Of elephants, people and perception

We tend to believe that what we see is how it is.

by John Freedom — 

Most of us are familiar with the adage, “Seeing is believing.” We tend to believe that what we see is how it is. This is also true with regard to perception, as in the story of the five blind men and the elephant, wherein each of the five blind men erroneously determines what the elephant is, based on the one part of it that he touches. The tale is an excellent illustration of how easily the senses can be fooled.

Years ago, when I was in therapy, much of the work involved examining our patterns and issues, and discovering how we modeled those patterns and ways of relating from our parents. I began to see how distorted my parents’ viewpoints often were. But me? I was (almost) always “right” and, with my creative, avant garde and often rebellious perceptions, I certainly knew how things really were. Once I began examining specifically how my perceptions had developed and were patterned on the all too human and limited perceptions of my parents, however, I had a most devastating, yet liberating realization: The way I see things is not always the way they are.

Recognizing this was initially very painful and quite humbling. Yet it has served me well in the years since. If I systematically skew and distort my perceptions (the way my parents and the cartoon character “Mr. Magoo” did), I can make corrections, simply by continually fact-checking them and my biases, and by asking others what they are seeing and experiencing.

“Man is the measure of all things,” taught the Greek philosopher Protagoras. We tend to see things not as they are, but as we are. We project our own beliefs, biases and values onto situations, others and ourselves.

Recognizing that we are continually projecting, that others often have very different perceptions and that things are not necessarily the way we see them can lead us to first question, then re-view and re-think our viewpoints. This will guide us to more mature, more reality-based and more nuanced ways of seeing and functioning in our world so that we don’t find ourselves thinking that the sum of an elephant is nothing more than its tail or trunk.


John Freedom, CEHP, is a transpersonal counselor in Tucson, Ariz. He serves as research coordinator for the Association for Comprehensive Energy Psychology and teaches EFT Levels 1, 2 & 3 throughout the U.S. and in Europe. 520-241-5124, www.energypsych.org or research_committee@energypsych.org.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 29, Number 2, Apr/May 2010.

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