Perception Is Reality
Of late, I’ve been struck with how our perceptions differ so greatly from those of others who observe or experience the same things. I first began to realize this when I had friends who were brothers. There was about a ten-year age difference between them. I had much interaction with both brothers and as our relationships deepened, they began to tell me stories from their childhood, about their parents and how they were raised. If I hadn’t known they were brothers, there is no way I could have recognized that they came from the same family and had the same parents. Their perspective as to how they had been raised was as if they had been raised by totally different people. I never forgot this lesson. I learned that our perceptions of events can differ beyond recognition when compared with the perceptions of others who experienced precisely the same things.
Life is not neutral. Everything we experience has long term ramifications for how we perceive reality. In the context of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, this truncated reality has affected three to four generations and continues with no end in sight. At the end of the day, it’s our personal experiences that color our perceptions of people and things far more than any distanced, rational analysis ever could. We are an experience-oriented generation, living in a world of powerful media images and mind-deadening propaganda.
The personal element of meeting one another, sharing meals, engaging in conversation and listening to one another’s life experiences can change our perceptions of each other and, in the longer term, how we perceive the conflict itself. Our respective governments seem dedicated to keeping our populations separated. The only faces we see of the “other,” either Jew or Arab, come from the digital world of Facebook, blogs, television and newspapers. Face-to-face contact is rare for Israelis and Palestinians. Then, there is the fear factor that adds yet another reason for disengagement from any kind of relationship.
My perception of Palestinians today is shaped by personal relationships –with friends and colleagues who are brothers and sisters as we acknowledge our common father, God. If, however, I speak with other “Israeli” friends and even family, their perspective is very different than mine. Where I see a brother, they see a potential threat to their existence. I have the advantage in that I’ve personally experienced legendary Arab hospitality and have been embraced by this community that’s so different from my own.
When we encourage others to engage with someone outside their comfortable circles, the usual response is either “Why bother, my life complicated enough ,” or “But they don’t understand the land like we do,” or “They are all extremists and we want nothing to do with them.” If they do meet, its always a difficult beginning until a modicum of trust can be built. In this season, the forces of the state, the church and the devil seem to be aligned against positive interactions. In addition to our usual preconceptions, fear of the “other” is often evident, whether it’s recognized or subliminal. Our perception becomes our reality.
The only way to expand our perception, to change our reality, is to intentionally engage with people, real life situations and events that stretch us beyond our comfortable boundaries. As long as we remain in the familiar, we will never perceive the wider picture. When I think back on my experience with the two brothers and reflect that if I had only met one of them, my understanding of their family would be a one-sided skewed version of a much richer and more complex reality.
As an Israeli Messianic Jew, I am grateful to have met and even be in relationship with many brothers and sisters whose families, life situations and cultures are very different from my own. I have only been enriched by choosing to engage with their multi-faceted world.