How To Build A Healthy Perception

In 1958 psychologist, Marie Jahoda wrote the on of my favourite quotes. “The perception of reality is called mentally healthy when what the individual sees corresponds to what is actually there.” Basically, there is the reality of the world, and then there is our perception.

As you may be able to tell from previous articles, I am not really a fan of quotes, especially inspirational one-liners that have little substance and generally fall apart under a little bit of questioning. However, this one is rock solid in my mind. There is reality, then there is our perception of reality. Reality doesn’t change. The truth is what it is, and will remain so whether one person or 7 billion people believe in it. Jahoda argues that our perception of reality is a measure of our mental health.

To clarify this, health and illness are not the same. I am not as active or able to run as far as I could when I was 17. I am not even close to the same level of health. However, I have no illness, I am just not as healthy. This is how it is with our minds as well. It is possible to be in less than optimal mental health while not being mentally ill. As we expand on this, we can see how the idea that “Perception is reality” (a favourite among corporate middle-managers), and “This is my truth,” demonstrate a lack of mental health. Again, this does not mean someone is mentally ill, just that they are not in top mental health.

Why? Because someone who is mentally healthy will accept challenges to their ideology and beliefs, they will be exercising their mind, growing, adapting, learning, and open to new experiences and ideas. Mentally healthy people don’t struggle with the idea that they may be wrong, and they seek reality and correction, they don’t fear it.

In society we can see health in the person who may choose a political side, but accept that in a democracy the opposing voices have as much right to be heard, and encourage discussion. It doesn’t mean not taking a side, it means allowing the other side a place in the discussion without name-calling.

So how do we fix this? It’s not easy and it will take focus, but essentially it comes down to this – quit giving a crap! Why does it matter if someone disagrees with you? Who cares if you have a difference of opinion with someone? It’s not important in the greater scheme of the universe. If your identity is (sadly) tied up in being right, then be right. Learn, grow, and be challenged. Your truth is not the truth – it is a perception of the truth.

Here are the three takeaways for today:

1 – Perception is not reality.

2 – Don’t simply allow yourself to be challenged, challenge yourself. Look for opposing voices and listen to them. You may actually find out you have more in common than you thought.

3 – Think about what is important. Is it more important to hold onto a wrong position than it is to grow? Really?

In a world where people are increasingly more resistant to the idea that someone can disagree without being the enemy it isn’t an easy concept to take in, but we can actually do this if we want to. We can change the world, one person at a time simply by listening, allowing a voice, and growing. Try it, I guarantee your stress will decrease.

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Jahoda, M. (1958). Current concepts of positive mental health. New York: Basic Books.

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