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Nothing is as it seems; or at least how it seems to you or me

Thursday, October 13, 2016

By Chad McCoy, M.A., LPC

Now more than ever, I am increasingly impressed by the power of perception. Time after time, event after event, I find myself leaving a situation with what I believe to be the “truth” of the situation only to find out later that it was not at all as it seemed. We’ve all been there, and it makes one wonder why we are so imperfect in our ability to accurately perceive situations.  

Today is September 27th, 2016, the day following the first presidential debate. I watched the debate, many of my friends watched the debate, and most likely you yourself watched the debate. Don’t worry: This will not devolve into a discussion of “who won what”. Rather, the purpose of this prose is to point out how we all could have witnessed the same events, same words, and same answers; yet we all have such varying degrees of who “won.” Why is this? We were all there in one form or another. Lester Holt asked the questions that everyone heard, and everyone heard the answers given. However, I have seen and heard two opposing ideas of the outcome.

The outcome of these debates, or any other emotionally charged event, is colored by the bias that we carry into the event. Elizabeth Loftus, a prolific researcher and professor, points out the importance of bias and memory; in particular, false memories (I suggest looking into her TED Talk here: https://www.ted.com/talks/elizabeth_loftus_the_fiction_of_memory?language=en). Our perception of an event is highly influenced by many factors and often times highly malleable. Previous experiences lend to us the most readily available information along with a host of expectations that we carry prior to the experience of any event. Confirmation bias (the idea that we seek out resources to only confirm our beliefs) is another barrier that impedes our ability to see eye-to-eye on topics and events. It’s much more difficult to consume information that is contradictory to our beliefs as it would be to find information that align with it. This often times is why during an argument we can only seem to hear what we want, especially when we’re looking for holes in discussion or information to affirm our position.

Our personal investment in any event also determines our perception. If I have a monetary, or religious belief at stake, my perception may be altered to find alignment with that (e.g. Why would I not believe in the very thing I’ve invested so much?). At times the fallout is much more than what we could bear. It’s often easier to allow our biases to rule over us then for us to adjust our views because of new information presented. Rather than accept your perspective as truth, maybe it’s in better form to settle for providing insight into your own interpretation of an event.

A good way to do this during conversation or debates, is to allow your counterpart an opportunity to understand your perspective in its entirety, biases and all. A good way of doing this is an “I statement”. You take responsibility for your perspective and why you have the stance that you have. An “I statement” begins with your own stance, “I become upset when the chores aren’t done because it shows a lack of respect for the household rules.” Now doesn’t that sound a ton better than, “You never do what I ask and are SO disrespectful!!” It’s a way to turn down the temperature of conflict and turn up your relationships.

Edmond Family Counseling serves the community by providing a local resource for mental health and substance abuse services. If we can help you, call us at 405-341-3554 or log on to edmondfamily.org.


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