Study Session: Learning to See 27
Why do you think each of you reacted in this way?
What from your background, experiences, or values may have
influenced what you saw in the photo?
Understanding Influences on Perception
Each of us walks around in the world making meaning of what we see, hear,
and experience. We have an amazing capacity to take in information and
instantly make sense of it. When we can’t make sense of something, we feel
uncomfortable and out of balance. When we feel this way, we work hard to
find an explanation. We want to get back to our normal, comfortable way of
seeing the world.
From infancy we have learned how to make sense of what happens
around us. We’ve discovered that facial expressions and body language give us
reams of information about a situation. The tone of someone’s voice creates a
further impression. These are some of the strongest influences on how we see
the world today. We instantly size up a situation without even realizing what
factors are influencing us. And each of us does this in a different way, with the
different filters of our childhood, temperament, and experiences.
If we become more aware of our interpretations, we can analyze the influ-
ences that come into play. Past experiences contribute a big part to how we
make sense of things. We scan a scene to find what we recognize as familiar
and then assign meaning from our past experiences. Our expectations about
what we’ll see also are part of the process. Consciously or not, we often see
exactly what we expect to see. How we feel in the moment strongly influences
what we see. If we are tired or cold or just had a disagreement with a friend,
these experiences color our perceptions. And, as Lisa Delpit so clearly says in
the quote that begins this study session, our values and beliefs rush in as we
interpret and judge a situation.
This photo activity offers a reminder of the differences we each bring in
making sense of any situation. Some people describe the concrete physical
aspects of a scene, while others notice the relationships between the people
and objects in the scene. Some people describe the details, while others
describe the feelings they get from the photo.
The notion that we all see things differently is obvious. Yet, as we go about
our lives, we usually assume that what we see is true and that others must be
seeing the same truths we do. When differing views are acknowledged, there
is often conflict. We assume that if one of us is right, then the other must
be wrong. Many of us are uncomfortable with conflict and try to avoid it.
Nevertheless, we can recognize the opportunity that hearing different experi-
ences and new points of view gives us, even if we are uncomfortable. It is an
opportunity to expand our thinking and our humanity.