is bent and distorted to match the particular media outlet or individual journalist’s political leanings. The blue glass signifies ourselves. Due to our experiences, upbringing, education, religion and friendships (and countless other influences) we develop a way of seeing the world (our own personal concoction of different dyes). So, as a result, we receive information and based on all these factors we “dye” our perceptions in a certain way. Hence what we perceive as the truth is coloured differently for each of us as we mix our own biases with the biases of the media we consume.
It is tempting to think that we have a clear handle on the truth and that because we have finished school and become educated we can now go about our days as though we are complete. In highschool we learn to be critical of the media we consume. We learn this in English class (i.e. persuasion, being critical of writing, seeking alternative views and referencing etc.) What is more challenging is to be critical of our own “glass” and seek alternative experiences and viewpoints to challenge our own biases and opinions about how we perceive the world. This is important as without understanding our biases (and we all have them) and what has contributed to our worldview, we may unconsciously cause harm to others. In a sense we need to raise our glass higher and try to get closer to the source of truth. By seeking to be closer to the source we will have a greater clarity of mind and opinion about the world we live in. We can do this by
Meeting people of different backgrounds, demographics and beliefs to better understand them and ourselves
Actively consider opposite views to our own without automatically interjecting and rejecting them
Travelling to different places to experience other cultures
Consuming various and varied media and opinions
By actively seeking to become more complex we will create a better and more inclusive world.
The world is currently very unwieldy. Bushfires and climate change, Covid-19, the recognition and outcry about the injustices that BIPOC people have faced for generations, cyberattacks, and wars. Collectively we will need to become more complex to manage the complexity developing in our world. Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey in their book, “Immunity to Change” discuss three plateaus in adult mental development. They categorise these as:
the “Socialised mind” which are people who are greatly influenced by their social environment or ideologies that they ascribe to.
the “Self-authoring mind” which are people who can take a step back and view the world from their own constructed values and principles.
the “Self-transforming mind” which are people who can step back from their own ideologies and view them with an external eye, they are more comfortable with ambiguity and are able to hold and consider contrary ideas in their mind at the same time.
The authors contend that we expect more people to be more complex than they are. In their words: “We expect more workers to be self-authoring, but most are not. We expect most leaders to be more complex than self-authoring, and very few are.” The quote that stuck with me the most is this one:
“When we experience the world as ‘too complex’ we are not just experiencing the complexity of the world. We are experiencing a mismatch between the world’s complexity and our own at this moment. There are only two logical ways to mend this mismatch – reduce the world’s complexity or increase our own. The first isn’t going to happen.”
How do we increase in complexity?
Kegan and Lahey contend that complexity isn’t a measure that relates to our IQ but rather it’s a combination of our mind (intellect), our heart (emotions) and our body (behaviours). They suggest that to continue to grow in complexity we need to commit to lifelong learning. And this is not in the sense of the traditional classroom, but where learning is integrated into our lives. It’s not a type of learning that transfers knowledge, but rather, a learning that transforms us.
“Among the most robust of these findings is what it takes for the mind to grow: challenge and support. Good problems, the sort that reveals the limits of our current way of making meaning; and support to bear the anxiety that goes with realising we may not know ourselves or the world as well as we thought - these are as crucial for our growth today as they were when we were young.”
Across my socials I have seen a number of helpful posts about the importance of normalising a change of mind/heart after listening to another person’s lived experience or after being shown evidence that counters my worldview. This is evident with the large discourse on the black lives matter movement as we discuss how white people have benefited from a history of racist practices, policies beliefs that have dispossessed Australian Indigenous peoples of their lands and their way of life. Unless we as a nation can soften our hearts and sharpen our minds, reconciliation will remain a shallow word without action.
We have endless problems that need to be solved and we must enter this decade with a mindset that is open to change and a heart that is willing to expand. We must see this as a challenge that will force out the best of us, cause us to step up, step back and seek better ways of being with each other. Each of us can make a commitment to “raise our glass” and consider more deeply the world and people around us.
Yellow ink Photo by Francisco De Legarreta C. on Unsplash
Both Ink Photo throughout article by Lucas Benjamin on Unsplash
Ocean Photo by Anastasia Taioglou on Unsplash