Seeing Another Perspective

    If one is expecting a friend to come walking over a distant hill in the next few minutes and one is looking at the hill and sees something blurry suddenly appear at the top of the hill it is likely to appear to be one's friend.  This is an example of how interpretations of perceptions are influenced by beliefs.  This isn't just true with people.  Pattern recognition algorithms in engineering are influenced by what pattern is being searched for. 

    Interpretation of events on the basis of prior beliefs  is described  in terms of schemas in the book Cognitive Therapy of Depression by Aaron Beck, A. John Rush, Brian F. Shaw and Gary Emery (1985 The Guilford Press).   They define schema as the way people selectively attend to specific stimuli, combine them in a pattern and conceptualize them.  According to the authors "In psychopathological states such as depression, patients' conceptualizations of specific situations are distorted to fit the prepotent dysfunctional schemas."     

    Political events are often interpreted by people with political beliefs to fit their schema.  An excellent web page with historical examples illustrating this and the disastrous consequences that result is the Anti-Closed-Mind Site.

    To understand how schema influence political beliefs lets consider countries A and B.  If countries A and B are enemies than country A is likely to give a sinister interpretation to neutral or even friendly overtures by country B whereas if the countries are friends country A is likely to interpret hostile behavior by B as friendly.  For example Israel considers the United States an ally yet the United States is arming the Arabs who are the enemies of Israel.  Israelis are not likely to see that as a hostile act whereas if the Russians did it the Israelis would see it as a hostile act. 

    Since many of us have a tendency to interpret events to support our view of the world, and to cling to that view, it is good to occasionally challenge that view and to try and consider events from a different perspective.  It's good to look for other explanations of events than the ones we are used to.  This is especially true if we are suffering from emotional upset.   It's possible that our interpretation of events is flawed and is causing unneeded emotional upset.  In this case considering the opposite and trying to come up with arguments supporting the opposite of our negative beliefs can be helpful.  Often the opposite is not true either but we then see another perspective and can come closer to the truth.


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