Each of us tends to think we see things as they are, that we are objective. But this is not the case. We see the world, not as it is, but as we are— or, as we are conditioned to see it. When we open our mouths to describe what we see, we in effect describe ourselves, our perceptions, our paradigms. When other people disagree with us, we immediately think something is wrong with them. But, as the demonstration shows, sincere, clearheaded people see things differently, each looking through the unique lens of experience.
This does not mean that there are no facts. In the demonstration, two individuals who initially have been influenced by different conditioning pictures look at the third picture together. They are now both looking at the same identical facts— black lines and white spaces— and they would both acknowledge these as facts. But each person’s interpretation of these facts represents prior experiences, and the facts have no meaning whatsoever apart from the interpretation.
The more aware we are of our basic paradigms, maps, or assumptions, and the extent to which we have been influenced by our experience, the more we can take responsibility for those paradigms, examine them, test them against reality, listen to others and be open to their perceptions, thereby getting a larger picture and a far more objective view. [emphasis mine]The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey
Indeed. That is who I decide to be: a person of integrity who takes responsibility for himself with a firm grasp of reality. It is not easy and Lord knows I fail probably more often than I’d care to admit. (Anger is a powerful drug.) If you have ever had a passionate discussion on politics or religion with someone, this difficulty should be apparent. As responsible adults we can overcome this. (You must if you wish to be an effective person by Covey’s lights.)
But in my debates and passionate discussions over the years, I’ve witnessed many people who make no attempt to develop a more objective worldview. People project their fears and hatreds onto one another. I can’t tell how many times I’ve been told what I believe or don’t, what shows I watch, what blogs I read, that I’m an atheistic Jesus freak with a capitalistic communist political outlook. None of which have even a hint of reality. It’s very true that people that become shrill and say these things to me are indeed showing who they are rather than the world as it is.
The best sign of this is how infrequently I’ve witnessed people “acknowledge…facts.” People, I am convinced, are far more interested and invested in protecting their beliefs than seeking truth or perhaps more accurately, defining their beliefs as truth. Facts become debatable, if they don’t suit.
Even as I write that it astounds me because as anyone who knows me will tell you that I am a person with an insatiable hunger to know. To know the truth of myself and the world in which I live. It’s why I put up with the sneers and the anger and the condescension. I want to know. And that requires I “listen to others and be open to [others’] perceptions, thereby getting a larger picture and a far more objective view.” In that way I am living out what Covey said was seeing the world as I am.