Perception is RealityIs your reality correct? How do you know? Is it possible that what you see through your eyes, hear with your ears, or feel with your touch is completely “wrong?” Is there some objective standard to which you can compare your reality, like an eye chart?

I’m writing this blog post the day after the first 2016 presidential election debate. I’m fascinated by the stark differences in perceptions taken from the debate. We all watched the same phenomenon. We all heard the same words. But, based on the results we can glean from cyberspace, many of us reached diametrically opposed conclusions. Why?

Yes, we all understand differences of opinion among partisans. Everyone wants their candidate to “win”, and that might explain some of the differences in perception. What we see in this case, however, is a disconnect in perceptions between two broadly different groups. The media elites, politicians, and political pundits reached one conclusion. Ordinary people, on the other hand, reached an entirely different conclusion. Why is this? What’s going on here?

What’s going on here is something all of us do all day every day. We attach meaning to that which our senses present to us. We do this automatically, much like breathing. Our brains are hardwired to do this. But, we all have a filter through which the information our senses provide us pass through. This filter is called our worldview.

In his book Naming the Elephant, James Sire provided an expansive definition that captures the full meaning of worldviews and its complexity.

Worldview means a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a story or in a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true, or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic constitution of reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live and move and have our being.

There is a lot of meaning for us to unpack in this statement. First, worldview is a commitment and orientation of the heart. It’s not an intellectual position we take based on our rational thinking. Worldview is something that’s embedded in our spirit and is activated by our emotions, which is what makes it a powerful force in our behavior. We believe what our worldview tells us. More importantly, we are passionate about those beliefs when we act on them.

Second, our worldview may be based on assumptions that are true, partially true, or entirely false. This is how we end up with a cloudy, corroded, or closed worldview window. For example, the Nazis had a worldview infected with false beliefs about people from certain ethnic backgrounds. Those false beliefs led the Nazis to regard those ethnicities as subhuman. We’re all too familiar with the aftermath of that corrupt and evil worldview.

Finally, it’s possible for us to hold our worldview either consciously or subconsciously and consistently or inconsistently. These four possibilities create a large number of potential outcomes. It’s easier for us to understand the outcomes associated with someone who consciously and consistently applies their worldview. It becomes nearly impossible, however, for us to evaluate, or even appreciate, subconscious worldview construction that’s applied inconsistently.

So, what’s the point of all this? The point is you can’t begin to understand someone until you understand their worldview. Much of the conflict we see in the world today is driven by clashing worldviews. Next time you are tempted to say, “what that person is doing is crazy.” It isn’t crazy to them if it’s consistent with their worldview.

The answer to the question I posed at the beginning of this post regarding measuring your perceptions against a “standard” is answerable. Compare your perceptions to people who share your worldview. If your individual perceptions are similar, they are “correct” based on context.

So, the conclusions reached by a crowd of people in a Pennsylvania bar about last night’s presidential debate that were completely different from the conclusions reached by the elite media and political pundits is understandable. Worldview matters. Take time to understand yours. Test it. Make sure it’s consistent with your values. Your worldview helps create your perceptions of reality. Are they the perceptions you want?

This post is adapted from my forthcoming book: Ethical Intelligence: The Foundation of Leadership. Available on Amazon in late October.

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