Jay Rifenbary

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The Challenge of Perception

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What type of person do others perceive you as being? Do they perceive you as being kind, compassionate, sensitive, arrogant, competitive, self-centered, empathetic, wise, or aloof, etc? Why are their occasional misunderstandings between self-perception, and another’s perception of you? Certainly what you say, the tone and inflection of your voice, your body language and how you look can be interpreted different ways by different people. There are times I am challenged with my own self-perception of what I convey versus how it is perceived and interpreted by others. Have you ever said to someone, “I did not mean it that way?”

The accuracy of your perception of another, or another’s perception of you, is directly correlated with the level of maturity, life experience, intellect, open-mindedness and emotional stability each person possesses. As the renowned Canadian novelist Robertson Davies stated, “The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend.” Misinterpretation of another can be the result of attempting to place your own belief system and way of doing things on another. It is important to remember not everyone is like you. There are many times your own insecurities influence how your perceive others. For example, if someone shares an opinion in regard to the lack of personal responsibility that exists in our society today, and you know you have not been personally responsible in your own life, the more likely you are to interpret that opinion as being offensive rather than an objective opinion. Flipping the coin, if you share an opinion that triggers discomfort or anger in another, their perception of you will be very different as compared to an opinion you share that positively validates their own thoughts and opinions. As the founder of analytical psychology Carl Jung stated, “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”

The more insecure you are with yourself, the more subjective you will be, and the therefore the less accurate in your perception of others. Why? You allow emotion to override objective analysis. The greater the insecurity the more vulnerable you are to an emotional trigger. In addition, the more you protect your insecurities the more defensive you will be to those who threaten that protection. As Hans Margolius stated, “Only in quiet waters things mirror themselves undistorted. Only in a quiet mind is adequate perception of the world.”

One behavior not difficult to perceive accurately is hypocrisy. It is the ultimate destroyer of one’s character. To say one thing and behave differently reveals to all a personally dishonest person. The establishment of a formal set of core values in your life is essential to creating consistency in behavior. The less you know what those core values are, and the less you implement them, the more susceptible you are to being inconsistent and therefore hypocritical. The belief and executing of your core values also provide a greater level of emotional security. As a result, you are more likely to be objective in your perception, rather than emotionally judgmental of another.

In regard to the ability to be accurately perceptive we should all strive to be perspicacious. It is not only my word for you for the day, but a great trait to acquire. Perspicacious is defined as, “having keen mental perception and understanding; discerning; to exhibit perspicacious judgment.” Some synonyms include acute, astute, discerning, penetrating, percipient, sagacious and sharp-witted. Perspicacity is achieved through experience, education and a willingness to be empathetic to those around you. It is also achieved through living a consistently ethical life allowing greater discernment when witnessing less than honorable behavior. Empathy is defined as, “the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts or attitudes of another.” To be empathetically perceptive is an ideal opportunity to be non-judgmental of another, and also perspicacious. It does not mean you retreat from the core values you believe in, but it does allow you to think before you react, and temper your response. As Leonardo Da Vinci so simply stated, “All our knowledge is the offspring of our perceptions.” Enjoy the opportunity to practice being perspicacious and becoming more acutely perceptive of the people and the world around you.



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