A man sat at a metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin; it was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that thousands of people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.
Three minutes went by and a middle aged man noticed there was musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried up to meet his schedule. A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip: a woman threw the money in the till and without stopping continued to walk. A few minutes later, someone leaned against the wall to listen to him, but the man looked at his watch and started to walk again. Clearly he was late for work.
The one who paid the most attention was a 3 year old boy. His mother tagged him along, hurried but the kid stopped to look at the violinist. Finally the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. All the parents, without exception, forced them to move on.
In the 45 minutes the musician played, only 6 people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed it. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.
No one knew this but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the best musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written with a violin worth 3.5 million dollars.
Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston and the seats average $100.
This is a real story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of an social experiment about perception, taste and priorities of people. The outlines were: in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour: Do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize the talent in an unexpected context?
One of the possible conclusions from this experience could be: If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing the best music ever written, how many other things are we missing? (Quote source here.)
Kevin Gerald, founder and pastor of Champions Centre in Tacoma, WA, opens Chapter 9 titled, “Good Eyes,” in his book titled, “Good Things” (2015), with a shortened version of the above story (see pp. 61-62). After the story, Gerald asks:
How could anyone miss this? The master violinist did a charity concert and over a thousand people walked by without noticing? How does that happen?
The fact is that the people who passed by that day represent a trait common to all of us: we don’t always see what’s right in front of us. But the fact that we don’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there.
Just what’s wrong with our eyes, anyway? (Quote source, “Good Things,” p. 62).
It’s true that we don’t often see what is right in front of us. Sometimes it has to do with our perception; sometimes it’s because, like the folks in the subway, we’re in a rush to get somewhere else. In the process of becoming adults we’ve lost our inquisitiveness that we had as children–the “stop and smell the roses” moments that we rarely take anymore. We assume things that are often not based in reality (e.g., gossip, or “fake news” that has recently entered our lexicon) that become our own perception of reality. We’ve all heard the saying, “perception is reality.” But is it really? (See article titled, “‘Perception is Reality’–Not Always True,” by Dr. Paul White at this link).
In “Good Things,” Chapter 9, Gerald goes on to write:
Jesus told us, “The lamp of the body is the eye. Therefore, when your eye is good, your whole body also is full of light. But when your eye is bad, your body also is full of darkness” (Luke 11:34, NKJV).
My eyesight is not as por as some people’s. But when I have my glasses on I can read with a lot more ease and catch details that I otherwise miss. Just as people go to an eye doctor to get glasses or have surgery to give them better eyesight, we’re not stuck with our current life paradigm. We can choose a better one!
The word “paradigm” comes from the Greek and is, in a general sense, a reference to a set pattern or way we see the world–not in terms of our physical eyes but in terms of our assumptions, beliefs, and overall perspective. Its’ what we might call our mind’s eye.
This is what Jesus was referring to as he explained the eye as the lamp of the body. He was saying that the eye can be good or the eye can be bad, and the condition of our eye affects what we see or don’t see, what we experience or miss out on. If our eyes are good, it’s like turning on a lap inside of us. We brighten up in our spirits because we’re living with a greater awareness of God’s goodness and blessings in our lives.
The opposite is true about bad eyes; they miss seeing the good. They may or may not take in darkness, but they definitely don’t take in light. What they don’t see is not what they are incapable of seeing but typically what they are not trained to see.
In a similar way, the only thing that’s different between a negative person and a positive person is what they “see.” Two people can grow up in the same house with similar life experiences, and one will be negative about life and the other will be positive. Even though they have been surrounded by the same environment and have the same parents, what they see and the way they see it is different.
Negative people are not bad. Pessimistic people are not ignorant. In fact, oftentimes negativity is a trait of people who are highly informed in what they call reality. When passing along their perspective, they will tell you, “I’m not being negative; I’m just being real!” And they are being real in what they are aware of and educated in, which is the “life is hard” reality. They have taken pages of notes and have the data to support the fact that life is not a gravy train!
When people are deeply educated in the “life is hard” reality but undereducated in the “God is good” reality, they lean toward the unfavorable possibility versus seeing the possibility of something good. The reason these persons can get stuck in their negativity is that they have accepted that the “life is hard” reality cancels out the “God is good” reality.
I’ve found that anyone, even people highly aware of the “life is hard” reality, will become authentically optimistic when they educate themselves in the “Good is good” reality. You don’t have to deny the realities associated with life being hard to see the realities associated with God being good! (Quote source, “Good Things,” p. 62-64).
As Gerald notes, it’s not that life isn’t hard for all of us from time to time (and sometimes for a long time), but rather not forgetting that God is still good when life is hard. Gerald writes more on this topic in Chapter 9 and also devotes a chapter to it in Chapter 12 titled, “What About ‘If'”.
In my work with people, I often deal with individuals’ reactions to situations as well as communication issues between co-workers and family members. As a result, in the process of working through these issues, people often say to me, “Well, you know, perception is reality.” Sometimes they say this to explain how miscommunication occurred with another person, or why they feel the way they do. . . .
The problem is — it is not true. At least, not always.
There is a verifiable reality that exists. And sometimes our perceptions (or beliefs about the world) do not match reality. In the physical realm, that is the basis for illusionists — they are able to make things appear different than they really are. Also, there are those tricks of nature that our senses can play on us that can lead us to misinterpret what is really happening (having a sense of your body being warm while you are in the beginning stages of hypothermia).
But in day to day life, I see the mismatch between perception and reality more practically. Here are some examples.
