Kellie and I were driving the mountain road between Damascus, VA and our home in Boone, NC recently when a motorcycle approaching from the other direction started waving his hand in an up-and-down motion, the classic symbol for slow down. Kellie responded first, “What’s he talking about—I’m driving the speed limit!” I responded next, “He’s probably warning us that something is in the road ahead; we need to keep a sharp eye out.”
“Or he could just be a control freak,” Kellie offered next.
“Or there could be a police car ahead with a radar gun,” I suggested.
And then we both laughed because it was such a classic example of our personality narratives in action. By personality Kellie is a challenger, so her instinctive response to an obstacle is to speed up! It’s a beautiful blend of confidence and courage that is generally aimed toward something that feels unjust or oppressive. By contrast, my personality is marked by caution and community-building, so when I run up on an obstacle, I definitely tend to slow down, assess for risks, and try to herd everyone together for protection. There’s a beauty to that too—and I’m starting to learn to appreciate my strengths (and even my weaknesses) after so many years.
Have you noticed the immense truth here? None of us confronts a situation unbiased! We all see through a personality-filter that colors our perception of reality. The transition from perception to conclusion internally is so fast and so transparent, that we generally think we see things the way they really are. But here’s the truth:
We see things the way we really are.
And this is crucial to recognize so we can learn to pause long enough to notice our filter. It’s not that we have to remove the filter, and I’m pretty sure that’s not even possible…but what I also know is that it is possible to get in touch with our propensities and defaults enough to question our own conclusions. And perhaps draw in some other perspectives before we attach too tightly to what we assume is true.
Circumstances happen to us every day—conversations, activities, encounters. Some we instigate and some are instigated by others that affect us. Events are just events…until we apply meaning to them. We link our perceptions of an event and the people involved, of ourselves and of God, and then we create a story that interprets those circumstances and attempts to attach meaning. So we walk away from any given circumstance, and we evaluate whether it as good or bad or somewhere in between based on our internal narratives. And then we generally think that the narratives we have woven are the truth. This is a mistake.
Usually our narratives contain part of the truth. By definition, our narratives never contain all the truth. And sometimes our narratives don’t contain any of the truth! Can you see how that works?
This is why folks sometimes talk in terms that drive evangelicals nuts, talking about “my truth” and “your truth.” Truth is truth!, they proclaim. It’s objective and not up to you to decide!
Well, yes and no. I believe that truth really is objective, a fixed set of points that are trustworthy and established. And I am also convinced that none of us has access to the whole array. “For now we see through a glass, darkly,” Paul observes (1 Cor 13:12), and I would have to agree. So does this place us all on shaky ground? Not so much as we’ll see below, but it should introduce some humility and the awareness that we need each other to get the whole picture.
If it’s not our grasp on objective truth that secures us, then what does? It is our grasp on a Person—or rather the experience of being grasped by God that secures us! Not even the scriptures can secure us because although they are true, our perception of the truth in them is once again quite limited, as any student of church history can attest. The differences in Bible interpretation over the centuries have covered a great spectrum, by equally committed and learned followers of Christ. The scriptures are a tremendous gift of God, but only our relationship with God has the power to secure our lives, which is an enormous relief. The alternative is that we have to perceive it all correctly and interpret it all perfectly, and I dare say no one is up to that task.
Kellie and I never did discover what that motorcycle guy was trying to tell us, but it was a great reminder of the personality filters we apply to our experience of reality. It’s not just personality, by the way; we also carry filters based on culture, experience, and generation to name a few…but those will have to wait for another post.
Do you know what your personality filters are? If not, try exploring your type on the Enneagram or some other assessment. Or simply have an entertaining conversation with your spouse on the topic! Above all, let’s learn not to take ourselves quite so seriously nor our perceptions quite so definitively.
Keep exploring your perception filters.