There’s a common misconception that most of us live by – reality is reality. That’s not actually true if you think about it. The truth is that perception is reality. A few weeks ago I was in the car with my son and he asked me if color was a matter of fact or opinion. That really got me thinking. In the end, my answer was that it is both. If you think about it, our eyes perceive color one way, but likely not the way that others see colors – not exactly. We are taught what orange and blue and purple look like, so we learn to identify them on sight, but can we really be sure that our eyes see those colors the same way other’s eyes do? I think we can assume that they don’t – at least not exactly.
The other side of that coin is that there is a reality of color. If you ask your computer for the numeric definition of red, it will give you FFFFFF. If you enter that code into any photo editing software or creative application, you should get the same color of red. So while your computer has an exact definition of color (a fact), your eyes don’t necessarily see FFFFFF displayed the same way mine do (perception).
This same theory works for our lives and relationships. When you find yourself butting heads with someone where you feel like you just don’t understand each other, take a minute. You know your world, you know your feelings and you know your issues. That said, the other person feels exactly the same way about their world. You each have your own reality, much of which is based on perception and experience. What kind of baggage are they carrying? What have they been through that has helped shape their life? Understanding their perspective will get you a little bit closer to being able to communicate effectively.
I have a friend who feels like her mother never really cared for her. She knows that her mother loved her and still loves her, but they can’t seem to find a way through to each other. I’ve heard her say things time and again about how her mother worked hard, the bills were always paid, there were always clothes in the closet and food on the table – and yet she feels like her mom wasn’t there. She missed school events, she missed sporting events and she missed other moments that my friend wishes that she had been there for. I wasn’t witness to things as they were happening, but as a third party, it seems like mom was working hard to support the family and mom doesn’t understand how her daughter could feel this way now. And as much as my friend wants to find a way to communicate, her perception is her reality. She feels like her mom wasn’t there, and so that is the truth in her world. Were there events that mom could have attended? I’m sure there were. Did mom work hard to give her everything she had? I’m sure she did. But the truth is that they aren’t going to find a way to each other until mom can see that my friend’s perception as her reality. When and if they find a way to communicate and mom honors my friend’s feelings with an apology (and I truly hope that they arrive at this place), my friend will then have to realize that mom likely sacrificed much to put them all in a better position. In the end though, I know that all my friend wants is validation of her feelings. Of her perception. Of her reality.
It can be really difficult to remember that not everything is as black and white as we may think. Shades of gray are all over the place in this world and in relationships. If you are able to remember that, you will help yourself stand in your power. You will be able to find the nuances that lead you to understand where other people are coming from. You will see the smaller perceptions within the larger reality. Take a moment this week and see if you can help validate someone else’s feelings. It will be empowering for both of you.