Miscommunication. The classic example is the scenario like this: “You said ….” “I did not. I said ….” “Oh, but I thought you said ….” “No. What I said (or at least, thought I did) was …” “But I thought you said …” If we stick with the perception is reality proposition, this leads to major problems in communication. This is true for both parties. For the initial speaker, “what I thought” does not necessarily equal “what I said”. And “what I said” is not necessarily the same thing as “what I meant”. Similarly, for the listener, “what I heard you say” may not be the equivalent to “what you said”. So perception may be perception, but it may not be what actually occurred.
The mismatch between feeling reactions and reality. I often see the disconnect between reality and perception in the area of worrying. Being worried or anxious is essentially a smaller version of being afraid (there is a qualitative difference between being terrified or afraid for one’s safety and being worried or concerned). However, the realm of worry and anxiety have to do with potential events that may happen. They always have to do with the future. The challenge is — not everything people worry about is reality-based. Those who struggle significantly with anxiety can worry daily about their loved ones being killed in a car accident on the way to school or work. Or they can worry about the stock market crashing, losing all of their savings, and winding up being homeless.
[NOTE: One way we can manage our fears and worries is to do a “reality check” — what is the actual likelihood of x event happening today? Has x happened before? How many times? Even if x happens, does that necessarily mean y will happen? And even in the unlikely event that x happens and y also happens, what are all of the circumstances that need to be in place for z then to occur? The chances are incredibly slim. So, how much time and energy do you want to spend worrying about a series of incidents that will probably not happen?]
Misinterpretation of a situation. Some people make quick judgments. Sometimes this is to their benefit. But, in other cases, it can lead to misjudging what is going on in a situation. In working with kids and teens, I have often seen a scenario where a fairly impulsive student, who also views themselves as the ‘protector’ of others will come into a room and see a couple of guys “scuffling”. They have each other in headlocks and are throwing one another around the room. The self-appointed “hero” sees the guys “fighting” and promptly dives in, tackles one of the fighters, taking him to the ground, and yells, “Break it up!” (Frequently someone gets hurt in the process.) It is then that the hero finds out that the two boys were just “horsing around” and it was a good-natured tussle between two friends. The two “fighters” wind up being angry at the hero for interfering with their fun and over-reacting to the situation. Unfortunately, this happens in the adult world as well — where someone misinterprets a situation and reacts inappropriately because of their misperception. Truly, in these situations, perception is not reality.
Inaccurate beliefs about the way the world is. For instance, in doing career coaching with individuals, many people believe that finding a job that meets their needs and desires should be fairly easy and should happen within a matter of weeks. So they “dive in” looking and applying for jobs. After several weeks with no job, they begin to become discouraged (our feeling reactions are inter-related with our expectations) and begin to question if they are pursuing the right career direction. Self-doubt also sets in, wondering if they are capable of finding the type of job they want and whether they are really marketable. The reality is that finding a job which is a good fit for you takes a lot of time and energy. Usually three to six months, or longer. And this reality is demonstrated time and time again (one of the aspects of “reality” is that it can be verified empirically).
Misattribution of motive. Probably the most damaging form of misperception is the case of attributing a certain motive to someone else’s action, and being quite far off the mark. This happens in marriages a lot, it seems. And it can be the result of either an overt action (that is, something you did) or the absence of an action (something you didn’t do but the other person thought you should have). Let me state something clearly — most of us aren’t fully clear why we do what we do, let alone being able to understand the motives of another. It is always best to ask (and hopefully, believe) the other person, “Why did you …?” It can be helpful to start with the phrase, “I’m confused. Can you help me understand why you…?” (It seems to take the accusatory edge off of the interaction.) There are tons of examples, more than I want to go into (and for fear of incriminating myself). Let me just suggest: we often get “bent out of shape” with others because we attribute a reason for their action or inaction that is not accurate.
There are other examples of perception not equaling reality, but I think that is enough for now. Maybe use these ideas to frame your own thoughts when you hear: “Well, you know, perception is reality.” Maybe. Maybe not. (Quote source here.)
We all can see ourselves in those paragraphs cited above. I have also noticed that one of the most common places where our communications can be easily misinterpreted is in our use of Social Media. A quick text, or a Facebook post, or a tweet on Twitter can unleash a firestorm of misunderstanding, and it also has the capability of circling our globe instantaneously. So can email (just ask WikiLeaks). In fact, the technology created since the beginning of the 21st Century could eventually be responsible for unleashing World War 3 at some point in time. I’m not sure how we solve the misunderstanding issues on Social Media or if we can solve them, but perhaps it would do us all some good if we turned off our technology once in awhile and really do stop and smell the roses occasionally and gain back some perspective.
We live in both a fragile and an oftentimes angry world where the very thought that “God is good” comes into question on a frequent basis. The concept seems almost alien in the midst of some very horrific stuff that goes on all around our globe. That’s because evil exists and we too often blame the evil on God (or at least blame God for allowing it). However, it is as Kevin Gerald stated (quoted above) when he said:
I’ve found that anyone, even people highly aware of the “life is hard” reality, will become authentically optimistic when they educate themselves in the “Good is good” reality. You don’t have to deny the realities associated with life being hard to see the realities associated with God being good! (Quote source, “Good Things,” p. 63-64).
For example, if you have survived some really horrific stuff today and you’re still alive, who has kept you alive? Or if you think you can’t make it through another day, who is it that keeps you going? God isn’t good just when times are good; God is good when times are horrific, too. He sees us through them if we will only stop blaming him for them and, instead, understand what Romans 8:28 is really saying to all of us:
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
“All things” not only includes the good things and good times, but the really horrific stuff, too–the very stuff we can’t handle on our own. Jesus said we are to always pray and never give up (Luke 18:1), and that is especially true in the horrific turns our lives sometimes take, too. Life is not alway easy, and perception is not always reality; however. . .
God is good . . .
All the time . . .
And all the time God is good . . . .
YouTube Video: “God Is Good All The Time” by Chester Baldwin: