Reality Check: A Filter For Your Thoughts

Reality. You would think we’d all agree on what it is, wouldn’t you? Yet, two people can be exposed to the same situation or read exactly the same words and come away with quite different perceptions. How does that happen?

According to Dr. Wm. Glasser and others, we experience the world through filters. Here’s a brief (and only moderately filtered) explanation of some of Glasser’s choice theory concepts around filters.

We sense the real world through sight, sound, taste, etc. However, whether we pay attention to the information that we have sensed depends on our interests at the time.

Walk through a store; what’s there? Thousands of products; only a fraction are of interest to us. Did you notice the perfume display? If you don’t care about fragrance, your eyes may have seen it, your nose may have smelled it, yet you barely remember. The scent had no impact.

When an input has meaning for us though, it gets further along—to the filters in our perceptual system.

For example, if a fragrance reminds you of someone you love, you notice it and smile. Or perhaps it reminds you of your ex, and evokes considerably less joyful feelings. Our internal filter associates the scent with a value: positive or negative. The scent is the same. The effect on the individual is, well…individual.

Now, if our response to what we smell can vary according to perception, what happens with more complex inputs? How do we assess an idea? How do we determine what is factual? We use our filters.

One way we filter makes use of our perception of the person offering the idea. For example, if a person has little credibility in your eyes, do you believe anything they say? Or do you immediately put a negative value on their statements?

For example, do you dismiss anything said by a perceived egotist or a tattooed youth? Some folks distrust all utterances by CEOs, scientists, or politicians of the “wrong” leaning. However, does our negative perception of the source necessarily mean that the information deserves a negative value?

Hot-button words are another filter trigger. Do some words trigger an immediate reaction in you? Try these: “global warming,” “poverty,” “abortion.” When we immediately connect a value to a word, does that mean that the whole idea that follows deserves a free pass (if positive) or dismissal (if negative)?

Filtering is essential. We can’t investigate everything we read, see, or hear. We necessarily use shortcuts—our filters, to ignore some things and grant credibility to others. If we didn’t filter, we’d be overloaded—always investigating, never acting.

The downside of filtering comes when we have unhelpful perceptions or faulty assumptions that result in automatic acceptance of questionable information or immediate condemnation of worthwhile ideas.

What’s the upshot? We filter information. Whether it’s your beloved’s favourite fragrance or a hot-button word, being aware of our filters can act as a reminder to assess information on its merits rather than leap to conclusions.

How do you assess whether an idea is credible, nonsensical, or even dangerous?

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