Much of the disharmony in relationship can be attributed to our belief in objectivity—the notion that we experience other people and things the way they really are. This belief in objectivity tends to arise with the belief in separation. Through this separate me, I see separate others. Once this division is made in the mind, there is a tendency to believe that I, the subject, can see other people and objects exactly as they are. And in that tendency there is a kind of mental sleepiness or blindness to the fact that every time I see anything, I am thinking. I fail to see that I am looking through a filter of thought.
When we believe in objectivity, we have difficulty seeing that our words, pictures and energies paint others in a way that is unique to us. These words, pictures and energies make up our entire view of reality. Our views of other people are shaped by our memories, personal histories, cultures, world views, and psychological and emotional traits, along with various other influences. The painter is inseparable from her painting. We don’t see others the way they are. We see them the way we are.
To get a quick glimpse of this, rest without any thoughts for a few seconds. In the moment of resting without thoughts, you don’t know who or what a person is precisely because no thoughts are arising. Thoughts inform you of everything you think you know about someone, including yourself. When thoughts begin to arise, notice that they are coming from your own set of memories. Each of the arising thoughts have to do with a particular past experience that was interpreted by you in a personal way. Your view of a person is actually a view of your own memories. It’s like having a relationship with one’s own memories. Emotions and sensations arise along with those memories to further paint your view of the person.
Notice that this is always the case, no matter who you encounter. The way you see a particular person depends completely on the particular words, pictures and energies that are occurring in any given moment. And the thoughts have a lot to do with your own education, your upbringing, your fears, your thoughts about yourself, and many influences from your culture about who people are or who they should be. This can be difficult to see until you begin meeting people freshly in the moment, without dragging your memories into each encounter and interpreting others’ present words and actions through those memories. When we aren’t able to see that thoughts produce our view of others, we buy into the belief that we see others objectively—exactly as they really are. We cannot see that our view is relative and subjective. We cannot see that our view is limited only to what we think, feel, and sense in the moment.
Even if, on an intellectual level, we know that our viewpoint about someone is subjective, relative, and limited, we often act as if that view is objective. For example, Brad and Tony are discussing the current leader of a Middle Eastern country. Brad, a Democrat, finds himself disagreeing with Tony, a Republican. Brad gets very upset as he listens to Tony. Brad may know, intellectually, that his view of the Middle Eastern leader is largely subjective. He knows that his views have been shaped by being a Democrat, as well as by all kinds of other experiences he’s had. However, this intellectual knowing doesn’t stop him from getting angrier and angrier as he listens to Tony.
Brad thinks that Tony “just doesn’t get it.” He really wants to show him that he is wrong about this leader. The very fact that he gets so angry as he listens to Tony indicates just how deeply he believes that his thoughts represent reality. There is nothing wrong with anger. It’s a natural human emotion. But it is often based on a skewed view of reality. Brad is acting and responding to Tony based on a belief in objectivity. The leader is not just someone appearing out there, separately and objectively. Both Brad and Tony are experiencing particular thoughts, emotions, and sensations that paint the leader in a certain light—as good or evil, right or wrong. And emotions tend to strengthen the mind’s particular view, making it seem all the more real.
The belief in objectivity is a scandal. Look at the degree and depth of suffering and conflict that have arisen throughout history from the basic belief, “I see others the way they really are.” I call it a scandal because the belief is universal, but we don’t realize it’s a belief. We mistake it for reality and this mistake comes at a great cost, creating widespread disharmony in human relationships. The scandal has left us with a trail of murder, torture, rape, abuse, war, conflict, bullying, divorce, control, manipulation, alienation, and loneliness in relationships. Whenever we fail to see the subjective nature of our experience, we treat others as objects somehow independent of our own thoughts, emotions, and sensations. This belief in objectivity is directly related to our desire to change, manipulate, abuse, judge, blame, bully, and control others, as well as our tendency to seek approval, attention, self-worth, validation, and love from others. When we are pointing outward, we are overlooking the projector—the self—that paints the world a particular way. When we stop pointing outward, as if we see people and situations objectively, and focus instead on the thoughts, emotions, and sensations that are arising within us, a newfound clarity is available to us. We free ourselves from the belief in a self that sees others the way they really are. And our relationships begin to harmonize themselves. As a direct result, the world out there begins to reflect an inner peace, joy, love, compassion, and wisdom. The inner and the outer are inseparable. Once this is seen, we can continue expressing our viewpoints, but without the belief, “I see others the way they really are.”
I leave you with these questions:
- In what way are you currently believing that a certain view of someone or something is objective?
- Do you experience any fear when you are encouraged to look more closely to see whether your view is actually objective?
- Could this fear be based in a clinging to your own identity or fear of death of that identity?
Share your own experience with us and leave your reply in the comment box below.
Excerpt from Scott Kiloby’s book, “Living Relationship: Finding Harmony with Others.”