When I was nine, the poorest girl in my fourth grade class invited all of us to her birthday party, and everyone expressed excitement and agreed to come. On the day of the party, my best friend and I arrived on time, greeted her family, and waited for the others to arrive. But no one came. Back at school on Monday, as I listened to the other kids’ reasons for why they hadn’t shown up, I wondered whether they had planned to come at all. It was a bias feeding-frenzy – theirs and mine. And I came out of it with strong perceptions about people who feel superior to others with less money and who don’t say what they mean. And my perceptions had everything to do with me and nothing to do with them.
Each of us views life differently from every other person. We see it through our filter, which we’ve created from our experiences and our beliefs. Then we attach descriptive qualities to people and conditions – good, bad, right, wrong, acceptable, unacceptable – so we know how to relate to them.
It works reasonably well until we confuse reality with our interpretation of it. We describe something as different from us, then we say that different is a problem for us, then we say that the problem makes us mad. And in that way, we give something, which has no ability to affect us, the ability to affect us.
Nothing has the ability to affect us until we decide what to believe about it and what our response should be.
One of my friends holds onto outdated perceptions and keeps people in boxes long after they’ve outgrown them. She doesn’t see the change in people and continues to relate to the old versions. If anyone tries to point out to her the improved qualities or behaviors in these people, she brings up events from years ago as evidence that she’s right today. Because she won’t acknowledge the new characteristics, she doesn’t encounter them in her relationships with these people. Instead, she keeps interacting with her beliefs.
We tend to tweak reality most in our perceptions of ourselves. We have a picture in our mind of who we are, and then we translate reality so that it matches our picture, and then we build a camp of people around us who will confirm our truth for us. And in the process, we tend to underestimate ourselves by not recognizing our strengths and overestimate ourselves by overlooking our points for improvement.
I spent seven years as a single parent of three sons. And my license plate said BOYSNI because every sentence that came out of my mouth seemed to begin with: “The boys ’n I….” After seven years, my girlfriend said to me, “Grace, if you don’t lose that darned license plate, you’re never going to find romance!” She meant that manifestation requires a vacuum to fill. So after a lot of thought and a change in my perspective of myself and my life, I ordered a new license plate that said GRACEFL. It was a passage marker for me – an outward indicator of an internal transformation.
If we can’t change the situation, we can change our perception of the situation and see it differently. And then we’ll live in a different reality. People may say, “You’re in denial.” Good! Why would we choose to keep focusing on something we don’t want, and don’t want more of?
And why do we judge people for being different from us anyway? Because we judge ourselves most of all. And as long as we believe that we’re not all right, we probably see others the same way.
So while we’re practicing self-acceptance, it’s also up to us to discern whether the gut feeling we experience about a person is our inner guidance pointing us in a particular direction, or whether it’s a predisposed perception born out of our filter.
In the early 80s, I was eager to get a tattoo. As a teenager, I’d read that they were used in ancient Egypt to imprint a life-seal, which is a symbol of the life purpose, on the body and consciousness. And I wanted one! They weren’t mainstream yet, so the only option was a bikers’ parlor. There I was, alone in the backroom with this scary-looking dude burning balloons and streamers on my butt till my toes curled. And what a sweetheart he turned out to be! He made me comfortable and talked kindly while he worked and turned out to be one of the gentlest people I’d ever met.
We don’t get to change people into what we want them to be. And if we only accept them when they behave the way we want them to behave, our relationships will be based on fear and manipulation. If we hear ourselves making suggestions for how the people around us can improve themselves – and what we really want is for them to change for us – real love won’t be possible. We’ll first need to accept them exactly as they are.
When we see, hear or read something, and then think something about it based on our belief about it, and then feel a certain way based on whatever we’re thinking about it – and we do it over and over and over – our interpretation is training our attitude, which is determining our behavior, which is reinforcing our expectation, which is planning our future.
We’re experiencing whatever we perceive. And we’re shaping our future based on how we perceive our present.
When my mom was in her 70s, she was called to jury duty. A young man, who owned a small business with his dad, was transporting a car on their company’s flatbed truck. When he was stopped for a traffic violation, the police found drugs in the trunk of the car, and he was arrested. The jury was hung – eleven to one in favor of guilty. And my mom was the one. No one had proven to her without a doubt that he’d done it, and her perception of him was that he couldn’t and didn’t. So in spite of tremendous pressure to go along with the other jurors, she stuck to what she believed, and he was acquitted. And a few months later, he drove his wife and their two small children, 600 miles from their home in Florida to my mom’s home, because he wanted to show his kids “a lady of integrity.”
So the question we’re all facing is: What am I going to do with what’s in front of me?
Every day, we’re presented with people and conditions that we can get upset about and take sides against. And if we wear our biases like armor, we’re likely to draw from a personal arsenal of fear-based weapons, including criticism, hate and ultimatums.
Yet, in each of these situations, every one of us has the ability to not join the masses – and to instead deliberately focus on something that makes us feel good, walking away if necessary, and to choose a broader, softer, better-feeling thought in order to maintain a positive attitude as our norm.
At any time, we all have the ability to turn garbage into gold, or gold into garbage, through our view of life. And we’re always capable of finding value in any person or experience, which is what redeems the moment.
When we drop fear and resistance toward people and situations, our perceptions naturally become supportive. And then we can see the harmony in life.
And the good news is that, if we relate differently to people and circumstances, our experience of them will naturally change – because they can only be for us whatever we believe they are.
Try it out. Treat people differently and notice what happens.