I came up with this phrase as a way of unwinding the tendency to take my perceptions of others as objective truth:
It’s not who you are. It’s how what you do filters through who I am.
We cannot know people, or anything, directly. We experience everything through our senses. These experiences are packaged with the full weight of our conditioning, beliefs, and history before they even enter consciousness. We can’t hope to know what’s “really happening.” In a sense, it’s not even relevant.
The best we can do is know our biases. We can accept that each of us is a perceiving system in constant flux. We’re angry, we experience things one way. We’re tired, we experience things another way. We’re 5 years old, we experience things another way. It’s cloudy. We’ve just been dumped. We’ve gotten a promotion. We haven’t eaten for hours. We went for a run this morning…the context and the perceiver are inseparable. Each and every new experience effects the lens through which experience is understood.
As a side note, I would say that our earliest experiences with our primary caregivers are the most influential of all. More on that here.
Similarly, if we’re perceiving another person, we aren’t seeing their “essential truth.” We are seeing a snapshot. A moment in the constant flux of another perceiving system. They’ve just been dumped. They’ve gotten a promotion. They haven’t eaten for hours. They too are deeply influenced by their early experiences with caregivers.
Hopefully, this makes some space for patience, forgiveness, and open-mindedness. We can begin to experience ourselves and others as happenings. Activity. Verbs, rather than nouns. I’ve found this makes life a lot less boring.
From a practical standpoint, this means getting a little more suspicious: what part of me is experiencing this moment? What are the feelings, biases, conditioning, context that are affecting my perception of another person right now? And at the same time, since this is all we have, no need to toss it out. When relationships aren’t working, they aren’t working for a reason. It’s not meaningless that you hate your boss. Maybe it’s time to find a new job! Opening a space to acknowledge our biases can only increase clarity about how and when action needs to be taken.
Happy Monday! 🙂