Posted by: ritagone | June 26, 2013

The Perception is the Reality




“The perception is the reality.”

My husband says this all the time.  I don’t know if he invented it.  I’d like to think that he did.  But even if he didn’t, it’s a pretty wise saying to latch onto and remember, because the wisdom behind it is profound.

Let me explain:  We all see what we want to see.  Another clichéd saying that comes to mind is: “Don’t bother me with facts. My mind’s made up.”  In other words, I’ve come to a conclusion, and nothing you say or do can convince me otherwise.  Seeing is believing, but seeing what you want to see is believing what you want to believe.

I know I’m being cryptic here, but there’s a point coming.  Stay with me and we’ll get there.

Perhaps the two greatest illustrations of this phenomenon I’m talking about are found in literature that is very familiar to all of us: the first is the Hans Christian Andersen fable, “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”  The story has been around for almost two hundred years, yet its moral still rings true.  In it, the Emperor, a vain, silly man, is swindled into believing that he is wearing a magical suit of clothing that only the wise and discerning can see.  Fools and those unfit cannot see it.  He pays a lot of money to the two swindlers to make this “suit of clothing” for him, and then he walks in a parade to show himself off to the townsfolk.  No one wants to admit, of course, that the Emperor is in his underwear because this would mean admitting to being a fool and unworthy.  So everyone cheers and raves about the outfit, including the Emperor himself.

Their perception has become the reality.  They have so convinced themselves that he is wearing a suit of fine clothing that they applaud the missing apparel.  In their minds, they probably can actually see clothing on the Emperor.  Their perception has become their reality.

Until a small child – honest and transparent – blurts out that the Emperor is naked.

The second illustration is from the book “The Wizard of Oz” by L. Frank Baum, famously made into the movie “The Wizard of Oz” starring Judy Garland, a movie that is part of American and even global culture.  Remember the famous scene when the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, and the Lion, along with Dorothy, are trembling as they approach the Mighty Oz, with thunder and rumblings and appropriate sound effects and the terror one should feel getting so close to his magnificence?

Suddenly Dorothy’s little dog Toto, intrepid as always, goes over to a curtain and pulls it down, revealing…a man, a mere man, turning a wheel which is producing all the special effects.  When the man turns around and discovers that he has been exposed, he is ashamed, awkward, showing himself to be just a human being who has gotten caught.  He’s not a Wizard at all.

But until then, the perception had become the reality.

The people thought the Wizard of Oz was this great, powerful, noisy, thunder-producing being who controlled the world around him.  When they were shown the truth, it took them quite a while to adjust to the reality.  Their perceptions had to move into a totally new space.

Now we talk about “the man behind the curtain” when we refer to something not being what it seems.  That allusion captures the essence of what the filmmakers and the author were trying to communicate to their audiences: reality is not always what you think it is.  It is often misleading, needs to be evaluated on a different level, and sometimes violates our senses.

Okay, enough with the illustrations.

Here’s my point, finally:  There’s always the possibility in life that behind what appears to be the reality you see is another “reality” that is even more true.  In other words, what you see is not always what you get.  The Emperor is often not wearing clothes, in spite of what everyone around you is saying.  Behind the curtain is only a man, not a wizard, who is as scared and impotent as you are.

Sometimes it’s because we don’t know the whole story.

Sometimes it’s because we’re just not that observant of all the facts around us and miss many of the signals.

And sometimes it’s because our minds play tricks on us.

For whatever reason, the perception is not always the reality.  And just knowing that that is a possibility is half the battle.  It should make you aware of the alternatives, the possibilities, the fogginess of some things in life.  You don’t always get to pull the curtain down, but you should always keep in mind that a curtain might in fact exist.  Or that looking at the Emperor requires close scrutiny just in case he might be – let me look a little closer – naked!!

Emperors and wizards can mislead us so that what we are perceiving about them – and regular humans too – is not always the reality.

Keeping that truth in mind is a wise thing to do.


  1. We see things not as they are, but as we are. (Talmud)

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