Anyone who has ever experienced being an outsider should be aware of the fallibilities of human perception. There are individual and collective misperceptions that cause people to act in ways that they shouldn’t.
To function properly, people need stable views which they are confident about. But the truth is that the world is full of illusions. What we perceive is almost never what is really there.
Our minds reduce the infinitely complex into something much simpler that we can comprehend. We lose bits of reality along the way.
The Act of Perceiving
The way we perceive something (a ‘target’) has been expressed as the result of three steps. According to psychologist Jerome Bruner, this is how we form an opinion:
- When we encounter an unfamiliar target, we are open to different informational cues and want to learn more about it.
- Next we try to collect more information. Gradually, we encounter some familiar cues that help us categorize the target.
- At this stage, the cues become less open and selective. We try to search for more cues that confirm the categorization of the target. We also actively ignore and even distort cues that violate our initial perceptions. Our perception becomes more selective. Finally, we paint a consistent picture of the target.
When Perception Creates an Illusion
Something can be considered an illusion when it is consistently perceived in a way that defies reality. How does this happen? There are several ways.
- Close mindedness. The first step in perceiving something new happens if the perceiver is not open to the possibility that it is new. Cues about its uniqueness are ignored and the target is immediately miscategorized.
- Limited, ambiguous or unfamiliar cues. A target may be miscategorized when our attempts to perceive it are thwarted by visual or other cues that are difficult to process. We miss cues and misinterpret others, resulting in false perceptions.
- Motivation. We may want to perceive something quickly or we may not care about accuracy or we may just be mentally lazy. Whatever the reason, misperceptions happen when the perceiver makes too little effort to gather and properly interpret information.
- Emotion. Often we see what we want to see. If we are in a fearful state, we perceive danger vividly. When we are happy, we see beauty. Strong emotions can create illusions.
When a Person is an Illusion
We are all illusions in the sense that we are never truly understood. No matter how you want to be seen, people will always have their own image of you. They will mishear, misunderstand and misinterpret your words and actions.
But some people are more illusory than others in terms of their place in people’s minds. You are an illusion when people consistently form views of you that are distorted in such a way that they prevent meaningful personal connection. You may as well be a ghost because you are never seen.
Quotes About Being Misunderstood
I believe you have to be willing to be misunderstood if you’re going to innovate. Jeff Bezos
To be misunderstood can be the writer’s punishment for having disturbed the reader’s peace. The greater the disturbance, the greater the possibility of misunderstanding. Anatole Broyard
There is in every madman a misunderstood genius whose idea, shining in his head, frightened people, and for whom delirium was the only solution to the strangulation that life had prepared for him. Antonin Artaud