More than Meets the Eye
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | July 2017
Accurate appraisals are difficult in a complex world. Others have much more to them than the simplicity we see.
There is more; more to others; and more to ourselves. We don’t see it all because we can’t comprehend it all. We formulate a picture from a dim snapshot blurred by bias. We lean on our limiting view as if it is reality. We see prominent lines and colors but miss the underlying textures; beneath the rough acknowledged exterior resides the meat of reality—all the details we can’t examine. We gather information then act, then justify our action by opposing any conflicting opinions that question our motives. Perceptions are incomplete, and often wrong. The wise purposely work to clarify and expand perceptions, digging for missing facts, and considering conflicting data. But even scrupulous investigations fail; we still exist with incomplete knowledge.
Painful experiences that are obscure from consciousness hide in the shadows of the present, disrupting and coloring reality. From these biases, our mind rearranges facts to form a reality fitting our personal narrative; the mind smoothly excludes, manipulates and changes unacceptable facts. We skillfully distort experiences in the language centers of our mind. Numerous, modules, and systems within the brain process the constant flow of information; the voluminous sorting of data exceeds the capacity of working memory, much of experience evades consciousness. Like a flashlight in a dark room, attention focuses on select pieces of information, often only concentrating on areas that support pre-conceived beliefs; missing potentially helpful and important information, reality often resides in the dark corners of the mind—dodged, neglected and denied.
Through manipulation of data, no matter the exposure, we tend to maintain the same beliefs; our thoughts of self, whether smart or stupid, beautiful or ugly, success or failure are all supported by experience strengthening our pre-conceived notions. The same experience may trigger shame or pride depending on our underlying belief and the thought manipulation of the experience.
This distorted reality is useful. A positive self-image boosts confidence and assists coping with inevitable pains of being human. At times, narrowing vision directs focus to areas we can change, instead of being overwhelmed in a frenzy of fear. But deeply entrenched distortions also limit growth, limiting access to necessary knowledge, diminishing ability to relate to the outside world, leading to miscalculations and poorly directed efforts---which we explain away as someone else’s fault.
"The same experience may trigger shame or pride depending on our underlying belief and the thought manipulation of the experience.."
So, what can we do? We can’t simply wave a wand to magically see and feel what currently is hidden. Bringing the unknown into the light is a long process, fighting the ever-present push to support what we know the world to be. But this fight is necessary to fight biases, invite openness, and bless the world in ways beyond our simple egotistical views.
Growth requires explorations into the unknown; where both pleasant and unpleasant discoveries will be found. We must accept uncertainties, dismissing the faulty comfort knowing it all. We must embrace some insecurity to warmly welcome new knowledge. The richness of living expands through widening views and awes of the unknown, not from the confining walls of certainty. Openness to a variety of emotions, novel experiences, and intimacy from connections invite newness, patience, and wonderful skepticism of preconceived notions.
With careful examination, we discover many discomforting realities, slowly diminishing previous distortions. Only through intentional awareness do we courageously face weaknesses and improve. Acknowledging personal selfishness, fears, and unrealistic expectations will initially heighten discomfort. But our willful blindness compounds the weakness inviting uniformed choices and accumulating harsh consequences. Our narrow vision destroys relationships and diminishes our ability to identify promising opportunities.
Our snapshot of reality will always be distorted. But with effort, new images take shape and our vision expands. We will discover elements we missed, and weaknesses to be addressed. Life will imperfectly continue forward but now with notable adjustments. The confining walls dissolve, providing greater opportunities for connection, growth and happiness.