Are you awake? Do you know where your perceptions are?
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Perceptions are the basis of all actions. Decisions, judgements, attitudes, emotions, all the choices made by individuals, organizations, and communities are based on the perceptions of the people involved. Understanding the concept of perception is necessary for making correct decisions and choices.
Perceptions are what people think that they see in a given situation. Two people can have different perceptions of the same situation. Two people can look at a drug addict with one seeing a criminal and the other seeing a victim of circumstance, a third person could claim to see a case of mental illness. According to different frames of judgement, each could be correct.
When each of these people listens to the other with the intent to understand, their individual comprehension of the event increases. This helps their perception become more complete and accurate. This increases the likelihood of correct and beneficial decisions and actions.
Perceptions are based on assumptions and/or opinions that are often subconscious. Sometimes these assumptions are buried so deeply in the subconscious that the person is not aware of their sources. Being aware of the sources of these assumptions is one key to making correct and effective decisions.
There are many common assumptions that influence decisions. These assumptions range from seeing the world as a hostile place to seeing it as an hospitable place. The causes of these assumptions can usually be traced to things that occurred in a person’s life and the decisions made by the person concerning these events.
The events and decisions that form perceptions can be many and varied. A semester of abuse by a school teacher, or any one in a position of authority can cause a person to decide that authority is an adversary. A period of support by the same kind of authority figure can make a person think of authority as something to work with. The teaching and advice of the same authority figure can also influence a person’s perceptions.
All teaching should be questioned and tested for accuracy. A step toward accurate perception is to question everything that you think and find out if it is based on teaching, experience, fact, myth or speculation. Then you must find out why you have adopted these assumptions and find out if they are useful or hindering.
It is often difficult to be aware of what you are thinking in a given situation. The key to becoming aware of your own perceptions is the question “why?” Ask yourself why you feel uncomfortable in the presence of a person with a different color of skin, why you think that money or technology is evil or good, why you are in favor of or against a political position, why you are afraid of a country, person or thing, why you need to influence or be approved by other people. You must answer these questions honestly. Ask yourself why you answered your first why the way you did.
The next step is to look at the situation again and try to be objective or at least try to view it from a different point of view. If you originally saw a person who you thought was a threat, try to see if the person is perhaps feeling threatened by you or is in an unfamiliar situation and acting defensive. Try to understand why you think the things that you think. You must learn to keep your eyes and mind open to possibilities and to recognize the difference between speculation and fact.
People spend much time reacting rather than thinking. They often react using their speculations as facts to make decisions with. There is an element of laziness in this fact. Researching and/or honestly and resolutely trying to recognize the truth is much more difficult than speculation. It is easier to react than to think. It takes a desire for improvement to overcome this habit.
Awareness of your own thoughts, motivations and perceptions gives you more information to make effective decisions. Recognizing your own mistakes and misinterpretations can open your eyes to the things that influence those people that you associate with. Knowing your own fallibility will increase your tolerance and understanding of all people.
The only person that you even have a chance of really knowing is yourself. Every time that you decide that you know someone else’s mind, you are basing that judgement on the way that your own mind works. Your own mind is the only one that you can possibly know.
The only thing that you know about other people is what you see them do. When you try to interpret what you see them do, you are forced to use the only mind that you know, your own. When you condemn someone else’s actions based on the workings of your own mind, you are really criticizing yourself. This knowledge is the basis of tolerance.
Accurate perception can only be achieved by observing without opinion. You must look only at what happened and know when you are guessing or speculating. You must see only that a person appears uncomfortable and that you only suspect them to be hostile. You must see only that there are clouds in the sky and realize that you only suspect that it will soon rain. You must always keep in mind the difference between what happens and that you are interpreting it.
Sometimes it is necessary to speculate and extrapolate in order to plan, but you must remain aware that your plans are based on guessing, however educated the guess, and that your speculation could be incorrect and you may have to adjust your plans accordingly. You will find that your actions and plans become more appropriate as your perceptions become more objective and accurate. Accurate perception will introduce you to the joy of discovery and the fun of finding out what happens next.
Accurate perception is the key to living with and enjoying both the expected and the unexpected. Accurate perception releases you from the burden of always being right because it reveals that no one is always right. Accurate perception eventually shows you how much leeway God built into His universe for the benefit of us all. This is the basis of tolerance, understanding and humility.

From "Thoughts and Speculations" by R.M.R. Jr.

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