Several weeks ago, my roommate said to me: “What you hear might not be the truth. And what you see might also not be the truth.”
I pondered on what my roommate said. Why might the truth, aka the reality, be different from what we heard or saw? I concluded that there are three reasons:
- someone is intentionally trying to deceive us with misleading behaviour
- we filter what had really been said and seen to match whatever biases we might have
- we interpret what we heard and saw differently than what really happened
Case 1: Intentional Deception
Manipulative people might put on false behaviours and personalities in order to gain trust. Although they might initially appear to be caring and have your best interests at heart, over time, their own selfish intentions would betray their façade. To achieve their hidden agendas, they typically ask for inappropriate favours, kidnapping emotions, or imply that your “friendship” is at stake until they get what they want.
Less frequently, someone might deceive us because they believe telling the truth would cause more harm than good. Although the intention for being deceptive is genuine, I personally prefer knowing the truth sooner rather than later in order to more quickly deal with it.
Using a crime scene as analogy, to intentionally deceive is to intentionally tamper with evidence. As a result, almost any conclusion would be incorrect. It is difficult to spot deception unless we’re already suspecting it but we can take measures to decrease the likelihood of interacting with manipulative people by being observant and noting important behavioural discrepancies. From personal experience, if you discover that someone is maliciously deceiving you, don’t just turn around and walk away: turn around and sprint!
Case 2: Filter
What we heard could be different from what was said; what we saw could be different from what was done. Our biases can filter events so that we perceive reality not as what it really is but as what we want to see and hear, influencing us to overlook and overemphasis certain behaviours.
Here’s an extreme example of filtering the reality. Two people are looking at a white wall. Both of them have filtered perceptions so that the first person sees a blue wall and the second person sees a green wall. Both believe that the real colour of the wall is the colour they see because there is no indication otherwise.
We typically filter reality to match the mood we’re in. If we’re feeling happy, we tend to focus more on happy events and filter out unhappy ones. Likewise, if we’re unhappy, we might ignore those same happy events and pay extra attention to negative events. We also words and actions based on who said or did them. A friend’s mean comment might be taken as a light joke but the same comment from a stranger would be taken more seriously.
Filtering our reality is analogous to taking selective evidences that already support a presupposed conclusion. My advice for limiting the effects of our filters is to be aware of our own biases and observe events with an open mind, accepting that we may see and hear things that could challenge our beliefs.
Case 3: Different Interpretation
We heard and saw the events correctly but we incorrectly deduced their causes. Here are three true scenarios:
- A roommate was barking in his room. We might interpret that this roommate is rude and loud. In fact, after more careful questioning, we learned that he was unaware that other roommates could hear him and was simply trying to learn a new skill
- A boy and a girl, both in university, are playing on the playground swings. We might interpret that the boy and the girl are dating. In fact, they are just roommates having a good time after school.
- We see a shy passive boy listen attentively in class. We might interpret that he is generous and achieves good grades. In reality, he manipulates his friends’ emotions and crams for exams.
Incorrectly interpreting the reality is analogous to drawing the wrong conclusion from the correct evidence. By increasing your experiences and perspectives, you will have more wisdom and patterns to use to more accurately interpret events.
Lesson: “What you hear might not be the truth. And what you see might also not be the truth.”