Reality Check: Pigs, Cows, and Perceptions

A guy is driving down the road minding his own business. An oncoming car approaches; the woman driving rolls down the window and yells: “Pig!”

Instantly the guy takes offense! How dare she call me a pig! I wasn’t doing anything! I don’t even know her! What an insult! Quick as he can, he rolls down his window and yells: “Cow!”

Still fussing and fuming, he rounds the corner. There he sees a pig wandering around in the middle of the road.

Have you ever had that experience? Not of finding a pig in the middle of the road, but of perceiving a comment as unkind, insulting, hurtful, only to later learn that actually—it was just information. It carried no judgment at all.

This Pig-Cow story came from “Understanding Reality Therapy: A Metaphorical Approach” by Dr. Robert Wubbolding.

We have the creative ability to build stories and perceptions around the tiniest of inputs. Give us a word, a tone of voice, a sideways look, and some of us can weave a complex drama full of emotions, hurts, and implications. Those stories can keep us entertained (or resentful, angry, or hurt) for days, months, or lifetimes.

If our stories and perceptions don’t make our lives more satisfying and our relationships better, then why, oh why, would we keep telling them to ourselves?

The “library of archived behaviours” conveys the idea that we have favourite behaviours stored in a personal “library.” When a situation calls for a response, we reach into our library and pull out one of those old familiar behaviours. They may not be effective, but they’re comfortable.

What’s there? Some of us keep favourites such as anxiety, worry, regret, or guilt right at hand, ready at the drop of a hat.

For example, if a favourite behaviour is to choose to be hurt, then the pig story makes perfect sense! There are always opportunities to feel hurt or take offense.

What if you realize that you would be happier if you could perceive that you are generally treated with courtesy and kindness, not with insult or hurt? Can you put different behaviours into your library? Here are two suggestions.

First, thoughts and feelings follow behaviours. To change what’s stored in your library, try changing what you do. Make a conscious effort not to hurt or offend others. See what happens.

But I’m not the problem, you say? I know. However, as you consciously treat others only with courtesy and kindness, you may perceive a change in their behaviour toward you.

Second, recognize that just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so an insult is in the perception of the beholder. No one can force you to take offense or feel insulted if you decline to do so. If “I’m offended” pops up as your initial response, take a breath and remember the pig. Regardless of the comment, try perceiving it as if you have been offered a piece of valuable information.

We have options for what we store in our libraries. We can store happiness, satisfaction, optimism, and courage. We can store the choice to have faith that we will meet whatever challenges life brings us. We can store the behaviours of loving and acting kindly.

How do behaviours get in the library? Practice! The more we use a behaviour; the more readily available it is.

What’s in your library?

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