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Believe it and see it: Perceptions are filtered through Assumptions

Believe it and see it: Perceptions are filtered through Assumptions

Author: marlene johnson

At the end of this tutorial, the learner will understand that people interpret and evaluate present experiences and situations in light of their existing belief systems.

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Believe it and see it: Perceptions are filtered through Assumptions

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I'll believe it when I see it. I've certainly said that statement. Perhaps you have to. It's a very common thing that people say.

But when we look at something, are we all seeing the same thing? I'm Marlene. And I'd like to take up that question with you today in this tutorial and look at exactly what does form our perceptions? And how does it influence the way we respond to conflict?

Let's start by defining perception. Perception is a person's awareness and interpretation of an event, condition, or person. So it's what we interpret when we see something. It's what we consciously notice.

Now our perceptions come from the beliefs that we all hold. And a belief is a person's mental sense of what is true, or right, or correct in a particular situation. And we form our beliefs from the moment that we're born. Our beliefs come from our experiences that we have, the people we interact with, the communities we live in, the language we speak, the culture. Whether we're raised with a lot of money, we're raised in poverty-- all of these things influence our beliefs.

These beliefs, of course, form a whole system of how we see the world. And we call this a belief system. A belief system is a combination of belief that becomes a model for an aspect of a person's world. So this model helps us make sense of what we're seeing out there.

So let's go back to perceptions here. Remember that a perception is what we consciously notice about the world. And what we perceive-- the experiences that we have, new things that we experience-- we are filtering them through these belief systems that we have formed. And maybe we aren't even aware of this, but we will consciously give more weight to experiences that confirm our belief system. And the more important a belief system is, then the more weight that we're going to give to experiences, and events, and situations that we have experienced that confirm that belief system.

So how does this influence our perceptions? Remember now, perceptions are what we consciously notice when we have an experience. Well, let me just give you a couple of examples. Here's just some everyday things.

You and a friend want to see a movie. However, you like to watch movies at home. You like to stream them on your TV through Netflix. You prefer to be in the comfort of your own home when you see a movie.

Your friend loves going to the movie theater. So she talks you into going to the movie theater with her. And you go. You see the movie.

Well, what you perceive when you come out, and she says, well, did you like the movie? Yeah, I liked the movie. But you know what, the floors were dirty. I didn't even want to put my purse down.

I could hear the person next to me eating popcorn. And it was noisy in there. Plus, it was cold. I should have worn a sweater. I just didn't like the environment.

Your friend says, really? I thought it was a fabulous venue to watch this movie. I loved the big screen. I really liked sitting there eating popcorn.

I tuned everything out. I liked being part of the crowd-- hearing them respond to the action in the movie. Same movie, same theater, different perceptions. Yeah, that's just a little everyday experience.

Maybe it could up the ante a little bit here. You are looking to buy a new home. You walk into a bungalow, built maybe back in the '30s.

And you walk in, and you realize that there's old carpet on the floor. There's wallpaper. Things look a little worn. But this could be a fabulous place.

All we have to do is strip the wallpaper, paint the walls. Let's take up the carpet. There's probably hardwood floors.

Your spouse is going, not so fast. What I see here is a lot of hard work and money. Yeah, maybe we'd paint the walls. But what's behind those walls?

Maybe his belief systems-- his experiences-- cause him to see nothing but a challenge-- money pit. You're seeing beauty and opportunity. OK. So we see the same house. We see it differently.

Now if we up the ante even a little bit more, something that you believe in kind of strongly here. You want to lose some weight. And you've read about a new diet. Your friend lost weight on that diet. You're going to go on the diet.

And you've read about it online. You know what it'll take. And you're going to lose weight quickly.

Now there's also something online that talks about this diet being a fad and that it could have some harmful health benefits, depending on various aspects of a person's health. And you might lose weight, but you'll probably gain it all back. You might be missing some nutrients on this diet.

You tune out those things. You don't really see them online. You skim through them. Because you're giving more weight, as it were, to the things that you're reading that support this new diet-- the conversation you had with your friend, who was on the new diet. Losing this weight is important to you. And this particular way you're perceiving this diet fits in with your wanting to lose weight-- your ability to lose weight.

So those are just a couple of experiences. Now when we move into areas, perhaps, where you have a feeling that's political or religious, people are even more inclined to give weight to beliefs that will confirm, or perceptions that will confirm the belief system they have. We can see it in a number of arenas. Gun rights-- the right to bear arms-- the Second Amendment-- the need to make our streets more safe, our schools more safe. We're going to give weight to one side or the other, depending on where we are at.

Pro-life, pro-choice-- particular political candidate. This candidate's going to work to cut spending. This candidate's going to work maybe to raise taxes on the rich. Depending on where you fall on that spectrum, you're going to take your arguments and your position. You're going to give more weight to what you read that supports your position and less weight to the other side.

So what we see-- what we perceive, what we consciously notice-- comes from these belief systems and our innate desire to support our belief systems. So what happens when we get into a conflict? We are in conflict. And we may find that as we are trying to resolve a conflict, we begin to have some new experiences and some new beliefs about the parties that we're maybe in conflict with-- the situation, the outcome. But we're consciously trying to fit these new experiences-- these things we're discovering-- into our current belief systems.

So one of the challenges in conflict resolution is to help parties feel comfortable altering their beliefs. Evaluating new experiences without skewing them towards previously held belief systems. I'm not going to let that in. Because it doesn't quite fit.

So being able to open and allow your belief system to perhaps change does not necessarily mean that you have to adopt another's point of view. Perhaps it just means you recognize that it is valid for this other individual. And you need to respect the validity of this person's experience, just as you would expect this person to respect the validity of your perception and your experience.

That's the goal of conflict resolution-- to help us see more fully and move away from just weighting our experiences towards what we already believe. So I've enjoyed being part of this tutorial with you. And I look forward to next time.

Terms to Know

A person's mental sense of what is true or right/correct in a situation.

Belief System

A combination of beliefs that becomes a model for an aspect of a person's world.


A person’s awareness and interpretation of an event, condition, or person.