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What Do You Choose to See?

What Do You Choose to See? Thought Tonic

There is always more than one way to look at things. In your life, who or what are you seeing in ways that aren't working? What would a different way be? This episode is also available as a blog post at — Send in a voice message:

The way we choose to see the world creates the world we see.

Barry Neil Kaufman

What do you see when you look at this image? A duck? A rabbit? Both? If you see the image as one of these options — a duck, let’s say — are the other ways you could see the image — as a rabbit, or as both a duck and rabbit — somehow “not true”? If multiple ways of seeing the image are possible, which one of them do you prefer? Which one works better for you, in a manner of speaking?

What We Choose to See Makes a Difference

While these kinds of questions may seem a bit silly when we’re talking about an image (You may be asking yourself, “Do I see a duck, a rabbit, or both … what does it matter?”), the considerations they represent have significant implications in our day-to-day lives. To quote Barry Neil Kaufman, “The way we choose to see the world creates the world we see.” In my own experience, I’ve noticed over and over again that what I choose to see in myself and the world around me, including other people — what they say, and what they do — has a profound influence on how I’m able to respond and interact. Seeing multiple possibilities for meaning in any given experience gives me a wider range of potential responses; I’m often able to choose one of the more helpful options, then.

An Example of Choice

Imagine, for instance, that I am standing at the counter in a coffee shop placing my order and paying for my purchase. The cashier doesn’t smile, greet me, inquire how my day is going, or thank me for my business. In this situation, I could see the cashier as “rude” or “disrespectful,” and feel slighted. Alternatively, I could succumb to my anxious thinking in the form of self-doubt and worry that I have done something wrong.

With the first interpretation as context, I might snap at the cashier for being “rude,” or keep my mouth shut and leave the coffee shop disgruntled, in either case muttering under my breath as I stride out the door, vowing never to order from that person again. With the second interpretation, I might feel embarrassed, thinking I must have done something to offend the cashier, perhaps even berating myself for being a “loser” in social situations yet once again as I shuffle back to my car.

In lieu of both of these options, I could simply see the cashier as not having been as courteous to me as I would have liked. Maybe the cashier is feeling unusually stressed or distracted by their own worries — I just don’t know. Whatever the explanation, if I could allow myself to see the cashier’s behavior as something less offensive to me than “rude” or “disrespectful,” I might be able to wish them well, regardless of my discontent, and decide to address the issue of unsatisfying service the next time that I experience it, if I experience it again.

The Difference a Choice Makes

From my own perspective, one of these ways of seeing this experience at the coffee shop works better for me than the others. If I give myself the opportunity to choose the option of softening my gaze — not looking so harshly, or even looking kindly, on the cashier and myself — I will leave the coffee shop in a better mood, feeling good about myself and how I responded, with a sense of calm and confidence — happier all around! Although I will be aware of my disappointment in the cashier’s behavior, in the service I received from them, I will not be consumed by the gap between this experience and the expectations I had for the interaction, or by a negative way of seeing the cashier, their behavior, or myself that foments feelings of anger, indignation, resentment, or anxiety.

What Do You Choose to See?

There is always more than one way to look at things. In any given situation, we can choose to see in a way that works for us rather than against us, given the kind of experience we want to have, how we want to live our lives, the type of person we want to be, and more.

In your life, who or what are you seeing in ways that aren’t working for you? What would a different way of seeing be? If you saw this person, people, or situation differently, what would the benefits be? What would support you in making this shift in perception? Why are you waiting?

Featured Image: Photo by Erika Fletcher on Unsplash | Embedded Image: File:Duck-Rabbit illusion.jpg (Wikimedia Commons)

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