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The Relationship of Perception to Reality

It is easy to become overwhelmed by the news today, not only in the sense that we are all bombarded, with access to the news at our fingertips, but also that the news itself can make us feel, in many ways, hopeless, powerless and anxious. Trying to strike a balance between being informed by news media and not becoming overwhelmed by it, is proving more and more challenging, particularly given the exponential growth of the technological advancements that engulf us today. Technology has dramatically changed how we access information, influencing how and where information is shared. The growth of the internet as a disseminator of news has progressed from initial online duties being added to journalists' daily routines, to a fundamental change in the formatting of broadcast news and in the ways in which consumers expect to get their information. Increasing innovative and intrusive development and usage of smartphones and other technological devices, as well as the rapid growth of social media networks, has resulted in larger media consumption worldwide and access to the news anywhere and at any time.

Whilst there are positives to the progression of our utilisation and accessibility to news media coverage, including its ability to keep us connected and easily informed, it is also evidenced to have a wide range of negative behavioural and emotional effects. These include observed impacts on mood, stress and sleep, to name a few, as well as creating opportunities for the already powerful to become empowered. The news projected by the mainstream media presents a systematically repeated, highly sensationalised version of a story. One that we are all educated to accept as reality. Accordingly our ego, our self-identity and our conditioning are formed by this mainstream narrative, creating a perceived reality that can become indistinguishable from any other. This, I believe, is something to think about deeply, with more critique and apprehension, particularly when reflecting upon and exploring our own and others subtle behaviour changes that have taken place over time. For example, examining the changes that have occurred in our motivations, reactions, judgments, habits, attitudes, beliefs, perceptions etc. Our environment has a significant influence on these behaviours and in turn our behaviours play a role in how we interact with our environment. The two constructs are intertwined and as such our perceived and actual reality, cultivated in part by our environment, can easily become merged into one. This can cause disagreement and conflict between our own and others’ perceptions and reality, leading to ill-advised information and subsequently poorly or mis-informed decisions.

What’s important to note here, is that just because we think something is our reality, doesn’t mean it is reality. In other words, our perceptions are not always a true representation of reality. That being said, a perception can become a person’s reality because it has a potent influence on how we look at reality. However, there is a difference. Perception can act as a lens through which we view reality, influencing the way in which we focus on, process, remember, interpret, understand, decide about, and act on reality. As a result, we tend to assume that our perception of reality is an accurate representation of what reality truly is. But of course this is not always the case. The lens through which we perceive, can often be warped by self-interest, emotions and cognitive distortions.

With this understanding, we can recognise that the challenge we face with our own thinking, and those of others, is how to ensure that our perceptions remain close to reality. To pave a way in which we can live in the real world, be in harmony with others, and maintain individual, governmental, and societal structures necessary for ‘life as we know it’ to exist, we must try to find alignment between our perceptions and reality.

Building upon this idea, it is therefore helpful not to automatically assume that our perceptions are reality, nor those of others, and to try to nurture a dynamic mindset whereby we don’t hold our perceptions too tightly. Let us admit when they are wrong and, in doing so, present further opportunities to learn and progress appropriately. Taking a step back and recognising any pre-dispositions or agenda’s we hold, that may warp our perceptions, could help us to be more rational and reasonable in how we ground ourselves in reality. More and more these days I realise the importance and need to challenge our own and others’ perceptions. To be a critical thinker and to not take the information fed to us at face value. Seeking out validation from experts and credible others can help us to close the gap between perception and reality, allowing us to form our own well-informed and trusted realities.

I implore that we all try to be more open to modifying our perceptions, particularly if evidence demands it. A rigid mind is said to be far worse than being wrong – I’m sure many of us can agree?

So, the next time you listen, watch or read the news try to remember that what someone else tells you, might be their perception, but it is not your reality. Be open and don’t be afraid to question things. Try to connect to others with honesty and authenticity. There can be many versions of one story at play – go looking for the one that speaks truth, or as close to it as possible.

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