In this lesson, we’ll discuss how our existing belief systems lead to perceptions that affect how we interpret present experiences.
Two areas of focus include:
As you learned in a previous lesson, our beliefs, or mental senses of what is true or right in a particular situation, come from:
Together, these beliefs form a belief system, which is a combination of beliefs that becomes a model for an aspect of a person's world. This model helps us make sense of what we're seeing.
Perceptions come from the beliefs that we hold. A perception is a person's awareness and interpretation of an event, condition, or person; it’s what we consciously notice when we observe something.
We filter these observations through our belief systems; maybe we aren't always aware of this, but we will give more weight to experiences that confirm our belief systems.
The more important a belief system is, the more weight we're going to give to experiences, events, and situations that confirm that belief system.
You and a friend want to see a movie. You like to watch movies at home by streaming them on your TV through Netflix. You prefer to be in the comfort of your own home when you see a movie.
Conversely, your friend loves going to the movie theater. She talks you into going to the movie theater with her. Afterwards when she asks if you liked the movie, your response might be: "I liked the movie, but the theater’s floors were dirty; I didn't even want to put my purse down. I could hear the person next to me eating popcorn. 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 place to watch this movie. I loved the big screen. I really liked sitting there eating popcorn. I tuned everything else out. I liked being part of the crowd, and hearing it respond to the action in the movie." Same movie, same theater, but two very different perceptions.
You and your spouse are looking to buy a new home, and you walk into a bungalow that was built maybe back in the '30s.
You realize that there's old carpet on the floor, and there's wallpaper. Things look a little worn, but this could be a fabulous place. All you’d have to do is strip the wallpaper and paint the walls. You could even take up the carpet because there are probably hardwood floors.
Your spouse says, "Not so fast. What I see here is a lot of hard work and money. Maybe we'd paint the walls, but what's behind those walls?" Maybe his/her belief system, based on his/her experiences causes him/her to see nothing but a challenge, or a money pit while you’re seeing beauty and opportunity. You’re looking at the same house, but you have two different perceptions.
When we move into areas where there are perhaps political or religious beliefs involved, people are even more inclined to give weight to perceptions that will confirm the belief systems they have.
Gun rights, or the right to bear arms in the Second Amendment, often comes into conflict with the need to make our streets and schools safer. We're going to give more weight to one side or the other, depending on our experiences.
Political candidates have positions such as pro-life or pro-choice, raising taxes or lowering taxes. One candidate is going to work to cut spending, while another candidate is going to work to raise taxes on the rich.
Depending on where you fall on that spectrum, you're going to give more weight to what you read in support of your position, and less weight to the other side.
Thus what we perceive, or consciously notice, comes from these belief systems and our innate desire to support them. When we get into a conflict, we may begin to have some new experiences and beliefs about the other party during the resolution process.
However, we're consciously trying to fit these new experiences into our current belief systems; one of the challenges in conflict resolution is helping parties feel comfortable altering their beliefs, or evaluating new experiences without skewing them toward previously held belief systems.
It’s important to remember that being open to changes in your belief system doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to adopt another's point of view. Rather, it means that you at least recognize that this point of view is valid for this other individual.
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. The goal of conflict resolution is to help us see more fully, and move away from just weighting our experiences towards what we already believe.
In this lesson, you learned about perceptions and how they are formed from our established belief systems.
You now understand that the way our perceptions influence our response to conflict depends on whether or not we are open to having our belief systems challenged.
Source: Adapted from Sophia tutorial by Marlene Johnson.
A person's mental sense of what is true or right/correct in a situation.
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.