Harvey Mackay Academy's Blog

Things Are Not Always As We Perceive Them To Be

A lovely little girl was holding two apples in her hands. Her mom came in and softly asked her little daughter with a smile: My sweetie, could you share one of your apples with Mommy?

The girl looked up at her mom for a few seconds, and then suddenly took a quick bite of one apple, and then a bite of the other. Her mom froze and tried hard not to reveal her disappointment. Had she raised such a selfish child?

Then the little girl handed one of her bitten apples to her mom, and said: “Mommy, here you are. This is the sweetest one.”

No matter who you are, how experienced you are, and how knowledgeable you think you are, always delay judgment. Give others the privilege to explain themselves. What you see may not be the reality. Never conclude for others. Perception can be misleading.

If what you see is what you get, make sure that what you see is the whole picture, not just a small slice of it. And if you can’t see the forest for the trees, just imagine what you are missing.

Our preconceptions can dramatically alter the way we perceive the world. There is a saying attributed to the prominent writer Anaïs Nin that reflects this idea: “We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are.”

I think that is pure genius. Our own experiences and education can cause us to see events through a very different lens from the person sitting next to us, even though we are watching the same event.

Prime example: eyewitness testimony in criminal cases. Time and again, conflicting stories surface from bystanders who have no reason to lie. What they saw was simply not the same thing as the next person’s observations. It’s a constant challenge for law enforcement, trial lawyers and judges.

Latin poet Phaedrus said: “Things are not always what they seem; the first appearance deceives many; the intelligence of a few perceives what has been carefully hidden.”

I have another way of saying this in my speeches: Things are not necessarily as we always perceive them to be. I often share the story of the man and his son who are in a car accident and are badly injured. The younger man needs emergency surgery. But at the hospital, the surgeon says, “I cannot operate on this person. He is my son.” But wait, wasn’t the father injured too?

Yes, but you would be amazed at how many people, in this day and age, have not figured out that the surgeon is in fact his mother. When I first started using this example some years back, almost no one made the connection. Now it’s probably 50-50. Perceptions change, but not always as quickly as reality.

An old saying goes: You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time. To avoid being the fool, keep an open mind and open eyes. Be aware of what is happening around you and be willing to change your perspective as new facts emerge. And don’t overlook the obvious. If you don’t pay attention, you will often pay a price.

One of my favorite characters in literature is Sherlock Holmes. His conclusions are based on an extremely well-developed sense of perception. Consider this example.

Holmes and Dr. Watson decide to go on a camping trip. After dinner and a bottle of wine, they bed down for the night and go to sleep.

A while later, Holmes wakes up and notices something remarkable. He nudges his tent mate and inquires, “Watson, tell me what you see.”

A sleepy Watson mumbles, “I see millions of stars.”

Holmes asks, “And what does that tell you?”

Watson rubs his eyes and thinks about what Holmes is asking. After a minute, he replies, “Astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Theologically, I can see that God is all powerful and that we are small and insignificant. Meteorologically, I suspect we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. What does it tell you, Holmes?”

Holmes responds, “It tells me that someone has stolen our tent!”

Mackay’s Moral: First impressions are important. But lasting impressions are more important.

About the Author Harvey Mackay

Seven-time, New York Times best-selling author of "Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive," with two books among the top 15 inspirational business books of all time, according to the New York Times. He is one of America’s most popular and entertaining business speakers, and currently serves as Chairman at the MackayMitchell Envelope Company, one of the nation’s major envelope manufacturers, producing 25 million envelopes a day.

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