One of the reasons the discipline of Psychology developed was to help philosophers answer the question: How do I know what’s real? How do I know the difference between reality and the version of reality I see through the filters of my experience? In other words, where lie the boundaries between me and the world? This isn’t just an abstract brain teaser designed to exercise our mental muscles. It has major significance in everyone’s life.
If I am insecure in relationships, for example, I’ll interpret an argument with a friend as far more serious than it actually is. Will they leave me? Will they hate me? Will they not be my friend anymore? If it’s my boss, will she fire me? The small disagreement, in my mind, is a major fight. My friend may not even have noticed it. If communications is good, we can discuss the significance of the disagreement. But if communication is poor between us, I may pull back into the depths of my own mind where the small argument festers in the pool of my insecurities.
From out of the depths of that pool come interpretations of what happened. We ascribe motivations to the other person. She looked away therefore she’s disgusted with me. He signed heavily so he was barely holding in his anger. The perceptions take on the solidity of truth and I act on those perceptions. I become fearful, or apologetic, or angry myself. Or I withdraw, rejecting before I am rejected. Whatever I do has consequences for my own life.
Exercise: When was the last time you ascribed motivations to someone? Example: He’s an angry person, she’s a snob, he’s so involved in his own life he doesn’t have time to notice other people? What objective evidence do you have to support your interpretations? Find concrete, describable evidence, not just your interpretation of that evidence. When you have listed the objective evidence, you might find at the very least that it’s open to more than one interpretation.