“Perception is reality,” they say.
Recently I’ve had conversations with several of you in which this adage has arisen, and I’ve been pondering it — and, frankly, wrestling with it — a lot.
In much of our lives, and definitely in ministry, it’s important to have the capacity to “meet people where they are”. If a person says that things are a certain way, I need to be able to work with that, even if I see things differently or disagree. If I am to be effective in communicating with them, ministering to them, making progress together, etc., then I must recognize that what they perceive to be true is their reality.
But also, our perceptions can be wrong, inaccurate, misguided. And they can change and expand and evolve over time.
Some (presumably very smart) human beings believed that the Earth was flat. Their perception didn’t make it so.
For some of my formative years, I believed that I had insight into the one and only true religion. My perception didn’t make it so.
And for many years, it was very clear to me that cauliflower was awful. I didn’t like to eat it raw, I didn’t like it in curry dishes, and I actively avoided it. Until one day a year or so ago when a friend served roasted cauliflower as part of dinner, and I took a small “no, thank you” serving. To my surprise and delight, it was delicious — please-serve-me-seconds-and-thirds delicious — and I now seek it out.
Think of all the deliciousness and nutrition that I’d be missing if I hadn’t remained open to the possibility that my caulifloral perceptions might be wrong, inaccurate, misguided.
I am trying to practice applying this learning to other parts of my life, especially when I feel myself getting defensive or reactive when my perceptions conflict with others’. Sometimes I have information or perspective that helps them broaden their view. And often they help broaden mine. We need to be open and communicative with each other if this broadening is to occur.
This give-and-take is one of the critical tasks of our religious community. Our Unitarian Universalist values and principles demand that we remain open to new revelation and insight, and we actively affirm a belief in the value of the community in encouraging this type of growth in one another. (See our 3rd UU principle, for example.)
Where might your perceptions be unnecessarily narrow or inaccurate? To what possibilities might each of us need to remain open, lest we should miss out on fuller and deeper understandings of ourselves, of each other, of the human condition?
Perceptions are real, but they don’t fully define reality. Rather, perception can be skewed, biased, limited, impressionable … and also a living, breathing, evolving possibility!
Yours with love,