Several years ago, I came to the stunning realization that I was wasting my life. My pre-judgments were determining my perception of events. I should have figured this out long ago, but I was too busy reacting.
You’ve done it, too. Someone looks at you. You interpret the look, and, boom, off you go with your emotions riding high.
We have a predilection to interpret events based on our assumptions. In fact, we will often lie to ourselves. “I am right.” We tell ourselves. No reason to test the veracity of what we think. Humbleness is a lost art – if it ever was an art.
I wonder, do we have the capacity to be less reactionary? Why do we jump from perception to conclusion? What dusty rooms in our collective minds need cleaning out and rearranging?
Every time we agree or disagree with someone, we are reinforcing a belief – the unspoken adherence to a system of truths. Most often, we do not bother to test out our theories before we adopt them as truth. It is this factor alone that bothers me the most. I know I am guilty as charged. Yes, I have a trailer truck of conviction debris that I am pulling along behind me.
Acknowledgment is good, but how do we unshackle ourselves from our burden of labeling others (and ourselves, also)?
Let’s start at the beginning. How would we describe our childhood, our adulthood? What did we expect to happen along the way? What do we believe to be the reasons behind the events of our story? Come on, we all have a story. We have written it and are now living it. It is our reality.
The next part gets tricky. Our reality feels very real to us, but it is not reality. Huh?
I don’t know which came first, expectations or beliefs. What I do know is that they are circular. Our expectations and beliefs drive each other. The end result is our reality. Nevertheless, we can change it. How? By changing them. Challenge our expectations, beliefs, and interpretations. It may feel as if our landscape is quicksand, but we are not stuck. The way out is through the pathway of self-examination.
The journey to a new reality begins with a reinterpretation of our story and, by default, a redefinition of our personal reality. Start telling yourself new stories. Not only who and what you are, but tell yourself new stories about the guy you pass every day. You know, the guy begging for money.
How would you describe him? Have you written him off as an alcoholic, a druggie, a bum? What if you are right? Does it matter? Does it relieve you of compassion?
One time, I was sitting in my wheelchair waiting for my husband to pick me up after a doctor’s appointment. It was a beautiful summer day, and I rolled over to a nearby park. Across the street was an elitist residence tower for the rich and wannabe famous. My book was tucked behind me in a bag just out of reach. As the noble walked by, staring straight ahead, I attempted to get their attention.
“Wait, I don’t want any money. I just need . . .”
“Please, could you . . .”
Over and over again, I tried. Not one person even turned their head.
Finally, a little woman pushing a shopping cart piled high with plastic bags, shuffled over. “Do you need help?” she asked.
“Yes, would you reach into my bag and get my book out?”
She reached in, handed me my book, and smiled at me.
I smiled back.