However, if the perception deviates too far from reality when it shifts from mild illusion to delusion, it can be a liability (e.g., set unattainable goals, lack of preparation for a difficult task). In fact, a substantial disconnect between perception and reality can lead people to a complete inability to function (severe mental illness is an example).
At a societal level, when different individuals or constituencies develop perceptions that are so far apart, one immense problem is that no common ground can be found. This disconnect is exemplified in our current political climate where people of different political stripes have such diametrically opposed perceptions that it becomes impossible to orchestrate consensus or govern.
The result is paralysis (Congress) or hostility (hate crimes). Going to extremes, a massive divide between perceptions in a country would likely lead to a slow, but steady, disintegration of the institutions that hold a society together (dystopian themes in literature and film or, well, our world today).
The challenge we face with our own thinking, as well as the thinking of others, is how to ensure that perceptions remain close to reality. This alignment is essential for us to live in the real world, find consensus with others, and maintain the individual, governmental, and societal structures that are necessary for life as we know it to exist.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind about perception and reality:
- Don’t assume that your perceptions are reality (just your reality)
- Be respectful of others’ perceptions (they may be right)
- Don’t hold your perceptions too tightly; they may be wrong (admitting it takes courage)
- Recognize the distortions within you that may warp your perceptions (seeing them will better ground your perceptions in reality rather than the other way around)
- Challenge your perceptions (do they hold up under the microscope of reality?)
- Seek out validation from experts and credible others (don’t just ask your friends because they likely have the same perceptions as you)
- Be open to modifying your perceptions if the preponderance of evidence demands it (rigidity of mind is far worse than being wrong)
The next time someone tosses that tired trope—“but perception is reality”—in defense of the indefensible, you stand up and tell them that it might be their perception, but it is not reality.
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Written by: Jim Taylor, Ph.D Originally appeared on: Psychology Today Republished with permission