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Something to think about: Elasticity of perception

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From page A4 | March 08, 2013 | 2 Comments

The world is full of paradoxes: Time flies; time drags. It’s a small world; the world is a big place. It’s all because of the elasticity of perception.

When you’re fully engaged in something you find interesting or fun, the 3 ½ hours you spend doing it feel like 10 minutes. Conversely, a 45-minute meeting about a feasibility study can end eight or nine years later. When you’re in a hurry, a big, slow truck and two people who believe the speed limit is 15 miles less than posted will come between you and your destination. When you have an hour to kill before an appointment, traffic melts away and all the lights are green.

When you are on a shuttle bus in Belize and you find that your fellow shuttle mates are from Shingle Springs and work across the street from you in Placerville, the world is a very small place. Standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon or sailing the open ocean, the world is a very big place.

It’s all because of the elasticity of perception. Humans may be the only beings that have this gift and I think it’s one of the best things we pulled out of the treasure chest. Recently, two people I met reminded me of this gift: Monica Joy, a 16-year-old with a rare, life-threatening illness and Jim Powers with an accident that stopped his construction career. Deprived of a social life and often in hospitals, Monica used her down time to make music and record songs. During the three years he was out of work, Powers discovered a passion for photography and opened his own gallery. Before they could take the actions that led their lives in a new direction, they had to change the perception of who they were.

Things happen. While some things are bad all around, most things are only bad or good because we perceive them that way. We assign the labels and act accordingly. Ultimately, it is a choice and we have the flexibility to make that choice.

When you can’t find your keys in the morning and you are late for work, then 11 other bad things will happen before lunch and it’s just a bad day. But with the elasticity of perception you could have focused instead on finally finding your keys in your purse along with a bill you forgot to mail and now you can take care of business. You could have seen your lateness as fortunate since you missed the three-car accident that happened on your route four minutes earlier and when you got to work, the next 11 things that happened as things that you successfully dealt with before lunch. The first perception makes you a victim of bad luck; the second way of looking at the same events makes you feel lucky and more confident. All the same things happened in both cases — it’s how you look at them and react to them that makes the difference.

Every action has a consequence — change the actions because you’ve changed your perception and you’ve changed the consequences. Pope Benedict XVI changed his perception of himself as Pope and in doing so, changed his actions. In turn, he has changed the perception of the world.

How cool to realize that you have the flexibility to change your perception — from a victim to a hero; from put upon to incredibly lucky or from being ill and mourning the things you can no longer do to being ill and passionate about a new and fulfilling direction.

The elasticity of perception is a handy thing to remember when you’re stuck in traffic and you’re in a hurry; when life seems to have dumped an endless basket of rotten fish in your backyard or your morning looks like it might be heading toward the toilet. Things happen — could you see them differently?

Wendy Schultz is a staff writer and columnist for the Mountain Democrat. Her column appears bi-weekly. 

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Discussion | 2 comments

  • Vic SubiaMarch 09, 2013 - 11:20 am

    I'm in Southern California right now with lots of traffic and lots of people. I'll just think about this article when I'm stuck in traffic again as I have been three times in the last four days. Thank you.

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  • Lili JoyApril 05, 2013 - 5:06 pm

    As Monica Joy's mother, whose outlook you so wonderfully described in this article, I got tears of both pain and joy as I read your writings. Monica's "elasticity of perception" truly comes so naturally to her, and she is teaching me well. I still waiver between the positive and negative thoughts, but at least I'm not stuck on the negative default anymore!

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