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Matt James Ph.D.

Fact vs. Fiction: How Are Your Interpretations Filtered?

Many people are convinced that their personal reality is the real reality.

Source: ALLVISIONN/iStock

It seems like during this whole COVID-19 period, we’ve had lots of controversy over what is fact versus fiction. Many people seem pretty darn certain that their personal reality is the real reality. And they can usually support it by telling you things they’ve read or observed.

To put it bluntly, very little about what you observe or what you (or any of us) think is based on reality. As my man Morpheus said in The Matrix:

“If real is what you can feel, smell, taste, and see, then real is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.”

The key phrase is “interpreted by your brain.” Here’s how it works: Our brains can only process a minimal amount of the information they are bombarded with each moment. Our brains have developed countless filters that block out much of it for us.

To put it another way, we only see what we believe.

Our filters are based on things like prior experience and our beliefs. That means that no two people experience the exact same reality. It also means that most of what we consider to be “real” is actually our interpretation based on our filters, not the facts.

That said, yes, there are facts. For example, Earth’s gravity is a fact. You can dispute gravity all you want. You can say things like, “Gravity has no power over me. It’s an illusion.” Or, “Gravity is just made up by people who want to control us.” But no matter how convinced you are, if you step off a high-rise, you’ll end up flat as a tortilla. (Unless, of course, you’re Neo.)

The important thing is to know the difference between facts and interpretations (yours or someone else’s). Facts are facts, and no amount of wishing them away will make them different.

Right now, everyone around the planet is dealing with COVID-19. It’s caused a lot of serious illnesses and deaths. It’s caused people to be out of work and the economy to go south. Those are just facts. Another fact is that no one really knows how this will all play out.

I’ve heard people saying, “Well, I don’t know anyone who’s had COVID-19, so I think it’s a hoax.” Yeah, I don’t know anyone who’s had leprosy either, but I’m pretty sure it’s happened. I also don’t know anyone who’s at the point where they can’t afford to feed their families in the last few months, but I’m pretty sure it’s happening. Arguing about the facts makes no sense.

That doesn’t mean we can’t all have different opinions about what we should do about it or how we should respond. It does mean that when your neighbor has an opposing view, it’s based on her reality, those 126 bits of information that made it through her filters, just as your view is based on your filters. Different opinions and perspectives are healthy and generate better ideas and solutions. But if we both claim to have an exclusive on “the truth,” the conversation will do nothing but move us further apart.

So how do you maintain communication with people whose perspective is radically different than yours, especially in times like these? Here are some quick tips:

1. Go into conversation, not into battle. Often when we know we’ll be facing a tough conversation, energetically we prepare for war. Our bodies and minds go into “fight” mode. Instead, prepare by taking deep breaths to relax. In NLP, we teach people to intentionally go into a “resourceful” state, which is relaxed, confident, and open.

2. Avoid “mind-reading.” We see someone looking angry and assume that they’re pissed at us. Someone forgets to call, and we assume they don’t care about us. The truth is, we can’t know what’s going on in someone else’s head. Rather than assuming, be open and ask.

3. Really listen. I’d say the majority of people don’t really listen to one another. They stand there preparing what they’re going to say next, especially in a difficult discussion. Instead, be conscious of really taking in what the other person is saying. Ask questions. Be curious to understand where they’re coming from.

4. Hold your truth loosely. It’s said that the kahuna (shaman) in ancient Hawai’i had the ability to hold two conflicting thoughts at the same time. That’s beyond most of us. But we can stay open and curious. We can learn from each other. A sign above where I learned the hula said, “Think not that all wisdom is within your school.”

Dr. Matt


About the Author

Matthew B. James, Ph.D., is the president of The Empowerment Partnership in Hawaii and the author of The Foundation of Huna: Ancient Wisdom for Modern Times.