We see what we want to see. We read what we want to read. Unless we’re fully present and aware, we miss reality.
A few days back, our superstar editor and my partner at Kaplifestyle, Stephanie, wrote a powerful guest post about selfishness and family. Her’s was a thoughtful essay about her unsavory relationship with her mother and father. She spoke openly and unapologetically, as we encourage around here. I was proud of her display of strength in sharing her story with an eye toward impacting others.
For the purpose of a reminder, here was the original heading:
[Editor’s note: The following is entirely my words after Gabe agreed to let me use his platform again. — Stephanie, Kaplifestyle Editor]
Clearly articulated in the first few lines is the unequivocal fact that Stephanie is the author. It came as a surprise that I received several texts either mistakenly thanking me for sharing my thoughts or wondering why, if they knew my parents, I’d say things about them that were not accurate.
Here’s an enthusiastic (paraphrased) sample from a good friend who splashes in the first bucket.
Bonjour Gabriel. I loved today’s post. I knew our philosophies were aligned. Living in a society driven by standards is not an easy task and I always admire people who step out of it. I grew up identified as an egotistical, selfish person because I was living for myself according to my values and looking to please nobody but me (while still giving consideration to and inspiring people around me). Funny, I had the same discussion with my best friend who was explaining how disappointed she was that nobody in her family was picking up the phone to call her. They didn’t realize that she’s been going through a tough time. As a horse rider, I like to use this analogy of the reins. We are in control of the pace and direction of our lives.
Granted, my friend is French, but her mastery of the English language is undeniable. She read the words on the page in Stephanie’s post as mine. Of course, the connection she felt is not to be discounted. I alerted her of the confusion. She replied as expected — with the same level of enthusiasm. She had gotten what she needed. “Well, I still loved the post,” she said.
Our attention is a finite resource, and we often miss the obvious surrounding us. Our brains know what they should expect, so that’s all we see. From psychologytoday.com:
One recent study asked a group of radiologists to examine a series of chest x-rays, just as they would if looking for lung cancer. Unknown to the radiologists, though, the researchers had inserted into the x-rays a picture of something no professional would ever expect to see: a gorilla. The picture of the gorilla wasn’t tiny; it was about 45 times the size of the average cancerous lung nodule – or about the size of a matchbook in your lung.
How many of the radiologists spotted the gorilla?
Very few. Some 83 percent of the radiologists missed the gorilla – even though eye-tracking showed that most of them had looked right at it.
In every day life, this isn’t necessarily negative. After all, you want your radiologist focused on identifying the tumor at all costs. However, it is important to be mindful of just how much information we filter out unconsciously. From Margaret Heffernan, author of Willful Blindness:
We can’t notice and know everything: the cognitive limits of our brain simply won’t let us. That means we have to filter or edit what we take in. So what we choose to let through and to leave out is crucial. We mostly admit the information that makes us feel great about ourselves, while conveniently filtering whatever unsettles our fragile egos and most vital beliefs….Ideology powerfully masks what, to the uncaptivated mind, is obvious, dangerous, or absurd and there’s much about how, and even where, we live that leaves us in the dark. Fear of conflict, fear of change keeps us that way. An unconscious (and much denied) impulse to obey and conform shields us from confrontation and crowds provide friendly alibis for our inertia.
My friend saw what she wished to; she mined evidence that confirmed her beliefs that she and I are similar. Details, like the fact that it wasn’t my story, were less relevant to her brain than the feelings she already had. Psychologists refer to this as confirmation bias – we only pay attention to the things that confirm what we already “know.”
If you’ve been joining us here at Kaplifestyle for any length of time, you know we don’t just accept this situation. Rather, we boldly seek to challenge the way we think. Next time you sink in to relax and read a piece, do so with awareness. Attempt to absorb everything, not just the words that immediately resonate as true. I’ll challenge us further: Question your own assumptions, and seek out evidence that supports an opposing view. Open yourself up to the possibility that you may be inaccurate. Surround yourself with people who have opposing views, no matter how hot your exchanges become. Our intellectual growth is stunted when we only hear from people telling us what we want to hear. The cognitive dissonance may cause uneasiness, but your mind will grow tougher for it.