Frame of reference

Lake View

I’d like to share a few things I’ve learnt recently, all of which revolve around the concept of frame of reference. Let’s get this show on the road and start things off with a few quotes:

To put it plainly, seeing is not believing – believing is seeing. We see things not as they are, but as we are. Our perception is shaped by our previous experiences. Napoleon Hill, Think and Grow Rich

Frame Of Reference

“We see the world, not as it is, but as we are – or, as we are conditioned to see it.”
Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he. As a man sees in his heart, so he sees. Through unclean windows, lenses, senses, we see things not as they are but as we are.

When Peter tells you about Paul, you learn more about Peter than you do about Paul
George Santayana

I heard a thought that the world is essentially a dark empty place, its our interaction with it that gives the world form and we build that world around us not only based on the sensory input we receive but from our prejudices and experiences. The end result is a little bubble that makes up what we see. That little bubble, a view of the world unique to every individual, is what is called their frame of reference. Our frame of reference colors our perception of the world, it colors every sensory input we receive and twists it till it matches the view of how we believe world looks.

No two frames of reference can ever be the same because no two humans can ever walk the exact same time-lines. As we walk down the road of life, each of us has a different experiences. We see different things and feel different emotions, we make different conclusions and pass different judgments but more importantly, we collect different experiences.

It’s the classic tale of two prisoners in the same cell, sticking their heads out the same window, one looking down the other looking up. The one who looking down, sees dirty mud, dead twigs, worms and other creepy crawlies and concludes that the world is a terrible place and that he is better off in prison . The other sees a beautiful sky, silver clouds and birds flying free and he concludes that the world is a wonderful place which he wants to join. Both men are in the same situation but their view of the world, their frames of reference are different.

The differences between frames of reference can be insignificantly small or insurmountably huge. Conflicts arise when two or more frames of reference meet and there is a lack of empathy. In other words when we do not place ourselves in the other persons shoes, we make our conclusions based on what we think is right, how we think the world works and how we would think, feel and behave if *we* were in the other other persons place instead of trying to understand the *other person*.

We do not show empathy.

Empathy, not to be confused with sympathy, is defined as the experience of understanding another person’s condition from *their* perspective. You place yourself in *their* shoes and feel what *they* are feeling.

Not what we think they *should* be feeling, not what we think they *should* be thinking.

Only when we have empathy, when we understand that our frames of references are different, can we have effective communication, because only then we will know, will we understand that the things others say are not always about us, in fact they are rarely about us, they are about the speaker, trying to show us what their world looks like.

Differing frames of reference are also the reason why two people with the same resources and opportunities and having the same goals can have wildly different results. For example they start their businesses with the exact same amount of capital, doing the exact same business but after 5 years one is a multi millionaire the other is in debt and their business is bankrupt.

Frame of reference is very important because it determines how we approach everything, its a vast and engrossing topic, and is part of the field of study devoted to experience and consciousness called phenomenology. Its way too big for me to fit into one post and thus I’m writing a series of them and I’ll pick this up in the next post.

Each of us tends to think we see things as they are, that we are objective. But this is not the case. We see the world, not as it is, but as we are—or, as we are conditioned to see it. When we open our mouths to describe what we see, we in effect describe ourselves, our perceptions, our paradigms.
Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Image Credits: Lake View by Chad Cooper used under CC BY 2.0.

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